Roman Republican Coins in the British Museum

E Ghey, I Leins (eds) - descriptions and chronology after MH Crawford

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Roman Republican coinage

4. Production

The silver used for the Republican denarius was of a good standard of purity (often over 95% silver) and seems to have been maintained over time [3]. The victoriatus was however much lower in silver content. The term copper alloy is used in this catalogue for all base-metal coinage. The composition of the copper alloys used varies but was generally bronze (copper alloyed with tin, sometimes with appreciable amounts of lead added). However towards the end of the period, brass (an alloy of copper and zinc sometimes referred to as orichalcum) was introduced for some coins. The metal was kept in the State treasury in the Temple of Saturn in the Forum, just below the Capitoline Hill. The mint of Rome was located on the Capitoline, near the Temple of Juno Moneta.

The coins were produced by the striking of coin blanks with engraved obverse and reverse dies made of bronze or iron. The blanks were prepared by casting in a mould, and were then hammered into shape if necessary. The three linked asses in the Museum’s collection are evidence of the mass production of coin blanks by casting them in one strip before separation.

The blank was placed on the lower, anvil die (bearing the obverse design). The upper, punch die (bearing the reverse design) was placed on top, and the resulting ‘sandwich’ hit by a hammer. Sometimes coins were re-used as blanks for new coins, a process known as overstriking. The design of a denarius of T. Carisius probably refers to coin production, showing the goddess of the mint, Moneta, on the obverse and a coin die, anvil and tongs on the reverse.

Some moneyers used a system of control marks to regulate the dies used in the mint, particularly in the late second to early 1st century BC. These could be symbols, letters or numerals (and sometimes a combination of these) on the obverse, reverse or both. Paired symbols were sometimes used, often with different types of the same thing (for example two forms of vessel) or related items (a rudder and an anchor). The British Museum has a particularly strong collection of these. Control marks are recorded in the catalogue in the inscription field.

  • ^ [3] - Crawford 1974, 569.