Silver is a precious metal with many uses. It is used to in photography, dentistry, jewelry, utensils and tableware, currency, and optics. No one knows who discovered silver first. Like gold, it is one of the oldest elements known to mankind.
History and Early Uses of Silver
Humans have been mining silver for many thousands of years. Archeologists have found slag near the Aegean Sea dating back to 4000 BC. Silver is rarely found unmixed with other elements, so mining for it was difficult. The metal was often mixed with lead, which is poisonous. Many silver and lead miners died from lead poisoning in a few years’ time. Because of this, mining for these metals was forced labor, that is, slave labor.
Silver has played an important role in shaping economies. In about 500 BC, the Athenian people discovered a silver mine in Laurion nearby. With this treasure they enriched their city and built a powerful navy. A rival city, Sparta, had its own silver mine. Carthage overran the area in 250BC and used the silver to pay tribute to Rome. In turn, Rome seized the mines to provide funds for their military campaigns.
Silver has anti-bacterial properties. The Greeks and Romans discovered this property of silver and used it to treat wounds and prevent infection. In latter times people used them to preserve food and disinfect water. When sailors were out at sea, they placed silver coins in their wine and water barrels to keep their integrity. The Hindu science of medicine, Ayurveda, claims that silver can heal diseases like other metals can.
The Symbolism of Silver
The modern chemical symbol for silver is Ag from the Latin word “argentum” = shining, white. The word “silver” itself has its roots in Anglo-Saxon and Teutonic languages as silabar, silbir or seolfor.
In ancient metaphysics and astrology, silver was often associated with the moon. The crescent was used as a symbol for silver. It symbolized the feminine in nature. Both silver and the moon were sacred to the Greek goddess Selene or Artemis. In Rome she was identified with Diana. Silver and the feminine were considered fluid and adaptable as opposed to the solid virile male or sun.
This symbolism remained up to the Middle Ages by practicing alchemists. In hermetic alchemy, silver and the moon represent the “whitening” phase of spiritual development.
Silver was often second to gold in value and rank. In Greek mythology, the first and brightest age of man was called the Golden Age. This was followed by less and less prosperous times: the Silver Age, Bronze Age and (present) Iron Age.