Language and Multiculturalism
The languages used on money convey a message about the community for which the currency is intended. Among the earliest bilingual coins is this Indo-Greek drachm from around 160 BCE, which features both Greek and an ancient South Asian script. This reflects the ethnic and cultural diversity in the region. Many modern notes feature multiple languages and more than one script, such as this 500 ruble note from the Republic of Azerbaijan, which has Latin, Cyrillic, and Arabic script.
Multilingualism and American Coinage: The Peso Cent Sketch
The United States took over Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War in 1898. This sketch drawn by U.S. Mint engraver Charles E. Barber indicates that the United States may have considered issuing a peso coin worth sixty cents in 1899 for the “Isla de Puerto Rico.” The coin was never issued, but this sketch is a reminder of the long history of multilingualism in America and the significance of the choice of language on money.
Peso Cent Sketch, United States, 1899
Money has often been used to carry religious messages. The United States first included “In God We Trust” on circulating coins in 1864. The inclusion of religious messages was also popular in the Islamic world. From the 7th to the 19th century, many Islamic coins stated versions of the Profession of Faith—“There is no God but God alone”—and religious verses from the Quran.
1 Dollar Coin, United States, 1921
Dinar Coin, Umayyad Dynasty-Ruled Middle East, 713–714 CE
Dirhem Coin, Damascus (Syria), 698–699 CE
Goddess Juno Moneta
Denarius Coin, Roman Republic, 46 BCE
The word money is derived from the Roman goddess Juno Moneta. She did not represent money to ancient Romans; rather, her name meant “she who warns.” She became associated with money because coins were minted in her temple in Rome. Over time, moneta came to be used to refer to places where coins were made and eventually to money itself. Juno Moneta is depicted on this Roman coin from the 1st century BCE.
Many nations use money to reflect and define their cultural heritage. Notes from Egypt, for example, feature the pyramids, hieroglyphics, and ancient sculpture. Similarly, Chinese notes depict the Great Wall of China, and colonial notes for the British Mandate for Palestine are decorated with monuments of the Old City of Jerusalem.
500 Mil Note, British Mandate for Palestine, 1927