Gold in Ancient Egypt
In ancient Egypt, gold, silver and electrum were the metals of choice for making jewelry.
Due to its brilliance and incorruptibility, gold was associated with the Sun and the concept of immortality (hence the decision to make the bodies of gods from gold). Silver was associated with the Moon, and was used for the bones of the gods.
Obverse of an Egyptian gold stater of Nectanebo II (360–342 BC) with hieroglyphs nfr-nb meaning “fine gold”. Now in the Kestner Museum, Hannover.
In its natural state or when produced artificially, electrum is a composite of gold and silver. As a result, it assumed symbolic functions.
“While the lapis lazuli was likely imported, the gold would have come from the eastern deserts of Upper Egypt. The vicinity of Naqada and Hierakonpolis to the gold-rich land between the Nile and the Red Sea may account for their early political preeminence. Compositional analysis of gold objects from the Predynastic period and first dynasties indicates that gold was mostly acquired from veins embedded in quartz outcrops that would have been highly visible in the desert terrain or from placer gold accumulated in dry wadi riverbeds. Quartz veins were easily separated from their matrix after smashing with heavy hammers. There is evidence that pit mining began in Predynastic times at sites like Wadi Dara and Umm Elegia, where miners followed quartz veins underground.”
— Gold and Gold Mining in Ancient Egypt and Nubia, by Rosemarie Klemm (Author), Dietrich Klemm
In ancient Egypt gold was more plentiful than dirt. The oldest known map of a gold mine was drawn in the 19th Dynasty of Ancient Egypt (1292–11189 BC), whereas the first written reference to gold was recorded in the 12th Dynasty around 1900 BC.
Egyptian hieroglyphs from as early as 2600 BC describe gold, which King Tushratta of the Mitanni claimed was “more plentiful than dirt” in Egypt. Egypt and especially Nubia had the resources to make them major gold-producing areas for much of history.
Not only was Augustus Caesar in charge of an empire that accounted for 25% to 30% of the world’s economic output, but according to Stanford history professor Ian Morris, Augustus at one point held personal wealth equivalent to one-fifth of his empire’s economy.
That fortune would be the equivalent of about $4.6 trillion in 2014. “For a while,” Morris adds, Augustus “personally owned all of Egypt.” That’s hard to top.