An example of the greatly debased later histamena: an electrum coin of the first years of Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081–1118). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This is an alloy you may not have heard of before; Electrum. This metal was widely used in Hellenistic times and continued all the way into the Byzantine Empire. It was used mainly for coins, jewelry, and small statues. It was very precious, more so than silver even. It is an alloy of two metals; can you guess what two metals, once combined, create Electrum? (Comment your answer below before reading what they are)
Time’s up! Did you guess? The answer is easy: Silver and Gold! When alloyed together, about 65% silver and the rest gold, Electrum is created, a much harder metal than either of the two “ingredients”, though Electrum is still soft in comparison to other metals such as Bronze or Iron. Being harder than silver or gold, electrum coins are harder to be “clipped”; clipping off the edges so as to keep the most of the metal, as well as cheating others when the coin is used to buy something.
Electrum can vary in color, as percentages of the alloy metals varied, from 40% silver to 60% gold, to 60% silver and 40% gold; the latter ratio the most common. When silver is the majority of the substance in electrum, it is a grey-silver color with a coppery hue, which is similar in color to some specific varieties of Amber, which was known by the Greeks as Elektron. Because of this similarity, the alloy of gold and silver was called Electrum by the Romans. Amber has electrical properties, and so later electricity was named after the Greek word for Amber.