The first coins were developed independently in Iron Age Anatolia and Archaic Greece, India and China around the 7th and 6th centuries BCE. Coins spread rapidly in the 6th and 5th centuries BCE, throughout Greece and Persia, and further to the Balkans. Standardized Roman currency was used throughout the Roman Empire. Important Roman gold and silver coins were continued into the Middle Ages (see Gold dinar, Solidus, Aureus, Denarius). Ancient and early medieval coins in theory had the value of their metal content, although there have been many instances throughout history of the metal content of coins being debased, so that the inferior coins were worth less in metal than their face value. Fiat money first arose in medieval China, with the jiaozi paper money. Early paper money was introduced in Europe in the later Middle Ages, but some coins continued to have the value of the gold or silver they contained throughout the Early Modern period. The penny was minted as a silver coin until the 17th century. The first circulating United States coins were cents (pennies), produced in 1793, and made entirely from copper. Silver content was reduced in many coins in the 19th century (use of billon), and the first coins made entirely of base metal (e.g. nickel, cupronickel, aluminium bronze), representing values higher than the value of their metal, were minted in the mid 19th century.
An oxhide ingot from Crete. Late Bronze Age metal ingots were given standard shapes, such as the shape of an “ox-hide”, suggesting that they represented standardized values. Coins were an evolution of “currency” systems of the Late Bronze Age, where standard-sized ingots, and tokens such as knife money, were used to store and transfer value. In the late Chinese Bronze Age, standardized cast tokens were made, such as those discovered in a tomb near Anyang. These were replicas in bronze of earlier Chinese currency, cowrie shells, so they were named Bronze Shell