Roman coins are fascinating artifacts that tell us a lot about the history and culture of ancient Rome. They are also beautiful works of art that showcase the skill and creativity of their makers.
In this blog post, we will explore the techniques and tools that the Romans used to produce their finely detailed and durable coins, which are now prized by collectors and historians.
The minting process
The Romans made their coins by a process known as minting, which involved striking flat, round discs of metal with engraved dies or stamps. The metal discs, or blanks, were either cut from sheets of metal or cast in moulds. The metal used for the coins varied over time and place, but the most common were bronze, silver and gold.
The striking process was carried out by manual labour in workshops called officinae. Each officina had a team of workers who performed different tasks, such as preparing the flans, heating the metal, placing the flan between the dies, striking the coin with a heavy hammer, and checking the quality of the final product. Some coins have marks that indicate the officina or the worker who made them.
The Romans used two different methods to prepare the metal blanks: cold striking and hot striking. Cold striking involved cutting the blanks from a cold, unheated sheet of metal, and then hammering them flat on an anvil. Hot striking involved heating the metal in a furnace until it melted or softened, and then pouring it into moulds or rolling it into sheets, which were then cut and hammered into shape.
The dies or stamps
The next step was to decorate the blanks with images and inscriptions, which gave them their distinctive appearance and value.
The dies were made of iron or bronze and were carved by skilled artisans called celatores. The dies were often reused until they wore out or broke, which explains why some coins have cracks, blunders or overstrikes on them. The dies were also sometimes counterfeited or stolen by forgers who wanted to make illegal copies of official coins.
The dies were usually made in pairs: one for the obverse (front) and one for the reverse (back) of the coin. The dies were fixed to a heavy hammer and an anvil, and the blank was placed between them. The hammer was then struck with a mallet, leaving an impression of the die on both sides of the blank.
The designs on the coins usually featured portraits of emperors, gods, goddesses, symbols, legends and historical events. The coins also carried inscriptions that indicated the name and title of the emperor, the mint location, the date and sometimes a slogan or a message. The designs and inscriptions changed over time to reflect the political and religious changes in the empire.
Who was authorized to mint coins?
The minting of coins was controlled by the state, and it was usually done in workshops near the temples or public buildings. The mints were supervised by officials who ensured that the coins met the standards of weight and purity. The mints also marked their coins with symbols or letters to identify their origin.
Initially, only Rome had the right to mint coins, but later other cities and provinces were granted this privilege. The emperor had the authority to mint gold and silver coins, while the Senate had the authority to mint brass coins. The mint at Rome was the main source of currency until the end of the 2nd century AD, when provincial mints were established in various parts of the empire. Some of the most important provincial mints were Antioch in Syria, Alexandria in Egypt, Aquileia in Italy, Londinium in Britain and Constantinople in Turkey. If you are interested to learn more about Roman Mints and Mint Marks, head over to this Post
The quality and quantity of the coins
The quality and quantity of the coins depended on several factors, such as the skill of the craftsmen, the availability of metal, the demand for currency and the state of the economy. Sometimes, the coins were carefully made with high-quality metal and fine details. Other times, they were crudely made with low-quality metal and poor details. Sometimes, the coins were deliberately debased by reducing their weight or mixing them with cheaper metals. This was done to increase the supply of money or to cope with inflation.
The production and circulation of coins was affected by many factors, such as wars, inflation, reforms and crises. For example, during the Republic, the silver content of the denarius gradually decreased, as more coins were needed to pay for the military campaigns. During the Empire, some emperors debased the coinage by reducing its weight or adding cheaper metals like copper or lead. This caused inflation and loss of confidence in the currency. On the other hand, some emperors tried to restore the value and stability of the coinage by introducing new denominations or increasing its purity.
More information about the Debasement of the Roman Denarius and the decline of the Roman Empire can be found in this Blog Post.
The Romans produced millions of coins over hundreds of years in hundreds of mints across the empire. The coins circulated widely and facilitated trade and commerce among people of different regions and cultures. The coins also served as a medium of propaganda and communication for the ruling class, who used them to display their power and legitimacy. The coins are valuable sources of information for historians and archaeologists, who can learn about the history, politics, religion, art and society of ancient Rome from them.