3 Things You’d Never Guess Were Used as Currency in the Past

Throughout history, civilizations have used various items as currency to trade goods and services, long before the standardized coins and paper money we use today. While gold and silver have been common, many societies have relied on less conventional items as forms of payment. Let’s take a look.

Tea Bricks

In regions like Mongolia, Siberia, and Tibet, tea was the common currency. From the 9th century onward, tea leaves were pressed into bricks. This made them easy to transport and divide—key qualities of any currency. These tea bricks could be traded for all sorts of goods and services and were often used to pay workers’ salaries. 


In many parts of the world, particularly in Africa, the Americas, and Australia, shells were used as currency. The most commonly used were cowrie shells, which are small, shiny mollusk shells found in the Indian and Pacific oceans. Their durability, uniformity, and beauty made them a popular choice for money. 


The word “salary” itself hints at its salty origins. Coming from the Latin word salarium it refers to payments made to Roman soldiers for the purchase of salt. This is all because, in ancient times, salt was a highly prized commodity due to its use in preserving food. 

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