Precious metals and silver
The use of metals dates back to the origins of history, and from the great civilizations of the Middle East onwards precious metals have begun to be set apart from the less valuable ones.
Gold and silver were initially used for religious purposes; with such materials, jewelry, accessories and ceremonial objects were produced in order to furnish temples. Subsequently, apart from the creation of jewelry and ornaments of the person, these metals were employed in the realization of various tools and equipment, such as support for lamps, chairs, beds and more.
Silver, whose name comes from the Greek word “αργυριον” (related to “αργος”: “shining”, “candid”, “white”) and from Latin “argentum”, is already mentioned in the cuneiform texts of the third millennium and in the book of Genesis. In this period the silver mining technique was habitual; among the Sumerians and the populations that succeeded in Mesopotamia, the silver artifacts were assigned to the dominant social classes.
In the second millennium it was popular, among merchants, the use of small blocks of silver as sample weights of predetermined value: it was the first step towards the minting of coins, a practice which established from the beginning of the seventh century b.C..
Silver, long considered the second most valuable metal (after gold), was reserved for the nobility until, in the Roman Republic (509-31 b.C.), it became widely available, changing into a commodity of exchange and spreading among the lower classes, too.
In medieval Europe, silver was used mainly in the manufacture of pottery; the main known seams at that time were in Austria and Germany. After 1550, the West began to use considerable quantities of silver coming from the Spanish mines in South America.