In the past, most medals were commissioned for individual people. These medallions usually featured a portrait of the person in question. Medallions like these were frequently diplomatic or even personal gifts, rather than being rewards for sporting endeavours of any kind.
The earliest mention of medals existing is attributed to the historian, Josephus. Josephus recounted that the High Priest Jonathan received honorary rewards, such as a golden button from Alexander the Great for leading the Hebrews. Furthermore, Roman emperors used medals as both military and political gifts. These medals were frequently mounted and worn as jewellery by both men and women.
It became common practise in the Middle Ages for nobles to commission medals to be given to their allies to maintain and gain support from influential members of society. Materials used to make these medals were dependent on the social status of the intended recipient. Some materials were: gold, silver-gilt, silver, bronze, and lead.
Medals maintained these same functions through the following centuries up until the 19th century. At this point, military medals increased in production massively. Today, the most common medals produced are military medals, linking directly back to the origins of medallion history.