Pocket guide to Roman Emperors, £6.99
Weight: 1410.000 g
Room 73: Greeks in Italy
Bronze ramo secco bar
Etruscan, 6th-4th century
'Withered branch' ingots for trade
Before the native peoples of Italy adopted the Greek tradition of silver coinage in the third century BC, they used pieces of bronze as a monetary medium and as a measure of value. In non-Greek Italy and Sicily bronze was used as money according to its weight, just as silver bullion was used in the ancient Near East. Since the form of the bronze did not matter, pieces of bronze bullion circulated as unworked and irregular lumps (aes rude in Latin - literally 'rough bronze').
The Etruscans seem to have been among the first to make the leap from using unworked bronze to casting bronze bars with a recognisable design. For reasons that remain obscure, the design they chose resembles a withered branch (ramo secco in Italian). The bars were probably cut to the required weight for a particular payment.
A.M. Burnett, Coinage in the Roman world (London, Seaby, 1987)