The Fiddler on the Roof had it spot on. Money makes the world go round. This was confirmed by the ancient prophets from ABBA in their ditty: Money Money Money – always sunny – in a rich man’s world. The concept was further cemented by the wall-builders Pink Floyd who claimed: Money – it’s a gas – grab that cash with both hands and make a stash.

Well, the Good Book states the lust for money is the root of all evil. This is very admirable, and the world would be a totally different but for those 30 pieces of silver a while back. Sadly though, the noble notion of morals trumping greed very seldom succeeds.

In ancient Egypt for example, kings were buried with all their gold, jewels and prided possessions. The worldly wealth they’d lusted after and accumulated would ensure a comfortable journey through the afterlife. That’s lust number one.

Lust number two stems from the grave-robbers. After a respectful period they’d simply loot the tombs, pawn the stash and reintroduce all that wealth and currency back into the system, for others to lust after and accumulate.

Money, as we know it today is anything from cash to cheques to credit cards to EFTs to bitcoins. But long ago, when humans first settled into communities and raised crops and livestock, wealth was determined by tangible assets, like how many cows, fruit trees or servants you owned. Bartering between friends and neighbours was the currency.

In different parts of the world this all changed at different times. The Chinese – circa 1100BCE – used miniature replicas of goods cast in brass as surety for payment. For practical reasons they eventually became rounded and stamped. Soon, carrying bags of coins on long journeys, like the Silk Road, proved cumbersome and dangerous, and paper certificates became accepted.

The first known currency, on our side of the world, was created by King Alyattise in 600 BCE in Lydia, Turkey. But other methods for the illiterate peasants of Europe were used. A tally stick, for example, was simply a stick with various notches cut into it, and split down the middle. Each party would retain their half as proof of debt or credit, and forgery was virtually impossible. This worked very well for over 700 years, but we’ll chat about tally sticks later.

Unlike the Aztecs and the Mayas, the Incas had no formal bartering system and no monies changed hands, yet they became the most advanced and wealthy country in South America. It was unapologetically socialist. Their currency was labour.

Men over 15 were obliged to work for the state for up to two-thirds of the year constructing public buildings, palaces, houses and a 6000 km road system. In return families received all the basic necessities like food, clothing, tools and homes.

Even if they had ‘money’, there were no shops, yet beneath their feet lay millions in gold and silver, which was never monetised and was displayed only during religious rituals. Gold, the ‘sweat of the sun’ and silver, the ‘tears of the moon’, remained sacred and largely untouched. Then a couple of Spaniards pitched up and all hell broke loose.

Back to the tally sticks. In England they were also used to collect taxes, and the system was only abandoned in1826. Eight years later Parliament decided to burn the thousands of tally sticks held in storage, so they fed them into the basement furnaces that heated the House of Lords. Well, things didn’t go quite according to plan. They burnt the entire complex to the ground – the biggest blaze in London since the Great Fire in 1666.

There’s so much more to this barter to bitcoin journey, but recent trials by Apple/Barclaycard claim to surpass the iPhone’s convenient touch-tone payment method, by creating a wristband/watch with extra functions when performing transactions, like voice recognition and fingerprint identity. Soon the words in the regular slogan ‘Watch Press for Details’ will need rearranging.

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