Thursday, February 9, 2012


Arguably One of the Most Beautiful Coins ever Minted
Hello My Friend and Welcome.
Today we continue our study of ancient metals when we take a look at silver. If you missed our first post in this series on Gold, The King of Metals, you can find it HERE. The second in this series on Copper is HERE. 
To put ancient metallurgy into perspective, consider the following facts. There are currently 86 known metals. These include a number of trans-uranium elements such as Neptunium, Plutonium, Einsteinium, and others created in particle accelerators, popularly known as atom smashers. Prior to the 19th Century, only 24 of these 86 metals had been discovered and half of those were added in the 18th Century. Five of those remaining 12 date to the 16th or 17th Century. Thus, ancient civilizations survived with only seven metals.  
These posts, by the way, are following the chronology of their discovery. Gold was first, Copper second, and Silver is considered to be the third metal discovered by man. Unlike gold and copper which occur naturally in their pure form, silver in its native form very rarely appears as nuggets. Most often, silver is found in combination with copper, nickel, gold, lead, zinc and sulfur. Mankind’s use of silver represented a great leap forward in ancient metallurgy. For the first time, men began gathering ore rather than nuggets, refining and separating silver from its companion elements.

Silver has been known since very ancient times. Slag heaps have been found in Asia Minor and on the Aegean islands, indicating that silver was being separated from lead as early as 4,000 BC. The silver mines at Laurium fueled the economy of Ancient Athens. It involved mining the ore in underground galleries, washing the ore and smelting it to extract the metal. Elaborate washing tables still exist at the site that utilized rainwater collected during the winter months in cisterns. By the First Century AD extraction of silver from lead ore was widespread in Roman Britannia.

The first mention of silver in the Bible occurs in Genesis 13:2, “Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold.” It continues to appear in nearly all of the following books. Interestingly, in 1 Kings 10:27 the writers emphasize Solomon’s wealth by saying, “The king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stones, and cedar as plentiful as sycamore-fig trees in the foothills.” The most famous reference to silver is the New Testament mention of Judas and the thirty pieces of silver he was paid to betray Jesus. Thirty pieces of silver, by the way, was the standard price of a slave at that time. Silver’s final appearance occurs in Revelation 18:11-12, “The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes anymore—cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls…”

Silver Ingots
Silver, like gold and copper, was frequently monetized. Most every nation and empire had, or has, silver coinage. Silver is second only to gold in its ductility and malleability, meaning it is easily pounded, stamped, shaped, bent and drawn out. Polished silver has the highest optical reflectivity of any metal and was used in the ancient world to make mirrors for the wealthy. The lower classes had to make do with polished copper or brass which gave rise to St. Paul’s famous quote, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” 1 Cor. 13.12.   

Silver jewelry, often set with gemstones, has been worn for personal adornment by people of all cultures since ancient times. Glass and stone beads were often strung on silver wire to make necklaces, bracelets and anklets. Silver was also made into rings and earrings. Decorative objects made of silver castings were popular in higher class homes in that era.

Roman Linked Chains of Silver
By necessity, Early Christians were discreet about their faith in order to survive. However, in 303 the emperors Constantine I and Licinius signed the Edict of Tolerance, which resulted in a flowering of Christian art and artistry. It is difficult, if not impossible, to know what it would have meant to these early believers to suddenly be allowed to openly wear an emblem of their faith. Many objects in antiquity, both everyday items as well as those for holy rituals, abounded in Christian imagery.  Besides the cross, Christians used the Chi-Rho symbol, an Alpha and Omega, the fish, angels, a starburst and abbreviated inscriptions in Greek which translated to “In Christ, Victory” or “Jesus Christ, King of Kings.” 
Silver Dish Honoring the Roman Goddess Minerva
Many Christian believers wore a cross. Christian jewelry reflected the humility Christ preached. Much of the Christian jewelry in antiquity was simple in design. Stunning bejeweled adornments were avoided.  Many of the Byzantine coins of that era had religious inscriptions and images of Jesus or Mary. These coins are sometimes found with holes punched through them so they could be worn as a pendant by an early believer.
Ring found in Kourion with Chi-Rho
Archeologists began studying the site of the ancient city of Kourion on the island of Cyprus in the 1980s. The entire town was destroyed on July 21, 365AD when a massive earthquake, with its epicenter near Crete, hit the eastern Mediterranean. Thousands of people vanished beneath tons of stone when the town’s buildings collapsed. The exact death-toll from this disaster will never be known. However, in a poignant display of familial love, researchers found an ancient ring with both the Chi-Rho and the Alpha-Omega symbols on the skeletal finger of a young father who had thrown himself over his family to try to protect them as their home collapsed.  
Next Monday we’ll take a look at St. Valentine whose feast day, as you know, the 14th of February.
Until then, we wish you Peace and Blessings.
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