In one of the earliest written texts of the world, "The Epic of Gilgamesh" (ca. 2100 BC), there is one tree mentioned with high estimation. This is the carob tree (Ceratonia siliqua) wich was very popular in the Ancient Mesopotamian culture. The tree had many different uses but was especially cherished as a nutritional source during the periods of famine.
One of its most valuable features was hidden in its seeds. Greeks called them "keration" (literally meaning “small horn”, because of their shape, probably from Arabic qīrāt - قيراط). They used them as a measurement of weight - weighing gold and gemstones against the seeds of that tree as a way of verifying their real weight. That practice originated from the ancient Middle East and came from the belief that the mass of the carob seeds did not differ.
The Greek "keration" gave both modern terms karat and carat. Often confused, karat indicates the purity of the used gold, e.g. the proportion of the gold and other metals in an alloy. (If, for instance, we have 10 karats gold, this means that less than a half in the alloy is gold. But if our gold is 18 karats, then the precious metal in the alloy gives 75 % of it).
In the Greco-Roman world, the karat was equivalent to 1/24 gold of the Emperor Constantine’s golden coin solidus or 1/1728 of a Roman libra of gold (approximately 329g). This use for representing proportions of metals in coins minting turned karat in a measurement of a gold purity and determined its modern application.
On the other hand, carat is measurement unit for mass. It is based on the metric system and indicates a weight of 0, 2 grams. (So, a gemstone with a weight of 1g would be 5 carats). The carat started to be officially used as a measurement of precious stones and diamonds from 1570s forward.
Apparentely, the Roman gold coin solidus has modified the use of karat as a measurement of a gold purity. Its weight was 4,5g and was introduced as a main gold denomination in 312 AD by Emperor Constantine, who decided to replace the old one – aureus.
The solidus stayed unchanged in weight and purity for centuries (until the 10th century AD) and left its mark in many modern cultures. In French, after several mutations of the word (solidus > soldus > sold > sol > sou), it started indicating the small coin sou. After Carolingians had adopted the silver, solidus transferred in paper accounting 1/20 of a pound of silver and ultimately gave what is today "sold" in French - a balance of an account or invoice. In Italian "soldi" is a term used today to denominate money in general. In English, solidus gave the adjective "solid", implying all the meanings of the Latin adjective "solidus" that stayed behind the name of the famous coin:
1. Firm or hard (not having the form of a gas or liquid)
2. Having no space inside (not hollow)
3. Having no breaks or interruptions
4. Made entirely from the specified material
5. Serious on purpose or character
Gold solidus, 7th century AD
The stability of the solidus as currency in the ancient Greco-Roman world was so highly appreciated, that it was known as the Nomisma – "The Coin".
The real importance of this currency can be grasped from the common root of "nomisma" and "nomos" (the Greek word for "custom, law"). The circulation of the Nomisma was a costume adopted by all, but sanctioned by the law. The Greek noun "nomos" and the verb "nomizein - to consider as, to be customary" formed the Modern English adjective numismatic and the noun numismatics.
There is another ancient numismatic term that influenced some present-day notions. Persons, who have special abilities in a certain area and excel in it, are usually called "talented". They are also referred to as "gifted", implying that people with talent are, in fact, presented with something special and valuable.
The word talent came from the Greek word "talanton" and in Homer denoted a pair of scales (esp., the scales in which Zeus weighed the fortunes of men). In later texts, the word was used for weight, as well as for the amount of gold or silver corresponding to a certain weight. In the different ancient systems, "talanton" stood for different weight, but all of them represented a substantial number. The Babylonian "talent" was approximately 30 kg (67 lb), the Roman 32 kg (71 lb), and the Attic (Athens and area) one 26 kg (57 lb).
It is suggested that the contemporary meaning of the talent, as something precious of high significance, derived from the New Testament, from Jesus’s parable of talents. In the narrative, a master who was to travel a long way, gave to his 3 slaves different amount of money (talanton) to keep in safe until his return. When he was back, two of the slaves had invested the entrusted money and had been doubled them. The one of the slaves had just hidden them and had waited for his master. The first two were praised as clever and industrious. The third one was stigmatized as lazy and unwise.
What is the moral of the story?
If one has a talent, he /she must work on it and grow it!
Other currencies - dirham, dinar (denar)
The ancient Greek and Roman currencies were used for a long period, in a broad land area from the West to the East. They had such a deep influence that could be still recognized under the name of some modern currencies worldwide.
The ancient Greek "drahma" is believed to derive from the verb "drassomai" (δράσσομαι) meaning "to grasp". The same word with the notion of "a handful" is attested in Linear B tablets – a script that predated the Greek alphabet and was used as back as 1450 BC. Thus, "drahma" was a handful of coins (6 oboloi) and operated as currency as early as 1100 BC. During the conquests of Alexander the Great (4rth century BC), that coin was largely diffused, reaching the far territories of the Middle East. After Alexander’s death, the "drahma" continued to be in use in the Hellenistic kingdoms in the region. The Arabic currency dirham, known from the pre-Islamic period of the area, derives from the Greek "didrahma" (2 drahmas). This is still the official currency name of Morroco, as well as of the United Arab Emirates.
Archelaus Didrachma, 413-399 BC
"Denarius" was a small Roman silver coin minted around 3rd century BC. It derived from the Latin word "deni" (10) and denoted an amount of 10 ases (10 small coins).
Ancient Medieval French coin "denier" has its roots in the "denarius". One of the modern Italian words for money – denaro is a direct derivative. The same is the use of the Spanish dinero and Portuguese dinheiro that both came from "denarius".
Some Arab countries, such as Libya and Jordan, name their currencies dinar, after the Roman "denarius". The former Yugoslavia and present-day Serbia nominate their money the same way. In the country of Macedonia and Slovenia, the currency is a denar and is another derivative of "denarius".
Roman silver denarius of Emperor Maximinus Thrax (235-238 AD)