Gold: A Cultural Encyclopedia

Gold: A Cultural Encyclopedia

Gold: A Cultural Encyclopedia

Gold: A Cultural Encyclopedia


Gold has been an intrinsic part of human culture and society throughout the world, both in ancient times and in the modern era. This precious metal has also played a central role in economics and politics throughout history. In fact, the value of gold remains a topic of debate amid the current upheavals of economic conditions and attendant reevaluations of modern financial principles.

Gold: A Cultural Encyclopedia consists of more than 130 entries that encompass every aspect of gold, ranging from the ancient metallurgical arts to contemporary economies. The connections between these interdisciplinary subjects are explored and analyzed to highlight the many ways humankind's fascination with gold reflects historical, cultural, economic, and geographic developments. While the majority of the works related to gold focus on economic theory, this text goes beyond that to take a more sociocultural approach to the subject.


In proposing this topic to the enthusiastic editors at ABC-CLIO, I lightheartedly quipped that I like to write about shiny, valuable subjects. Having now pursued the topic to the depth of an A–Z encyclopedia across time and space, I have become even more aware of the many levels of human fascinations with gold—as an heirloom, a means of wealth, a fountain of youth, or simply a thing of beauty to be enjoyed. I recently reflected on the universal human tendency for this latter aspect in recalling a funny memory related to my eldest daughter, who, I should mention, has always been fascinated with rocks. When she was two years old, we lined our driveway with a path of small, granite stones. Among the jumbled colors and textures of white, gray, and tan, she apparently identified certain “shiny, golden” stones, and became fixated on discovering and collecting every single one of these infamous rocks to the degree that entering and exiting the car became something of an ordeal. Recalling this led me to an essential understanding of the common origins of perceptions of gold as precious in societies modern and ancient. Throughout the history of humankind, cultures from every continent have shared a certain captivation with this noble metal, an admiration that remains the essence of gold’s value—the primary value of gold has been that which we have ascribed to it.

The content of this volume was organized to cover the most salient topics and themes related to the social and cultural significance of gold from prehistory to the present across the globe and to examine these themes from cultural, historical, social, religious, economic, and financial perspectives. In such a structure, important themes such as art and aesthetics; the evolution of coinage, money, and financial markets; developments in the natural sciences, chemistry, and engineering; trade, conquest, and war; and social conventions, among others, are brought to light in a multicultural, comparative context. This scope will be of interest to both general readers and students or scholars, as well as trade or industry professionals. Indeed, the big picture in the history of gold is relevant on many levels for contemporary society.

The encyclopedia is comprised of more than 130 entries along with numerous informative sidebars and quotations from throughout history. The entries are organized in alphabetical order and include cross-reference terms that appear in bold in the entry text and as subject terms at the bottom of each entry in order to point to the common threads among the topics and themes. Additionally, each entry includes a list of further readings or resources for those who wish to pursue a deeper level of research on the topic. Along with the A–Z format, the beginning of the volume contains a Guide to Related Topics that further categorizes the entries into a range of themes, including Adornment; Art, Artifacts, and Architecture; Banking . . .

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