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When you beat a boss, you get some number of Hegemony credits. Those credits are shown in the upper right of the screen when you're looking at the Ammonomicon and when you die you keep those credits (but nothing else).

What are Hegemony Credits used for?

Hegemony Credits

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Hegemony Credits are used to unlock new weapons/items in the Gungeon.

You will eventually find a key to a cell as you wander through the Gungeon; I found mine on level 2. The key will free a shopkeeper, who was also on level 2 for me, though I'm not sure if she'll always be on the same floor as the key, who will then permanently appear in Breach, to the left of the Gungeon entrance.

She will explain things to you there, but basically, you spend hegemony credits to unlock weapons/items that will then have the chance to appear in future Gungeon runs.

Additionally, as stated by agent86, there are other NPCs scattered throughout the gungeon who will offer more unlocks using the hegemony credits!

  • Do note that there is more than one unlockable merchant that will take your Hegemony credits. Bear that in mind in case you've got a stockpile but aren't interested in what the first shop offers. – agent86 Apr 6 '16 at 13:49
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Hegemony credits (HC) can be used to unlock new items, as explained by Fluttershy in the other answer. Remember that you can buy new items not just from Cadence and Ox (the shopkeepers in the top left room), but also from Professor Goopton in the upper right, Trorc in the lower left, and Doug in the center.

In addition to unlocking items, you can also pay some NPCs to change the type of run you're doing. There are three types of run you can do:

  • Blessed run - you're only allowed one gun, which will randomly transform into others as the run progresses. Can be purchased from the Sorceress for 6 HC.
  • Challenge run - Each room you enter has one to three dangerous effects that you need to adjust your playstyle around. Very difficult! Can be purchased from Daisuke (the D20 die/dice) for 6 HC. The price drops to 1 HC after 30 attempts.
  • Boss Rush run -Instead of normal rooms, you fight each boss in succession. Costs 3 HC, accessed through the Tailor (the elevator guy).

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