What symbol is behind the gold?
The gold symbol and its history
The word “gold” means “to shine”: so it’s hardly surprising that the symbolism of gold is linked to light and wealth. This precious metal has fuelled numerous beliefs and myths in both Eastern and Western civilizations. Later used as a currency and playing an important part in the world economy with the gold standard, this chemical element is an integral part of our history. Find out more about gold’s symbolism over the centuries!
The history of gold dates back to antiquity, when it was used to make jewelry, coins and objects of worship. Over the centuries, gold became a symbol of wealth and power, and played an important role in the economies of ancient civilizations such as the Greeks, Romans and Incas. Today, gold continues to be used for gold jewelry and objets d’art, but it is mainly used as a store of value and as a financial instrument in the money and stock markets. Over the years, gold’s symbolism has never been tarnished.
Before delving into the symbol of gold, let’s look back at its history. Gold was discovered by man during the Chalcolithic period, i.e. at the end of prehistory. The oldest gold object discovered to date dates back over 5,000 years BC.
As gold is a difficult material to work, human applications of this precious metal were long limited to pomp and religious worship. For example, it was found on amulets, scepters and death masks in ancient Egypt.
Gold is generally found in rivers, on slow-moving areas (trees, rocks, bends), or in mines (ground mining). China is currently the world’s largest gold producer, with the China National Gold Group. The deposits in Shandong province are known the world over.
But China is not alone! Many other countries play a major role in global gold production:
- Western Australia, with the Kalgoorlie Super Pit;
- the United States, with Newmont Mining’s open-pit mines;
- Uzbekistan and the world’s largest open-pit gold mine at Muruntau;
- South Africa, with dozens of exploitable sites such as Driefontein, Tau Tona and Beatrix;
- Peru and Minera Yanacocha;
- Ghan with the Tarkwa ;
- Indonseria and its Grasberg site.
Gold has always been a symbol of wealth, power and prestige. Its beauty and rarity make it a precious metal envied the world over. Beyond its intrinsic value, gold is often associated with luxury, success and prosperity. Let’s discover how gold’s symbolism has evolved over time.
The symbolism of gold is very strong in all civilizations. Its color recalls that of the sun, a symbol of power and light. In ancient Egypt, it was associated with the god Ra: gold was used to adorn the pharaoh.
In Mediterranean cultures, the symbol of gold refers to warmth, fertility and abundance. It is also found in the Bible, where it represents holiness, purity and divine light. Gold is thus used in the altars of cathedrals and churches, and in objects of worship.
Buddhism associates gold with spiritual wealth, whereas in the Middle Ages it represented material wealth: gold was rarer in those days, and was accumulated by kings and landowners.
The first gold coin was minted in the 8th century BC. However, the first mass production of gold coins (or rather electrum, a natural alloy of gold and silver) took place during the reign of Croesus, King of Lydia, between 560 and 547 B.C. These coins gradually spread outside the palace and were used for specific transactions: gold contributed to the development of trade.
Gold coins then spread to Persia, central Greece and the entire ancient world. For a long time, however, the symbolism of gold remained primarily spiritual or divine. It was often too rare to be used as currency, and was instead kept in reserve or hidden away. It was only in the 19th century that it was perceived as a real means of enrichment, with the start of the famous “Gold Rush” in North America.
The gold standard refers to the symbolic role of gold as the exclusive monetary standard. It first fulfilled this role for the British Empire, which abandoned gold-silver bimetallism in the 1870s. After the First World War, the gold standard was suspended to compensate for the high level of indebtedness of European countries.
However, the gold standard did not disappear altogether: it inspired the gold exchange standard introduced by the Bretton Woods Agreement (1944). The aim of this new standard was to ensure the stability of the IMF (International Monetary System) and support the reconstruction of countries after the Second World War. The US dollar became the only currency convertible to gold, since the United States held over 70% of the world’s gold reserves.
The gold exchange standard disappeared for good in 1976 during the Jamaica Accords: the United States suspended the gold convertibility of the US Dollar, in particular to cover the costs of the Vietnam War. Gold has since been demonetized.
The convertibility of currencies into gold is no longer in effect. Although large gold reserves are held by the main central banks, gold is once again playing a more artistic role.
The symbol of gold, associated with light and wealth, remains firmly anchored in people’s minds, and this precious element can be found in jewelry and works of art. It is one of the most highly prized metals extracted from the earth.
And apart from its magnificent color and aura, gold is also very useful. Its chemical and atomic composition (periodic classification Au and atomic number 79) is of great interest to art and industry. Gold can conduct electricity, does not tarnish and is very easy to work with. It can also be alloyed with other metals such as copper or silver, melted down or cast into precise shapes.
But one thing is certain: the symbolism of gold will always occupy a special place in the human mind and in the customs of many civilizations the world over.