Electrum
Overview
 
Electrum is a naturally occurring alloy
Alloy
An alloy is a mixture or metallic solid solution composed of two or more elements. Complete solid solution alloys give single solid phase microstructure, while partial solutions give two or more phases that may or may not be homogeneous in distribution, depending on thermal history...

 of gold
Gold
Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and an atomic number of 79. Gold is a dense, soft, shiny, malleable and ductile metal. Pure gold has a bright yellow color and luster traditionally considered attractive, which it maintains without oxidizing in air or water. Chemically, gold is a...

 and silver
Silver
Silver is a metallic chemical element with the chemical symbol Ag and atomic number 47. A soft, white, lustrous transition metal, it has the highest electrical conductivity of any element and the highest thermal conductivity of any metal...

, with trace amounts of copper
Copper
Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is a ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. Pure copper is soft and malleable; an exposed surface has a reddish-orange tarnish...

 and other metals. It has also been produced artificially. The ancient Greeks called it 'gold' or 'white gold', as opposed to 'refined gold'. Its color ranges from pale to bright yellow, depending on the proportions of gold and silver. The gold content of naturally occurring electrum in modern Western Anatolia
Anatolia
Anatolia is a geographic and historical term denoting the westernmost protrusion of Asia, comprising the majority of the Republic of Turkey...

 ranges from 70% to 90%, in contrast to the 45–55% of electrum used in ancient Lydia
Lydia
Lydia was an Iron Age kingdom of western Asia Minor located generally east of ancient Ionia in the modern Turkish provinces of Manisa and inland İzmir. Its population spoke an Anatolian language known as Lydian....

n coinage of the same geographical area.
Discussions
Encyclopedia
Electrum is a naturally occurring alloy
Alloy
An alloy is a mixture or metallic solid solution composed of two or more elements. Complete solid solution alloys give single solid phase microstructure, while partial solutions give two or more phases that may or may not be homogeneous in distribution, depending on thermal history...

 of gold
Gold
Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and an atomic number of 79. Gold is a dense, soft, shiny, malleable and ductile metal. Pure gold has a bright yellow color and luster traditionally considered attractive, which it maintains without oxidizing in air or water. Chemically, gold is a...

 and silver
Silver
Silver is a metallic chemical element with the chemical symbol Ag and atomic number 47. A soft, white, lustrous transition metal, it has the highest electrical conductivity of any element and the highest thermal conductivity of any metal...

, with trace amounts of copper
Copper
Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is a ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. Pure copper is soft and malleable; an exposed surface has a reddish-orange tarnish...

 and other metals. It has also been produced artificially. The ancient Greeks called it 'gold' or 'white gold', as opposed to 'refined gold'. Its color ranges from pale to bright yellow, depending on the proportions of gold and silver. The gold content of naturally occurring electrum in modern Western Anatolia
Anatolia
Anatolia is a geographic and historical term denoting the westernmost protrusion of Asia, comprising the majority of the Republic of Turkey...

 ranges from 70% to 90%, in contrast to the 45–55% of electrum used in ancient Lydia
Lydia
Lydia was an Iron Age kingdom of western Asia Minor located generally east of ancient Ionia in the modern Turkish provinces of Manisa and inland İzmir. Its population spoke an Anatolian language known as Lydian....

n coinage of the same geographical area. This suggests that one reason for the invention of coinage in that area was to increase the profits from seignorage by issuing currency with a lower gold content than the commonly circulating metal.

Electrum was used as early as the third millennium BC
3rd millennium BC
The 3rd millennium BC spans the Early to Middle Bronze Age.It represents a period of time in which imperialism, or the desire to conquer, grew to prominence, in the city states of the Middle East, but also throughout Eurasia, with Indo-European expansion to Anatolia, Europe and Central Asia. The...

 in Old Kingdom
Old Kingdom
Old Kingdom is the name given to the period in the 3rd millennium BC when Egypt attained its first continuous peak of civilization in complexity and achievement – the first of three so-called "Kingdom" periods, which mark the high points of civilization in the lower Nile Valley .The term itself was...

 Egypt, sometimes as an exterior coating to the pyramidion
Pyramidion
A pyramidion is the uppermost piece or capstone of an Egyptian pyramid in archaeological parlance. They were called benbenet in the Ancient Egyptian language, which associated the pyramid as a whole with the sacred benben stone...

s atop ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...

ian pyramid
Pyramid
A pyramid is a structure whose outer surfaces are triangular and converge at a single point. The base of a pyramid can be trilateral, quadrilateral, or any polygon shape, meaning that a pyramid has at least three triangular surfaces...

s and obelisks.

Electrum was also used in the making of ancient drinking vessels
Beaker (archaeology)
A beaker is a small ceramic or metal drinking vessel shaped to be held in the hands. Archaeologists identify several different types including the butt beaker, the claw beaker and the rough-cast beaker, however when used alone the term usually refers to the pottery cups associated with the European...

 and coin
Coin
A coin is a piece of hard material that is standardized in weight, is produced in large quantities in order to facilitate trade, and primarily can be used as a legal tender token for commerce in the designated country, region, or territory....

s.

Composition

Electrum consists primarily of gold
Gold
Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and an atomic number of 79. Gold is a dense, soft, shiny, malleable and ductile metal. Pure gold has a bright yellow color and luster traditionally considered attractive, which it maintains without oxidizing in air or water. Chemically, gold is a...

 and silver
Silver
Silver is a metallic chemical element with the chemical symbol Ag and atomic number 47. A soft, white, lustrous transition metal, it has the highest electrical conductivity of any element and the highest thermal conductivity of any metal...

 but is sometimes found with traces of platinum
Platinum
Platinum is a chemical element with the chemical symbol Pt and an atomic number of 78. Its name is derived from the Spanish term platina del Pinto, which is literally translated into "little silver of the Pinto River." It is a dense, malleable, ductile, precious, gray-white transition metal...

, copper
Copper
Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is a ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. Pure copper is soft and malleable; an exposed surface has a reddish-orange tarnish...

 and other metal
Metal
A metal , is an element, compound, or alloy that is a good conductor of both electricity and heat. Metals are usually malleable and shiny, that is they reflect most of incident light...

s. As a result, electrum is a good conductor of electricity
Electricity
Electricity is a general term encompassing a variety of phenomena resulting from the presence and flow of electric charge. These include many easily recognizable phenomena, such as lightning, static electricity, and the flow of electrical current in an electrical wire...

.

Analysis of the electrum composition in ancient Greek coinage dating from about 600 BC shows that the gold composition was about 55.5% in the coinage issued by Phocaea
Phocaea
Phocaea, or Phokaia, was an ancient Ionian Greek city on the western coast of Anatolia. Greek colonists from Phocaea founded the colony of Massalia in 600 BC, Emporion in 575 BC and Elea in 540 BC.-Geography:Phocaea was the northernmost...

. In the early classical period, the gold composition of electrum ranged from 46% in Phokaia to 43% in Mytilene. In later coinage from these areas, dating to 326 BC, the gold composition averaged 40% to 41%. In the Hellenistic period electrum coins with a regularly decreasing proportion of gold were issued by the Carthaginians. In the later Roman (eastern Roman) empire controlled from Constantinople, the purity of the gold coinage was reduced, and an alloy that can be called electrum began to be used.

Appearance

The colour of electrum is pale yellow or yellowish-white and the name is a Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

ized form of the Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 word ἤλεκτρον (elektron) mentioned in the Odyssey
Odyssey
The Odyssey is one of two major ancient Greek epic poems attributed to Homer. It is, in part, a sequel to the Iliad, the other work ascribed to Homer. The poem is fundamental to the modern Western canon, and is the second—the Iliad being the first—extant work of Western literature...

meaning a metallic substance consisting of gold alloyed with silver. The same word was also used for the substance amber
Amber
Amber is fossilized tree resin , which has been appreciated for its color and natural beauty since Neolithic times. Amber is used as an ingredient in perfumes, as a healing agent in folk medicine, and as jewelry. There are five classes of amber, defined on the basis of their chemical constituents...

, probably because of the pale yellow color of certain varieties, and it is from the electrostatic
Electrostatics
Electrostatics is the branch of physics that deals with the phenomena and properties of stationary or slow-moving electric charges....

 properties of amber that the modern English words "electron" and "electricity" derive. Electrum was often referred to as white gold
White Gold
White Gold is a 2003 Russian action film directed by Viktor Ivanov from a screenplay by John Jopson and Viktor Ivanov. The story begins with the actual events of 1919 when a White Army train carrying the bulk of Czar Nicholas' gold reserves arrives empty at Siberia's Irkutsk station...

 in ancient times but could be more accurately described as "pale gold". The modern use of the term white gold usually concerns gold
Gold
Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and an atomic number of 79. Gold is a dense, soft, shiny, malleable and ductile metal. Pure gold has a bright yellow color and luster traditionally considered attractive, which it maintains without oxidizing in air or water. Chemically, gold is a...

 alloyed with any one or a combination of nickel
Nickel
Nickel is a chemical element with the chemical symbol Ni and atomic number 28. It is a silvery-white lustrous metal with a slight golden tinge. Nickel belongs to the transition metals and is hard and ductile...

, silver
Silver
Silver is a metallic chemical element with the chemical symbol Ag and atomic number 47. A soft, white, lustrous transition metal, it has the highest electrical conductivity of any element and the highest thermal conductivity of any metal...

, platinum
Platinum
Platinum is a chemical element with the chemical symbol Pt and an atomic number of 78. Its name is derived from the Spanish term platina del Pinto, which is literally translated into "little silver of the Pinto River." It is a dense, malleable, ductile, precious, gray-white transition metal...

 and palladium
Palladium
Palladium is a chemical element with the chemical symbol Pd and an atomic number of 46. It is a rare and lustrous silvery-white metal discovered in 1803 by William Hyde Wollaston. He named it after the asteroid Pallas, which was itself named after the epithet of the Greek goddess Athena, acquired...

 to produce a silver-colored gold.

History

Electrum is mentioned in an expedition sent by Pharaoh Sahure
Sahure
- Etymology :Sahure's birth name means "He who is Close to Re". His Horus name was Nebkhau.- Biography :Sahure was a son of queen Neferhetepes, as shown in scenes from the causeway of Sahure's pyramid complex in Abusir. His father was Userkaf. Sahure's consort was queen Neferetnebty. Reliefs show...

 of the Fifth dynasty of Egypt
Fifth dynasty of Egypt
The fifth dynasty of ancient Egypt is often combined with Dynasties III, IV and VI under the group title the Old Kingdom. Dynasty V dates approximately from 2494 to 2345 BC.-Rulers:...

 (see Sahure). It is also discussed by Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder
Gaius Plinius Secundus , better known as Pliny the Elder, was a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and personal friend of the emperor Vespasian...

 in his Naturalis Historia
Naturalis Historia
The Natural History is an encyclopedia published circa AD 77–79 by Pliny the Elder. It is one of the largest single works to have survived from the Roman Empire to the modern day and purports to cover the entire field of ancient knowledge, based on the best authorities available to Pliny...

.

Electrum is possibly referred to three times in the Bible (i.e. if the Septuagint's translation of the uncertain term חַשְׁמַל is accurate). In all three instances it is used to describe a type of glow seen in visions by the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel Ch.1 Vs.4 and 27;Ch. 8 Vs. 2). The word also appears in Sumerian texts; for instance, in the lost book, when Enki tells his master scribe (Edubsar) to write down all that he says, the text mentions a stylus of electrum with a crystal at the tip that glowed.

Electrum is believed to have been used in coins circa 600 BC
600s BC
-Events and trends:* 609 BC—The Babylonians defeat the Assyrian army of Ashur-uballit II and capture Harran. Ashur-uballit, the last Assyrian king, disappears from history....

 in Lydia
Lydia
Lydia was an Iron Age kingdom of western Asia Minor located generally east of ancient Ionia in the modern Turkish provinces of Manisa and inland İzmir. Its population spoke an Anatolian language known as Lydian....

 under the reign of Alyattes II
Alyattes II
Alyattes, king of Lydia , considered to be the founder of the Lydian empire, was the son of Sadyattes, of the house of the Mermnadae....

.
Electrum was much better for coinage than gold
Gold
Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and an atomic number of 79. Gold is a dense, soft, shiny, malleable and ductile metal. Pure gold has a bright yellow color and luster traditionally considered attractive, which it maintains without oxidizing in air or water. Chemically, gold is a...

, mostly because it was harder and more durable, but also because techniques for refining gold
Gold
Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and an atomic number of 79. Gold is a dense, soft, shiny, malleable and ductile metal. Pure gold has a bright yellow color and luster traditionally considered attractive, which it maintains without oxidizing in air or water. Chemically, gold is a...

 were not widespread at the time. The discrepancy between gold content of electrum from modern Western Anatolia (70–90%) and ancient Lydian coinage (45–55%) suggests that the Lydians had already solved the refining technology for silver and were adding refined silver to the local native electrum some decades before introducing the pure silver coins cited below.

In Lydia
Lydia
Lydia was an Iron Age kingdom of western Asia Minor located generally east of ancient Ionia in the modern Turkish provinces of Manisa and inland İzmir. Its population spoke an Anatolian language known as Lydian....

, electrum was minted into 4.7-gram coins, each valued at 1/3 stater
Stater
The stater was an ancient coin used in various regions of Greece.-History:The stater is mostly of Macedonian origin. Celtic tribes brought it in to Europe after using it as mercenaries in north Greece. It circulated from the 8th century BC to 50 AD...

(meaning "standard"). Three of these coins (with a weight of about 14.1 grams, almost half an ounce) totaled one stater, about one month's pay for a soldier. To complement the stater, fractions were made: the trite (third), the hekte (sixth), and so forth, including 1/24 of a stater, and even down to 1/48th and 1/96th of a stater. The 1/96 stater was only about 0.14 to 0.15 grams. Larger denominations, such as a one stater coin, were minted as well.

Because of variation in the composition of electrum, it was difficult to determine the exact worth of each coin. Widespread trading was hampered by this problem, as cautious foreign merchants offered poor rates on local electrum coin.

These difficulties were eliminated in 570 BC when pure silver coins were introduced. However, electrum currency remained common until approximately 350 BC. The simplest reason for this was that, because of the gold content, one 14.1 gram stater was worth as much as ten 14.1 gram silver pieces.

See also

  • Corinthian bronze
    Corinthian bronze
    Corinthian bronze, also called Corinthian brass or æs Corinthiacum, was a highly valuable metal alloy in classical antiquity. It is thought to be an alloy of copper with gold or silver , although it has also been contended that it was simply a very high grade of bronze, or a kind of bronze that...

     - a highly-prized alloy in antiquity, which may have contained electrum
  • orichalcum
    Orichalcum
    Orichalcum is a metal mentioned in several ancient writings, most notably the story of Atlantis as recounted in the Critias dialogue, recorded by Plato. According to Critias, orichalcum was considered second only to gold in value, and was found and mined in many parts of Atlantis in ancient times....

     - another metal mentioned in ancient texts, later used to refer to brass
  • shakudō
    Shakudo
    Shakudō is a billon of gold and copper , mostly designed for its dark blue-purple patina. It was historically used in Japan to decorate katana fittings such as tsuba and kozuka...

     - a Japanese billon
    Billon (alloy)
    Billon is an alloy of a precious metal with a majority base metal content . It is used chiefly for making coins, medals, and token coins.The word comes from the French bille....

     of gold and copper with a dark blue-purple patina
  • thokcha
    Thokcha
    'Thokcha' "sky-iron" are tektites and meteorites which are often high in iron content, refer Iron meteorite. The usage of meteoric iron is common in the history of ferrous metallurgy. Historically, thokchas were held in esteem for sacred metallurgical fabrication of weapons, musical instruments...

     - an alloy of meteoric iron or "thunderbolt iron" commonly used in Tibet
    Tibet
    Tibet is a plateau region in Asia, north-east of the Himalayas. It is the traditional homeland of the Tibetan people as well as some other ethnic groups such as Monpas, Qiang, and Lhobas, and is now also inhabited by considerable numbers of Han and Hui people...

  • List of alloys

External links

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