Why am I smiling? Well, it crossed my mind that if this disaster had not happened to you, if this love had not taken place, then you might have become exactly like your father, and in very short time, too. You’d have settled down silently in this house with your meek and obedient wife, with few and stern words, not trusting a single person, and having no need of that at all, merely making money silently and gloomily.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Idiot


Originally, trade in settlements (tribal 8000-7000 BC) was done via clay tokens which you imprinted your unique symbol on – the hunters imprinted a symbol of hunting, the foragers depicted foraging – these symbols showed the worth of what you did and how you provided, based on pre-nomadic society. You’d save these in a piggy bank and they’d be weighed rather than counted. It provided a chitty you could hand in for grain/animals/goods/whatever you personally wanted. Got a lazy, slacker son who won’t get out of your early history basement and work? No problem, as long as the rest of your family unit were prepared to cover for their portion.

This system stood for 4000 years.

When external trade became needed because they couldn’t provide for the needs of the population, often due to aggressive expansion or poor crops, the simplistic system described above wouldn’t be enough; it required administration (Sargon the Great ~ 2500BC), more so when they decided to centralise all the tablets (tablet houses). That bureaucracy opened a new class, something for bright minds to do, the scribe – only they could speak the language of trade. They were extensively educated and most people were not. Everyone had to pay the scribes to administer the system. Currency as we know it was willfully born out of ignorance of the majority and the need for supervision and remains very much the same today. Scribes still have their modern counterparts, after over 4000 years.