The Other Coin: Roman Cast Coins
I found a long sought treasure to add to my ancient Roman coin collection at the ancient
bourse in San Francisco Memorial Day weekend. A roman cast bronze--Roman coin
number 12 in the David Sear standard catalog of Roman Coins and Their Values. Romans
began making coins about 300BC, 300-400 years after the Greeks and made their coins at
first in bronze rather than silver and gold.
Coinage began in late 8th or early 7th century Lydia in Asia Minor by making lumps of
electrum--a natural mixture of gold and silver, then stamping them with designs. Coinage
proper is considered to have begun under King Croesus whose mint learned to separate
and purify gold and silver, make planchettes and stamp images on the coins. King
Croesus or his ancestor is the famous King Midas of legend.
The Romans came late to coinage, being a largely agricultural community. Silver and gold
were for merchants making wholesale trades or to pay for soldiers. Demands for small
change made silver coins smaller and smaller until the 1/48 of a stater, about the size of a
small bead or dried lentil became common. Even such small silver coins were still too
valuable, and bronze was introduced for daily market purchases of bread and vegetables,
cups of wine, etc., about 60 years after silver and gold coins. Romans began with simple
lumps of bronze for market day, most as change for bartering, but within 30-40 years of
the lumps making various sizes of cast bronze bars or medals for actual trading purposes.
Silver did not become common until victories in the Punic Wars against the Carthaginians
in the mid 3rd century BC, first to pay for soldiers, then as war booty. Cast bronzes were
made by making molds and pouring metal into the molds. Various designs were carved
into the clay molds.
Cast coins dominated coinage from about 280BC to 212BC when minted coins were
plentifully introduced. Now, planchettes were cast and images were hammered onto the
coins, minting them. The Romans minted their war booty creating works of art equaling
the Greeks in silver, gold, and bronze.
Numismatically yours, David Elliott