Silver in Antiquity

Silver in Antiquity

Silver had great value and aesthetic appeal in many ancient cultures where it was used to make jewellery, tableware, figurines, ritual objects and rough-cut pieces known as hacksilver which could be used in trade or to store wealth. The metal of choice to mint coinage for long periods, acquisition of silver mines in such places as Greece, Spain, Italy, and Anatolia was an important factor in many an ancient conflict. The metal was also found, amongst other places, in mines in ancient China, Korea, Japan, and South America where it was transformed into beautifully-crafted objects for elite use and to give as tribute and prestige gifts between states. Easily mined, worked, reusable, and brilliantly shiny, silver was one of the few truly international commodities which both connected and divided the ancient world.

Properties & Mining

Silver (Ag) is a soft metal which can be polished to produce an appealing lustre, two factors which made it ideal for ancient metalworkers to employ in their production of high-value goods. Silver was mined and smelted from ores such as lead carbonate (PbCO3) and galena (PbS). Ores usually contain less than 1% silver, but their abundance and lack of difficulty in smelting ensured ancient mining of the metal could be profitable, even from the Early Bronze Age. Smelting techniques improved over the centuries so that by the Classical period in Europe even low-grade ore could be exploited for the minute quantities of metal it contained. Indeed, smelting techniques made such progress that by Roman times it was possible to return to ore already treated (slag) in order to extract more silver from it. To strengthen the metal it was often alloyed with copper.

For the Incas silver was thought of as the tears of the Moon.

Mining of silver in the Americas was largely done by digging vertical shafts into the ground. These tended to be shallow and so many were dug along an area of silver-bearing ore. Individual horizontal shafts were similarly short, only around one metre in length. Broken up using antler tools, the ore was crushed and smelted in clay crucibles. The Americas did not have bellows, and so the high temperatures needed for smelting were usually provided by several people blowing into the fire through tubes. As elsewhere, charcoal was used as the fuel source. Andean metalworkers were specialists at silver-plating and at producing alloys which mixed silver with gold, copper, and even platinum. Finished works were then often gilded or even painted.

Geographical Availability

In Mesopotamia silver was used from the 4th millennium BCE. With no deposits in the area, silver was imported from Anatolia, Armenia, and Iran. Cities like Ugarit, Sumer, and Babylon used silver as a standard value measure with workers, for example, being paid in a specific weight of silver or its equivalent value in cereals. The Egyptians also valued silver and likewise acquired it through trade from Predynastic times, although silver archaeological finds are rarer than in other ancient cultures. This is perhaps because the Egyptians had their own sources of gold and only limited indigenous sources of silver. Certainly, silver was much closer in value to gold in ancient Egypt compared to other ancient cultures (1:2 instead of the more typical 1:13), and there were periods when it was considered even more valuable. In the Aegean, the Early Bronze Age cultures used silver which was mined from Attica (especially Laurion), the Cyclades, Thrace, and ancient Macedonia.

The Phoenicians, perhaps the greatest traders of them all, spread the use of silver even further across the ancient Mediterranean and channelled tons of it to western Asia, especially Assyria, mostly in the form of bullion (ingots, disks, and rings). The Phoenicians acquired such quantities that they earned an admonishing reference in the Bible: "Tyre heaped up silver" (Zechariah 9:2-3). To guarantee the weight and value, bars were stamped with official hallmarks. A Phoenician talent of silver weighed around 30 kilos and was worth 300 shekels. One silver shekel was worth 300 copper shekels and 227 shekels of tin. Gold was worth four times more than silver. Supply and demand affected the value of commodities just as they do today, and the oversupply of silver to the Near East caused a crash in the value of silver by the 6th century BCE.

Classical Athens benefitted from hitting a huge new seam on Mt. Pangaeus in Thrace, and both Carthage and Rome had a ready supply form Iberian mines and those on Sardinia. Indeed, the Romans worked some 40,000 slaves in the silver mines of Spain. The Etruscans did not go without, either, for they had access to silver in the north of their territory in Italy. By the later Roman period, as the empire expanded, silver was extracted from Britain, Germany, and the Balkans. Traded as coinage with peoples in India in exchange for spices and luxury goods, it was then converted back into bullion.

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In the East, China's silver mines were exploited in the south from the 8th century CE, which led to the metal replacing silk as the primary method of bulk payment by merchants. In ancient Japan, silver was not extensively mined until the 16th century CE, but when it was, the metal became a handy method of payment with Portuguese traders who then spent it soon enough in their trade with China. So much silver went into the pockets of European traders - 20 tons a year - and the mines were worked out to such an extent that the Japanese government limited the silver taken out of the country from 1668 CE.

In the Americas, while the ancient Maya had plenty of gold, they had no silver of their own to speak of, but it was found in abundance further south, in the empires of the Incas and their predecessors. With plentiful supplies mined from northern South America (Colombia and Ecuador especially), the Moche, Wari, Lambayeque, and Chimu cultures all produced silverwork of the highest quality. For the Inca, just as gold was considered the sweat of the Sun, silver was thought of as the tears of the Moon. The rarity and prestige of the metal meant that it was restricted to use by the nobility; commoners had to make do with goods made from copper or bronze.

Uses of Silver

Not as valuable as gold, silver was, nevertheless, used for much the same purposes but on a grander scale. Most ancient cultures benefitted from specialised craftsmen, often working for the royal household and given a dedicated area of the city to produce their shiny wonders. Jewellery, utensils, vessels, dishes, pepper castors, saucepans, figurines, masks, and decorative objects were made in silver. Silver, because of its high value, was widely used in objects related to religious rituals such as incense burners, relics containers, and votive offerings or dedications. Textiles were embroidered with silver thread, and items of clothing had pieces of silver sewn onto them. The metal was also widely used as an inlay material in such items as weapons, armour, furniture, and metal vessels.


Long before coins came along, silver in the form of ingots and rough cut pieces was a common method of payment for traders and states alike. This latter form, known as hacksilver (or hacksilber), was also used as a method to store wealth and was frequently buried, leading to spectacular archaeological finds of long-hidden hoards. Being roughly cut off from old jewellery, ingots, and basically anything made from pure silver, it was weighed each time a transaction was made, which often resulted in pieces being cut again and again to meet the exact weight required and, as a result, the pieces became ever smaller. The practice was common in the Near East, Egypt, and the ancient western Mediterranean up to the 4th century BCE when coinage largely replaced it. Hacksilver and silver ingots of no particular standardised weight were used in ancient India from the 8th to 7th century BCE. Small bent bars are typical, and judging by their differing weights, smaller pieces were probably cut from them before coinage became common.

Many hacksilver hoards include silver coins and so illustrate the gradual transition from one form of wealth storage to another. Spain, in particular, was an area where the habit of using hacksilver lingered on well into the 1st century BCE. With the demise of the Roman empire coinage production fell dramatically and hacksilver was, once again, the primary means to keep wealth and pay for goods. The Vikings, especially, were great savers of chopped up silver bits if the quantity of hoards discovered across central Europe, Britain, and Scandinavia are anything to go by.

Silver Coinage

One of the most common uses of silver throughout antiquity was as coinage. During the 6th century BCE, the first coins were minted in Lydia, which were made of electrum, a natural alloy of gold and silver, or of pure gold or pure silver. They were stamped with a design by the state as a mark of their authenticity and weight.

The first Greek coins appeared at Aegina c. 600 BCE (or even earlier), which were silver and used a turtle design as a symbol of the city's prosperity based on maritime trade. Athens and Corinth soon followed Aegina's lead. Heated discs of silver were hammered between two dies engraved with the designs. The birth of coinage in wider Greece, though, was not really an invention of convenience but a necessity, driven by the need to pay mercenary soldiers. These warriors required a convenient way to carry their wages, and the state needed a method of payment they could equally apply to everyone.

Around 510 BCE Darius I introduced coinage in Persia, which included the silver shekel which weighed around 5.5 grammes. The master traders the Phoenicians long preferred the universal acceptability of silver bullion wherever their trade tentacles reached but, eventually, they too succumbed to progress. The first Phoenician coins were minted at Kition c. 500 BCE, then at Byblos c. 470 BCE. Other cities soon followed suit, Sidon and Tyre introducing silver coins around 450 BCE.

Coinage solved one problem but posed another, raising the interesting question of metal purity. The ancients were not aware of the concept of elements and their inherent properties, but smelters, through the necessity of creating coinage that was of a standardised weight, did manage to reach a purity of silver of around 98%. Silver coins were of relatively high value, perhaps equal to one week's work for most citizens. Only in the Hellenistic Period did smaller denominations become more widespread.

The first Roman silver coins were produced from the early 3rd century BCE and resembled contemporary Greek coins. C. 211 BCE a whole new coinage system was introduced. Appearing for the first time was the silver denarius (pl. denarii), a coin that would be the principal silver coin of Rome until the 3rd century CE. Following the acquisition of the silver mines in Macedonia from 167 BCE, there was a huge boom in silver coins from 157 BCE. Gradually, as emperors spent more frivolously and wars drained the state coffers, silver coins went from almost pure to 70% then 50% and on down until they reached an all-time low of just 2% silver content.

Chinese coins, with their distinctive square central hole, were first produced in the second half of the first millennia BCE, but they were always made of copper. Coinage arrived in ancient India around the 6th century BCE. The ancient Americas had no coinage, but silver, like other precious materials such as gold and textiles, was used for trading purposes. Silver was highly valued and goods made from it were used as gifts and tribute, but their specific value depended on each item and the context in which it was given.

One final form of currency, in use in Korea from the 12th to 14th century CE, was the unbyong silver vase, stamped by the state and given an official rate of exchange with staple commodities such as rice; it was shaped like the peninsula of Korea. Unfortunately, no examples survive, but we do know from a 1282 CE law that the value of one unbyong was fixed at between 2,700 and 3,400 litres of rice. Despite their impracticality for smaller transactions, the vases continued to be used over the next two centuries, until King Chungyol permitted rough or broken pieces of silver to be used instead at the end of the 13th century CE.

The History and Mystery of Silver

The story of silver dates back to our earliest recorded histories. Along with gold and copper, silver was one of the first metals used in ancient civilizations. Silver mining began over 5000 year ago in Anatolia (modern day Turkey) and Egypt. These early mines (or lodes) were a valuable resource for the civilizations that grew and flourished in the Near East and eastern Mediterranean. As early mines began to be depleted around 1200 BC, new discoveries shifted primary silver production to Greece’s Laurium mines. In about 100 AD, Spain became the leader in silver production. The Spanish mines provided silver to the Roman Empire and the Asian spice routes that were developing during this period.

New major discoveries during the middles ages saw mining begin in several European countries, with most in eastern and central Europe. However, no single event in the history of silver rivals the importance of the discovery of large deposits of silver in the New World. The sheer quantity coming from the New World mines reinvented the role of silver. With its control of most of the New World mines, Spain again became the world leader in silver production, and between 1500 and 1800 over 85% of the world’s silver came from Spanish mines in Bolivia, Peru and Mexico.

In the nineteenth century, the United States began to produce significant amounts of silver from new discoveries in the Sierra Nevadas. The largest and most famous strike in 1859 at the Comstock Lode in Nevada helped make the US the world’s largest silver producer until about 1900.

The period between 1876 and 1920 saw incredible growth in both technological innovation and exploration worldwide. Spurred by new discoveries in Canada, the US, Africa, Mexico, Chile, Japan and other countries, silver production soared. During this less than 50-year period, silver output increased over 170%, from 80 million troy ounces annually to over 190 troy ounces annually.

Over the last 100 years, new technologies have also contributed to large increases in silver production. Major advances in the mining and extraction processes have led to improved techniques to separate silver from ore and the ability to quickly process larger volumes of silver-bearing ore. These technological advances are more important than ever as high-grade ore deposits throughout the world are becoming increasingly difficult to find.

The Shining History of Silver

Across the ages, silver has been considered a valuable metal with a multitude of uses. After gold, silver is the most malleable and ductile metal, which makes it an ideal choice for artisans to create decorative items.

The chemical symbol of silver—Ag—comes from the Latin argentum , which means off-white. Ancient civilizations associated silver with the moon because of it’s greyish-white color, which contrasts with gold and its correlation to the sun. In fact, ancient Egyptians considered silver to be a near perfect metal, following only gold. They gave gold the symbol of a circle, and silver the symbol of a semi-circle.

Silver forms in igneous and metamorphic rocks and it is often found in minerals that contain silver compounds. Because of this, silver is commonly a sub-product of mining for minerals such as lead, copper, and zinc.

The first documentation of silver mining occurred around 3,000 BC in Anatolia, which is modern day Turkey. Closer to 1,200 BC, much of the region’s silver production shifted to Greece’s mines, though it could also be found across Europe and West Asia. Since silver ore generally contains lead, slaves were forced to work in the mines because free men didn’t want to die of lead poisoning (as many previously had).

A large silver mine near Athens, Greece was able to fund Athens’ first navy around 500 BC, which helped create the powerful city-state. After the First Punic War in the 250s BC, the Carthaginians took over Spanish mines and used the income to pay off debts to the Romans. During the Second Punic War, the mines fell into the hands of the Romans, who used the income to fund more conquests.

By 100 AD, Spanish mines became the major suppliers of silver for the Roman Empire. Silver started becoming increasingly more important for trade along Asian spice routes. To prepare the metal for export, it was hammered into thin sheets called plattum argentum , which was later shortened to the modern Spanish plata (meaning silver).

Silver mining continued to expand to numerous other countries, many of them in Central Europe. Vast growth in silver production—largely due to technological advances—was seen between 750 and 1,500 AD.

Expansion in Silver Production

Though the search for gold was a big influence on the discovery of the New World in 1492, the excursion across the ocean reinvented the role of silver. Silver mining began to boom between 1500 and 1800, with 85 percent of world production occurring in Mexico, Bolivia, and Peru. Continued innovations led to increased silver production in North America, Central America, Australia, and Europe.

This last century has seen some major breakthroughs in silver mining, including steam-assisted drilling, mine dewatering, and improvements in hauling. These advancements continue to enhance our ability to separate silver from other ores.

Silver—like gold—was treasured by many cultures, and it’s uses ranged from ornamental to medicinal. Many wealthy families owned silver utensils, jewelry, religious talismans, and decor. Silver was also used as currency, in trade, and for the payment of debts. A gift of silver was seen as a symbol of trust and love.

Before the compilation of the Periodic Table, silver was considered one of seven sacred metals in alchemy. Silver was also associated with the sixth chakra (or the “third eye”) in the chakra system, which is a system of seven energy centers of the body that form a vertical line along the spine.

In Ayurvedic medicine, illness is thought to be caused by an energy imbalance. Precise combinations of pure metals were concocted in an attempt to restore that balance to a state of equilibrium. Silver was used as a liver and spleen detoxifier. In fact, silver—which has antibacterial properties—was used in medicine as late as the 1930s, before antibiotics were created.

More recently, silver bromide and other silver-halide salts have been used in photography. As a good conductor of heat and electricity, silver has also been used in various electrical applications. Silver continues to be a favorite material for jewelry and luxury items, as well as a valuable form of investment.

If you’d like to participate in this rich history and invest in silver, we recommend the Provident Prospector 1 oz silver round. This is one of our most popular rounds among investors and collectors alike.

What’s your favorite use for silver, whether you’re interested in historical information or based on modern uses?

The History of the Element Silver An Esoteric View - from Ancient to Modern Use

Throughout human history, Silver has been recognized and utilized by many cultures as a metal with unique properties. This document explores the significance of the element silver in history, covering esoteric topics such as silver use in alchemy, human culture, and modern science. Silver has a long history of use in medicine, and was commonly used by doctors as late as the 1930's, before the advent of antibiotics.

Would you like to learn about the fundamental principles of colloidal silver production? Our basic tutorial provides the necessary core information to build an advanced generator, even though the tutorial itself is focused on the most simple generator possible. Learn the principles, and avoid errors in judgement such as using an air bubbler, not keeping electrodes clean, and more. View our Make Your Own Basic Colloidal Silver Generator tutorial.

A History of Silver

The Poetry of Silver throughout History

Songs for the singers, sighs for none
Salvation sings simply for one
Symphonies of splendor
stagings for the moon's silver lore
Powerful singular sensed beauties
caught and shimmering, silence for the trees
Copyright © 2000 Jan Haag

Since ancient times, silver has been closely associated with the moon and lunar influences. The finest artist eyes have described the midnight sheen cast by the sun's reflection off of the moon in terms of silver. Silver is a cool color, and stands as a diametric opposite to gold. Silver is closely tied to Isis and all things flexible, creative, and emotionally intelligent.

In alchemy, silver is an archetype concept - one of seven. Before the periodic table emerged through technological advancement, there were in fact seven sacred metals, of which silver held a place of high esteem. In hermetic philosophy, an alchemical concept more than simply describes physical characteristics. All ideas were centered on discovering and utilizing the essence behind the material manifestation, with the goal of expressing in absolute terms primary principles governing both time and matter. Practitioners of the past were as much poets as scientists, and possessed unparalleled patience in their works.

Silver is even attributed in the ancient chakra system - a system of seven sacred energy centers of the body. Silver is associated with the sixth chakra, often referred to as the "third-eye". In this sense, silver certainly represents the concept of reflection, both physically ( all reflective substances are silvery ) and as an internal exercise of self-analysis.

Silver has always held a value above material and economic considerations. Gifts of silver jewelry in many cultures are given as a symbol of trust, truth, excellence, wisdom and love.

Even the ancient Vedas expound on the intrinsic power of silver. Within the Ayurvedic system of thought, all illness is rooted in an imbalance in the human energy system, and pure metals in precise combinations are used to help restore the body's electromagnetic balance to a state of equilibrium. Medically, silver was known to be a liver and spleen detoxifier.

In Roman and Greek Mythology, the First Age was called Golden, the second Silver. Apollo, god of truth and light, teacher of medicine, carried a silver bow. His twin sister Artemis lost a hand in battle and later was given a silver replacement by the Irish god of healing. In the shamanic religion of Bon-Po, a special river filled with silver sands is said to make anyone who drinks the water lovely asa peacock.

Islamic alchemy gives silver an important place physically and conceptually. Silver was known as one of the seven sacred bodies. Alchemical procedures were even defined in terms of silver, i.e. the silvering of other metals the act of giving other metals silver-like qualities.

As an example of how these predecessors to modern chemists thought, examine the following passage:

The Marrow of Alchemy

"Wherefore now observe, that our Son of Saturn, must be united to a metalline, and mercurial form, because it is Argent-Vive alone, which is the agent our work requires, but common argent-vive availed nothing to our Stone, being dead, yet it is inclined to be actuated by the salt of Nature, and true Sulphur, which is its only mate. This salt is found in Saturn's offspring, being pure within, and hath power to penetrate to the centre do metals, abounding with such qualities as fits it to enter the body of Sol, which it divided into elements, and after dissolution abided therewith. The Sulphur you must seek in the house of Aries, this is the magic fire of the wise, to heat the Kings bath, (which you may prepare in a weeks time) this fire lies straightly concealed, which you may unlock in an hour's time, and afterward wash it with a silver shower."
- Eirenaeus Philoponos Philalethes
London, 1655

In other alchemical texts, silver is closely related to a process known as metal whitening, and specific procedures are followed to transform metals until they reach a state of color described as a blend of all colors - silvery. A related yellowing process refers to turning silver into gold, which is nothing more or less than taking something back to an original or purified state.

Brightness descends
Here a reflection
Somewhere a shadow
I see the moon in a midnight sky.
This lightness spreads to a pale glow
The secondary reflections bring
A million shades to thousands of colors.
Landscapes of grey-metallic twine
From her skin in ethereal beauty shine
There is silver in the moon!

- Silver Heart Files, JRE, Rights reserved 1989

Based on evidence found on islands in the Aegean Sea, mankind has practiced the science of separating silver from lead at least as far back as 3000 BC. Advances in technology and analytical methods since that time have brought us to extreme pinnacles in a chemical understanding of silver as both a metal and an element.

Silver, Ag, has an atomic number of 47. This means it is the 47th element in the periodic table by atomic weight and contains 47 electrons. The atomic weight of silver is 107.8682, and it is in a solid state at 298 degrees Kelvin. In ground state, it has four filled valence shells and a fifth shell with one electron. Silver has a hardness rated between 2.5 and 2.7, and is therefore one of the most malleable of all metals. Silver is white and lustrous. While it is a metal, it is more aptly described as a transition element. In fluids, silver can exist in four basic forms - as a compound, a neutral particle ( as in ground silver ), a negatively charged aggregate ( particle ), and a positively charged ion.

Silver Bromide and other silver-halide salts are used extensively in photography. Various alloys have long been used for jewelry. Silver is an excellent conductor of both heat and electricity and is therefore used extensively for electrical applications. Up until about the 1930's, silver compounds were used as a normal part of medicine, silver nitrate being the prevalent form. Silver Iodide was used in babies' eyes upon birth to prevent blinding as the result of bacterial contamination.

Esoteric Studies and Colloidal Silver

Some practitioners of the art of colloidal silver production believe that celestial events can effect colloidal silver production. In particular, a few researchers have noted that the moon significantly influences colloidal silver production. Amateur tests conducted indicate that the most stable colloidal silver can be made six hours prior to moonrise, or six hours after the moon sets. Such practitioners widely believe that especially high quality products can be made during a full or new moon.

Much of the colloidal silver industry is busy creating ways to effectively speed up colloidal silver production to maximize the amount of colloidal silver that can be produced in a short amount of time. However, there are those who hold fast to the ancient alchemical belief that time itself is a key factor in all chemical events and that patience IS, indeed, a virtue. The goal under this type of philosophy is to harness the complete cycles of nature, and to extend the brewing time to a day, week, month, or even longer. Usually, such formulations would be used in homeopathic doses.

There are those who also believe that not all silver is created equal! There exists at least one source of silver ( from the Sahara Desert ) that hermetically learned individuals prize for more spiritual reasons. It is unknown if anyone uses such silvers in colloidal silver production - indeed it is the rare individual who even knows of its existence!

While modern researchers, scientists and chemists explore the application of silver through hard science and analytical studies, there are those with broader ambitions and a more liberal attitude toward science who have begun to consider ways to improve isolated silver using different approaches. Production methods utilizing flow forms, holoforms, and other energy/electromagnetic patterning will likely begin to surface as time passes. Experimentation with light, sound and various forms of vibration have been underway for some time. The end goal of such pursuits is to create an end product that is energized, highly organized, and as "naturalized" as possible.

Regardless of whether such efforts yield any measurable benefit, there is a poetic value in beautifying any process. There is certainly room in the imagination to contemplate the differences between a "cold moon" ( December ) or a "hunter's moon" ( June ) solunar silver!

The reality of quantum physics may eventually bring mankind's understanding of natural law closer to its original roots. Studies in standing wave technology, morphogenic fields, and field theory paint an increasingly broad picture of how our universe operates as a dynamically interwoven and elastic reality. While there is ample room for imagination to explore possibilities, one can only wonder if the poetic essence of our highly expressive ancestors will ever fully resurface - or if it will simply continue to lay hidden deep and silent in the soft glow of the silvery night, where the healers of the world bath in peace after the day's work is all but done.

Another Theory Suggests A Pre-Polish Slavic-Viking Trade Route

What is perhaps most special about this hoard of 118 coins is that it was hidden, or lost, at a time when the first medieval Polish kingdoms hadn’t even developed. This links the coins with the Slavic tribes who ruled the region, and it is known they used mainly Arabian silver dirhams to pay for deliveries of slaves that they procured from the Muslim caliphate. For this reason, such coins are regarded as “extremely rare” in Poland, because they were discovered in northeastern Poland, so far beyond the Carolingian dynasty’s reach.

Professor Bogucki said that while it “seems likely” that the owner of the hoard of coins found near Biskupiec had obtained them in Truso, alternatively they might have been en route to Truso, to be used “for trading.” Szczepanski told Science in Poland that the region was probably an uninhabited wilderness at the time and archaeologists have not found any traces of a nearby settlement, hence they think the coins were being transported either to or from Biskupiec.

It might never be understood if the coins were “travelling” to or from Truso. But in the world we live in today, where tangible stories are much more “fund worthy” than actual facts, there is little doubt that the Polish museum cabinet will tell the tale that these three coins were “possibly” originally part of a ransom paid by the Carolingian King Charles the Bald to the Vikings threatening Paris, his capital city.

Top image: Some of the 118 Carolingian coins in the rare and unusual coin hoard found in northeastern Poland. Source: Ostróda Museum

Colloidal Silver: Expert Opinions

The research showing colloidal silver’s superior performance in fighting microbes has attracted the attention of leading scientists and medical researchers throughout the world. Its benefits are now stirring new interest as 50 prominent doctors are currently researching the efficacy and applications of colloidal silver in human health. As a result, many interesting studies have emerged.

According to experts, no microorganism ever tested has been able to stay alive for more than six minutes when exposed directly to colloidal silver.

Science Digest cites colloidal silver as “…a wonder of modern medicine,” and further states, “Antibiotics kill perhaps a half dozen different disease organisms, but silver kills some 650. Resistant strains fail to develop. Moreover, silver is virtually non-toxic. Colloidal silver, used as an anti-microbial agent, will not create superbugs as antibiotics do.”

Alfred Searle, the founder of the giant Searle Pharmaceuticals (now Monsanto), stated, “Applying colloidal silver to human subjects has been done in a large number of cases with astonishingly successful results. For internal administration … it has the advantage of being rapidly fatal to pathogens without toxic action on its host. It is quite stable.” Further information indicates that Colloidal Silver does not cause harmful interactions with other medications or topical treatments.

In laboratory tests with colloidal silver, bacteria, viruses, and fungal organisms are killed within minutes of contact. Larry C. Ford, M.D. of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, UCLA School of Medicine, Centre For The Health Sciences reported on November 1, 1988, “I tested them (the silver solutions) using standard anti-microbial tests for disinfectants. The silver solutions were anti-bacterial for concentrations of 105 organisms per ml of Streptococcus Pyogenes, Staphylococcus Aureus, Neisseria Gonorrhea, Gardnerella Vaginalis, Salmonella Typhi and other enteric pathogens, and fungicidal for Candida Albicans, Candida Globata and M. Furfur.”

Because of the many organisms that have developed strains resistant to modern antibiotics, Dr. Robert Becker’s finding is of particular importance. Becker, of Syracuse University, stated, “All of the organisms that we tested were sensitive to the electrically generated silver ions, including some that were resistant to all known antibiotics…In no case were any undesirable side effects of the silver treatment apparent.”

The use of some silver preparations in mainstream medicine survived. Among them are the use of dilute silver nitrate in newborn babies' eyes to protect from infection and the use of "Silvadine," a silver based salve, in virtually every burn ward in America to kill infection. A new silver based bandage has recently been approved by the FDA and licensed for sale. Other uses that did not lose favor include:

  • Silver water purification filters and tablets are manufactured in Switzerland and used by many national and international airlines to prevent growth of algae and bacteria.
  • Electrical ionization units that impregnate the water with silver and copper ions are used to sanitize pool water without the harsh effects of chlorine.
  • The former Soviet Union used silver to sterilize recycled water on their space vehicles.
  • The Swiss use silver filters in homes and offices.
  • Some U.S. municipalities use silver in treatment of sewage.
  • In the Japanese work place, silver is a popular agent in the fight against airborne toxins as well other industrial poisons.
    and wound dressings are now commercially available.
  • Silver has been found to prevent the infection resulting from burns.

But for the most part, with the discovery of pharmaceutical antibiotics, interest in silver as an anti-microbial agent declined almost to the point of extinction.

Bronze Age Mesopotamia

  • One sheep cost 2.6 to 16 grams.
  • A female slave cost 52 to 192 grams.
  • Urban property (one square meter) cost 1.3 to 22 grams.
  • 2300BC. One slave was purchased for 10 shekels.
  • 2000BC. A house fronting a street with adjoining land was purchased for 4 ½ shekels.
  • 2000BC. A house was leased for one year for 1 shekel.

Class of Patient

Cost of Surgery

Cost of Medical Treatment

Table 2. Babylonian medical fees – laws 215, 216, 217, 221, 222 and 223

Credit and finance were well established during Bronze Age Mesopotamia, and there is at least one example of a complete credit collapse in 1788BC. See Financing Civilization and a Brief History of World Credit and Interest Rates.

For the sake of brevity, I dropped a section on the early Iron Age. For anyone interested in examining Biblical prices, I will mention that the Hebrew shekel was 14.1 grams of silver. This larger size, still at 20 gerahs per shekel 3, is probably due to the higher per capita inventory of silver near the end of the second millennium BC.

Classical Greece

Athenian and Persian Monetary Systems


Table 3. Monetary systems of ancient Athens and Persia

One Attic talent = 60 minas = 6,000 drachmas. Under the Attic standard 1 talent = 25,800 grams, or 829 troy ounces of silver.

State Revenues of Athens and Persia

Annual revenues of Persia in 480BC were 15,964 Attic talents (13.2 million oz silver). This represented the revenues derived from 20 Satrapies or provinces (Greek Coinage & Measures. Annual revenues of the Athenian Empire at the start of the Peloponnesian War were 600 talents4.

Wages and Prices

Greek mercenaries in the Revolt of Cyrus the Younger (401BC) were paid 1 daric/month (8.35 grams gold) later raised to 1.5 darics/month 5. During the Peloponnesian War (ended 404BC) an Athenian hoplite (heavy infantry) and his squire each earned 1 drachma per day6. Greek rowers on triremes in the 5th century also earned 1 drachma/day or 4.3 grams silver. Athens provided welfare for disabled veterans, incapacitated workers, and orphans under 18. Orphans received 2 obols/day. 55 pounds of grain (1 medimnos) cost 5 drachmas 7. The prize for victors in the Olympic games c.560BC was 500 drachmas8.


The Roman Republic

Silver money came late in Roman history. For the first few centuries, the Roman monetary system was based on the Aes Rude, with 1 As equaling a pound of bronze. Middle class citizens had net worth between 15,000 and 100,000 ases. Patricians had more, while Plebeians had less9.

The silver didrachm was introduced in 280BC, weighing 7 grams of silver and representing 3 ases. Bronze coinage consisted of the As (300 grams), a 1500 gram Aes Signatum bar = 5 As, Semis = ½ As, Triens = 1/3 As, Quadrans = ¼ As, Sextans = 1/6 As, Uncia = 1/12 As, and Semiuncia = 1/24 As. Note that we derive "ounce" from the uncia.

From the very beginnings of this system, Rome began tinkering with it, continually reducing the weight of its coinage. A monetary reform in 225BC introduced the gold stater worth 48 Ases, three new silver coins to replace the didrachm, and smaller bronze coins than before. The As was reduced to 140 grams.

After continued debasement, another monetary reform in 211BC introduced the denarius of 4 grams silver, the ancestor of the modern penny, worth 10 Ases. The As, still the Roman unit of account, was reduced to 48 grams of bronze. The table below shows the basic monetary system c.100BC.


Denarius - 3.5 grams silver

Table 4. Monetary system in the late Roman Repubic

Some first century BC data comes from inscriptions found in Rome (from Innkeeper, the Bill. Craftsmen earned 12 ases per day. This equated to 4.2 grams of silver, twice the daily wages in Babylonia. Legionaries before Caesar earned 5 ases per day. After Caesar they earned 10 ases per day. A meal of stew and wine at an inn cost 3 ases – 2 for the stew, 1 for the wine. Hay for mule at the inn cost 2 ases, while a prostitute at the same inn cost 2 to 8 ases .

Imperial Rome

In the early days of the empire, around 30 BC, Augustus established a gold standard that remained intact until 64AD. Nero then reduced the weight of the denarius to 3.36 grams, while reducing the fineness from 98% to 93.5% silver. Modest as this initial debasement was, it set a precedent for future emperors to follow. By 250AD Roman coins were only 40% silver, and by 270AD they contained virtually no silver at all. Prices rose accordingly. From the beginning to the end of the second century, the price of a measure of wheat soared from 7 or 8 drachmas to 120,000 drachmas – see .

In 301AD, the Emperor Diocletian issued an edit dictating the ceiling price of some 800 items, but these price controls failed miserably, in spite of capital punishment for violation of the edict. The edict specified that a pound of gold was worth 50,000 denaris, but the relationship fell to 100,000 denaris/pound of gold by 307AD, 300,000 denaris/pound of gold by 324AD, and an incredible 2.1 billion denaris/pound of gold by the middle of the 4th century. For more on the collapse of the Roman money economy see "How Excessive Government Killed Ancient Rome" -

Edward Gibbon provides a number of prices in Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Many are stated in British pounds, which I believe equaled ¼ oz of gold in his day (1 sovereign). Other prices are stated in drachmas, probably following Greek commentaries that translated Roman prices into the Attic system10. Some of Gibbon's figures from the first two centuries AD are provided below.

  • A Praetorian Guardsman (emperor's guard) under Augustus earned 2 drachmas/day.
  • After 20 years service legionaries received 3,000 denaris or equivalent land.
  • The annual salary of a philosopher was 10,000 drachmas (1,382 oz silver).
  • Pertinax, as procurator of Dacia (governor of the Balkans) earned 1,600 pounds/year (6,560 oz silver).
  • A learned slave sold for many hundreds of pounds.
  • Butcher's meat, previously 2 denaris/lb, cost 8 denaris/lb in the second century.
  • 70 pounds of brass cost 1 ounce of silver.
  • An aqueduct cost 3,000,000 drachmas or 100,000 pounds (410,000 oz silver).
  • The annual games of the theater, amphitheater, and circus in Rome and Constantinople cost 160,000 pounds (656,000 oz silver).
  • Silk cost its weight in gold.


Silver's history is long. The first evidence of silver mining dates back to 3000 B.C., in Turkey and Greece, according to the RSC. Ancient people even figured out how to refine silver. They heated the silver ore and blew air over it, a process called Cupellation. The silver does not react to the air but the base metals such as lead and copper oxidize and separate from the precious metal.

Silver forms in star explosions called supernovae, as does gold. A study published in September 2012 in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics found that smaller stars that explode produce silver, while larger stars produce gold.

Silver really exploded on Earth, however, when Europeans landed on the New World in 1492, Spanish conquerors discovered that South America was home to rich veins of silver and silver ore and they mined that wealth enthusiastically according to the Silver Institute, an industry trade group, 85 percent of the silver produced worldwide came from Bolivia, Peru and Mexico between 1500 and 1800.

Silver played a big role in making early photography possible. Silver nitrate (silver combined with nitrogen and oxygen molecules) was used on photographic plates in the first, clunky cameras, according to the RSC because it reacts to light by turning black enabling photographers to capture an instant of light. Even with the rise of digital cameras, silver remains part of the traditional photographic process.

Silver consumption in India has increased multi-fold in the past one decade, going by a report on the precious metal released recently by the Silver Institute. According to the World Silver Survey 2018, around 601 tonnes were used in the country in 2008 for jewellery making and rose to 2,058 tonnes in 2017. In the same period, the use of the metal in silverware rose from 481 tonnes to 1,212 tonnes.

As a result, India's share of silver demand for jewellery and silverware in world market also increased from 14.7 per cent in 2008 to 39.2 per cent in 2017. During the decade, India imported nearly 45,000 tonnes of the metal. The trend for gold demand in jewellery and as an investment is quite different, having fallen in both categories in the country.

Most of the demand increase took place during the past five years. Going by the import figures, average annual import of silver between 2008 and 2012 was 3,080 tonnes and rose to 5,800 tonnes between 2013 and 2017. Increase in industrial use of silver was significant during the period.

Timeline: A brief history of silver

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - U.S. silver futures on Monday jumped more than 8 percent to just below $50 an ounce, its highest since 1980, buoyed by a weak dollar and strong physical demand in Asia.

Here’s a brief history of silver:

April 25, 2011: Spot silver rose to $48.84 an ounce and U.S. silver futures to $49.82, highest since 1980.

2010: Spot silver rose to successive 30-year highs, and prices gained more than 80 percent, outperforming gold.

1997: In 1997 and 1998 Warren Buffet bought about 130 million ounces of silver.

1988: The Hunt Brothers were charged for conspiracy to corner the silver market, and fined $134 million in compensation to a Peruvian mineral company. The brothers declared bankruptcy.

Jan 18, 1980: Silver hit an all-time high just below $50 an ounce, when gold prices also rose dramatically in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Silver prices dipped to about $15 an ounce by the end of that year.

1973: The Hunt Brothers, sons of the late Texan oil tycoon Haroldson Lafayette Hunt Jr, began cornering the silver market.

1965: The U.S. government eliminated silver from quarters and dimes, and half dollars were reduced to 40 percent silver.

1946: The Silver Purchase Act of 1946 rendered the U.S. government the biggest buyer of silver in the world. The Act also bound the government to sell at a fixed price.

1934: In accordance to the Silver Purchase Act of 1934, U.S. President Roosevelt issued executive order No. 6814 to confiscate and nationalize silver, and outlawing private ownership of quantities more than 500 troy ounces.

March 6, 1933: To curb mass panics and bank runs, President Roosevelt declared a four-day Bank Holiday to stop hoarding and export of gold and silver. The “Emergency Banking Act” passed on Day 3 shut down banks, which needed to be deemed “financially secure” to be reopened.

1900: The Gold Standard Act of 1900 officially renounced bimetallism, and pegged the U.S. currency to gold.

Oct 30, 1893: The Shelman Silver Purchase Act was repealed to resolidify the gold standard, on the back of falling gold reserves of the Treasury from a peak of $320 million in 1888 to $189 million in 1893.

1890: Under the Shelman Silver Purchase Act, some 4.5 million ounces of silver is coined monthly.

1875: The Resumption Act of 1875 that was enacted in 1878 established the U.S. as the de facto monometallic gold standard. This foreshadowed the increased demand for gold and decreased demand for silver as a monetary reserve in the world, thus leading to a dip in market prices.

1873: The Coinage Law of 1873 demonetizes silver, as unlimited legal tender status and free coinage is renounced.

1862: The U.S. Congress passed a law authorizing paper “greenbacks” as legal tender for all public and private debts, except duties. However, this legal bind did not void specific provisions in contracts that demand gold/silver payment.

1858: Silver ore was discovered in Nevada, causing palpable excitement in the United States akin to the California Gold Rush ten years earlier.

Oct 15, 1794: The first official U.S. silver dollar was minted, in accordance to the Coinage Act of 1792.

1792: Alexander Hamilton, then U.S. Treasury, proposed the adoption of a gold and silver-based monetary system.

1500-1800: Mexico and Peru produced about 85 percent of the world’s silver, with an estimated accumulated output between 70,000 to 150,000 tonnes. About 40 percent that silver wound up in China by some estimate.

1500-1600: The eight reales coin, or “piece of eight,” was the most common silver coin of late 16th and 17th century Spain. As trade became a global activity for the first time, it became the international currency.

The Spanish silver coins, known as “pieces of eight,” were in circulation between the late 16th and late 19th century.

1545: Discovery of Potosi, Bolivia and the Cerro Rico silver ore mine, which was deemed the world’s greatest silver deposit. Production peaked in 1615.

1492: Columbus’ discovery of the New World was a significant milestone that led to the founding of major mines in Mexico, Bolivia and Peru that were to account for over 85 percent of global silver production and trade from 1500 to 1800.

1279 - 1368: During China’s Yuan Dynasty, silver ingots were widely used as a form of currency. In the Ming Dynasty, silver ingot became the main currency in circulation until the end of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, China’s last dynasty.

775: The Saxon kingdoms issued silver coins known as “sterlings,” 240 of them being minted out of one pound of silver, the weight of which was probably about equal to the later troy pound.

750-1200: Several major silver mine discoveries occurred in Central Europe, including the classic Schemnitz, Rammelsburg, Goslar, and Saxony regions in Germany.

708: Silver was coined for the first time in Japan under the reign of Emperor Genmyo. But it was soon abandoned in favor of copper because of meager production levels.

8th Century: Silver mining was temporarily halted by the Moorish conquest of Spain. Spain dominated silver mine production in the first 1,000 years AD.

206 BC-220 AD: During the Han Dynasty, silver coin was included in the official currencies of China, but it was limited to use by the royal family only.

269 BC: The Roman Empire adopted silver as part of its standard coinage and it was used throughout the trading world.

550 BC: First silver coins were minted in the eastern Mediterranean.

1600-1200 BC: The collapse of the Minoan and Mycenaean cultures shifted the focus of silver production to the mines of Laurium (near Athens) to provide for the fledgling Greek civilization.

2500 BC: The ancient Chaldeans (modern-day Turkey) created a ‘cupellation’ process to extract silver from lead-silver ores in the first sophisticated processing methods documented.

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