In ancient times, people believed that major life decisions should be made by the gods. And they devised ingenious forms of divination to coax gods to answer important questions with an unequivocal “yes” or “no.”
Although coins—ideally suited for yes/no responses—were first minted by the Lydians in the tenth century B.C., they were not initially used for decision making. It was Julius Caesar, nine hundred years later, who instituted the heads/tails coin-flipping practice. Caesar’s own head appeared on one side of every Roman coin, and consequently it was a head—specifically that of Caesar—that in a coin flip determined the winner of a dispute or indicated a “yes” from the gods.
Such was the reverence for Caesar that serious litigation, involving property, marriage, or criminal guilt, often was settled by the flip of a coin. Caesar’s head landing upright meant that the emperor, in absentia, agreed with a particular decision and opposed the alternative.