Lots of different cultures have been making coins for millennia. Ancient coins are made of different materials and using different processes than modern coins. Reflecting the culture they came from, ancient coins, just like modern ones lectures you a lot of pretty cool stuff about the history of that culture.
Ancient Roman Coins
About 290 BC Rome began making coins. The value was determined by the weight of the coin as they were made out of whatever metal was handy. Coins at that time were really just a standardized form of barter.
When people began putting images on ancient coins, they initially assigned the images of gods. Various world conquerors saw themselves as gods, and began to put their images on ancient coins, as well. Julius Caesar was the first emperor of Rome, and Roman coinage from his time bears his image.
The story of the Roman Empire is told through ancient coins from Rome. They tell you who the emperor was, what was going on, and would have made to commemorate events that were important.
Roman coins are fun to collect because of the history, but also because there are lots of them. Wherever the Roman Empire reached, coins from Rome can be found. Just like today, whenever the empire needed cash to fund a new coliseum or war, they minted more money. Ancient coins from Rome are an inexpensive way to begin collecting ancient coins and are relatively easy to find.
Ancient Chinese Coins
As with everything else, China was minting coins while the Western world was still using pretty rocks for money. Rome used coins as early as 290 BC, but China was minting coins as early as 350 BC. In 250 BC they started using a round, minted coin with a square hole in the middle, and that's what Chinese coins looked like for 2,100 years.
With each dynamic memorialized in its coinage, Chinese coins tell history also.
Other Ancient Coins
The other ancient empires had their coins, too. There are Scythian coins, Parthian coins, Greek coins, and Babylonian coins. The oldest known coin is the Daric, used in the Persian Empire prior to 500 BC when it was acquired by Alexander the Great, who replaced it with his own coins that had his portrait on them. There may be coins older than that, but we do not know about them yet. If and when more ancient coins are found, however, they will tell us more about the history of the people who made them.