Roman Republican Coins and Books by Andrew McCabe
Books on Minting and Money      Coins: Julius Caesar, Pompey the Great and Sextus Pompey 49-36BC
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480/17 #0637-32 M.METTIVS Julius Caesar Venus victory Denarius

Links to Books on Minting and Money, Coins of Julius Caesar, Pompey the Great and sons 49-36BC:



Coins: 49-44BC Caesar and Pompey, Crawford 440/480; 45-36BC Sextus Pompey, Crawford 477/511

Click on any photo to see that coin. Or click on the right-hand blue link to see the entire set.

49-45BC, Crawford 440/471, Pompey Scipio Cato Gn.Pompey

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 49-45BC Cr440/471 Pompey Scipio Cato Gn.Pompey   49-45BC Cr440/471 Pompey Scipio Cato Gn.Pompey
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After Caesar crossed the Rubicon the initial issues from a Rome controlled by Pompey had a propoganda themes such as the military emblems on that of Nerius. When Pompey together with the Consuls Lentulus and Marcellus decamped to Greece, they appear to have brought the technology with them to make good style coinage in large quantities. The second issue by Sicinius is well made and common, and the Consuls then issued some scarcer types in their own name, the interesting and rare issue with Ephesian Artemis probably being struck at Ephesus. From this point, all further coins were in the name of one or other Imperator, often types of great symbolism. Pompey’s own coins include this attractive type with a terminal head of Jupiter, dolphin, sceptre and eagle. The terminal Jupiter represents the powers given to Pompey by the Senate, and the reverse his victories by land and sea. As with the coins of Cinna and the Marians four decades earlier it is easy to overlook that the Consuls and much of the Senate represented the party that would ultimately be defeated. Pompey’s coins were an issue of a proud Imperator with Senatorial backing who expected to win. The coinage after Pharsalus, in Africa and Spain is quite different. Mysterious and rare types of poignant symbolism and great artistry were issued, almost as commemorative medals. Sekhet the lion goddess holding an ankh, the symbol of life, has an accompanying legend G.T.A., Genius Terrae Africae, the Spirit of Africa. Sekhet was a north African cult goddess and its appearance shows how far cultural norms had been disrupted. In Spain, Gnaeus Pompey issued some finely made denarii, showing Spain’s welcome to the Pompeians. And indeed this welcome was to extend for a full decade despite the defeat at Munda and the efforts of Caesarians to dislodge them.

49-45BC, Crawford 442/474, Rome mint under Caesar

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 49-45BC Cr442/474 Rome mint under Caesar   49-45BC Cr442/474 Rome mint under Caesar
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Coinage of Rome continued as normal after Caesar entered the city early in 49BC. The moneyer Sicinius had gone with Pompey but others took his place. Caesar’s conquests in Gaul are commemorated by the Gaulish types of Lucius Hostilius Saserna, most notably that presumed to show Vercingetorix but otherwise the coinage continues as normal with ancestral commemorative types. That of Gaius Antius Restio depicts a rather close ancestor, his father with a typically late Republican realistic portrait, perhaps a scene setting issue for the realistic contemporary portraits to be displayed by later Imperators. Fractional silver coinage was reintroduced in quite large quantities although almost all are scarce or rare today. The Romans were not as adept as the Greeks in manufacturing these small flan coins and many are made with less care than their associated denarii. There are many interesting types in this period, such as that of Lollius clearly showing the rostra in the forum with the curule chair on top and the prows of captured enemy ships below.

49-44BC, Crawford 443/480, Julius Caesar own coin issues

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 49-44BC Cr443/480 Caesar own coins   49-44BC Cr443/480 Caesar own coins
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Julius Caesar's own coinage starts with the elephant and priestly symbols issue in his own name. Only a few further issues are struck before his victory over Pompey, and all these at fields mints. His Pietas / Gallic trophy issue is unashamedly self congratulatory. The LII or 52 behind the head of Pietas was his age when the coins were minted. A very large issue of Aurei was issued at Rome for his quadruple triumph in 46BC marking his victories over Gaul, Egypt, Pontus and Africa. This is the commonest gold type of the Republic, and perhaps of the entire Roman period. Although nominally by Hirtius, the inscription C.Caesar Cos.Iter. makes clear who funded it. At the start of 44BC the Roman moneyers issued coins with Caesar’s portrait and titled variously DICT QVART (dictator four times), IMP or IMPER (Imperator), IM.P.M. (Imperator and Pontifex Maximus), DICT PERPETVO (lifetime dictator) and PARENS PATRIAE (father of the country). Centuries of debate have not with certainty resolved which issues were struck before his death and which after his death. We know that the issue spans his assassination because the CAESAR DICT QVART issue has a title he no longer held by March 15th, whilst the PARENS PATRIAE and CLEMENTIAE CAESARIS types share a reverse type with a portrait coin of Antony clearly struck after the fatal blow. Alföldi and Crawford are the main experts cited but others have well respected views too. It does not in the end matter. What is important is that these portrait coins with Venus, a family type, started as lifetime issues and as such are often considered the first Roman Imperial coins

45-39BC, Crawford 477/511, Sextus Pompey

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The books reviewed on this page deal with mint organisation and techniques, and the use of money. You will see it is a short list, being a subject with limited evidence available today, neither the texts nor the coins themselves seem to have much to say on the subject. Or perhaps they do? The coins of Sextus Pompey, illustrated in this set and struck in Spain or Sicily, include the mysterious Pietas series, which was the subject of a classic analysis by Professor T.V. Buttrey almost 50 years ago, leading to some insightful conclusions on mint organisation, issue sequence, location, timing and historical context. The numismatic techniques that allow us to discover such facts from the coin evidence alone are a masterpiece. It is an example that should inspire any numismatist who is today working on other difficult series. Professor Buttrey has kindly allowed me to present a highly abridged version of this study, however any misinterpretations within are my own. For a more thorough understanding I suggest you find a copy of Numismatic Chronicle 1960, which is still quite readily available.



The Pietas Denarii of Sextus Pompey

Greatly abridged from Numismatic Chroncile, 1960, with the permission of Professor T.V. Buttrey.

Hier ist mancherlei Confusion gemacht. So wrote Bahrfeldt [AM: in 1897], on Babelon’s description of this difficult series. . . A more precise listing of the varieties may move us toward the solution of the important problems of date and mint. . . and it will reveal some subtleties in the manufacture of a slovenly provincial series. In all the Roman Republican silver coinage there is hardly a comparable example of thorough incompetence, particularly in the cutting of the dies. I give here a catalogue of the examples of this series known to me followed by a brief commentary on each variety. . . [AM: most the commentary is omitted here except for the key evidence regarding the obverse dies].

Obverse: Head of Pompeius Magnus right (once left). [Obverse legend.] Dotted border.

Reverse: Pietas standing left, holding in her right hand a palm branch and in her left a long sceptre that rests upon the ground. PIETAS at right. Dotted border.

The figures of these issues are uniform; the types below differ only in obverse legend... [AM: there follows a discussion on reverse types which I have omitted. It concludes that the type shows Pietas offering a palm bracnh to Sextus.]

Type 1: SEX.MAGNVS IMP B [3 obverse dies, one being recut from Crawford 470. The coin pictured below is the third die of this type listed by Professor Buttrey. The reverse of the pictured coin was also used in Types 4 and 5]

477/1 #0659-34 SEX MAGN IMP B Pompey Sextus Pompeius Pietas Denarius

The salient characteristic of this type is the curious initial B at the end of the obverse legend. This reading is not attested in either Grueber or Sydenham, and when Bahrfeldt saw it he apparently did not believe it for he read it as SAL. There is no doubt at all about the reading: three different dies bear it.

The earliest of the dies is of interest for its own sake. The portrait is uncommonly good for this unpleasant series, compare [the later obverse die illustrated above] and by lucky chance we can now see why. The die did not originate in this series at all. It was cut for a denarius of Cn. Pompeius jr and M. Minatius Sabinus. . . [AM: of the following illustrated type although not this die, there being no B below the bust]

470/1c CN.MAGNVS M.MINAT SABIN Pompey the Great, the cities of Baetica and Tarracco crown a Pompeian soldier, Denarius. Spain 46-45BC. AM#03138-34

When Sextus began to strike, this die was resurrected and recut with his name. The identity of the die in its two states [AM: i.e. as initially used for Cn. Pompeius jr and as later used for Sextus Pompey] may be seen in the cutting of the portrait, and in a flaw in the legend. The recutting was ominous. The dies of this series were terribly mistreated.

Type 2: SEX MAGN IMP SAL [1 obverse die as illustrated below, which was later to be recut into Type 4]

477-01-0859-32-SEX MAGN IMP SAL

[This and Type 3 which follows] will have been struck after type 1, there being no B in the legend, but before the remaining types, for the lack of the epithet PIVS. Type 2 is much the commonest variety of all the series. Its die is an evident imitation of the dies of Type 1, save for the mysterious SAL, and for the abbreviation MAGN for magnus, an abbreviation already found on the denarii of Cn Pompeius jr. and M Minatius Sabinus. The [illustrated] reverse with which [Type 2 obverse] is coupled is not found elsewhere but the obverse itself will be seen again in Type 4.

Type 3: SEX MAGNVS SAL IMP (head left) [1 obverse die]

Type 3 is an aberration in that its portrait is turned to the left. It is also distinguished for being the worst die in what is obviously a close contest. The portrait is hopeless, the hair lying about in clumps, the eye and nose an almost Celtic arrangement of lines and dots. . . 477-02 Denarius Pompey left Pietas standing

Type 4: SEX MAGN PIVS IMP SAL [1 obverse die, this being recut from the above illustrated die of Type 2.]

Type 5: SEX MAGN PIVS IMP [1 obverse die]

Types 4 and 5 bear a new title, PIVS. The extraordinary point of interest is that in each case the word was added to the die after it had already been completed. The only obverse die of type 4, is actually [the above illustrated die from type 2] with the addition of PIVS in the blank space above the head. . . I very much suspect [the die for Type 5] to be a second example of a reworking of a die of Cn. Pompeius jr. The original state, if there be such, is not known to me. But the portrait is rather better than the run of this series. . .

[AM: there follows further analyis of the die recutting, then an otherwise unattested variety SEX MAG MAG F PIVS IMP from the Lisbon cabinet that may be plated, and then a discussion on obverse titles, which I omit.]

In investigating the mint marks B and SAL we may first narrow the possibilities of their interpretation by hypothesis:

  1. If B is a mint-mark, the denarii of Cnaeus/M. Minatius Sabinus were struck at two mints, which we will call B and X (no mark). It is likely that these two groups will not be die-linked.
  2. Similarly, the PIETAS denarii of Sextus were struck at three mints: B, SAL and no mark. We may assume that mint B is identical with Cnaeus’ mint B (again, the re-used die). It is at least possible that the unmarked coins stem from the same mint as Cnaeus’. I will call it X. And SAL is a mint city not earlier used by Cnaeus.
  3. It is most likely that the mint will be found in those parts of Spain where Cnaeus and Sextus were most active, and not in far-removed corners.
  4. The enormous stylistic decline at B from the denarii of Cnaeus to those of Sextus requires a complete change in the management of the mint, and probably a gap in time. This is best explained by assuming the mint to have operated in the area which came to be controlled by Caesar and his generals after Munda, before Sextus’ reconquest of Spain. . .

Now the coins indicated that 1 is true. There is an extraordinary mixture of dies at mint X [AM: refer to Professor Buttreys work on the Cn Pompeius jr. and M Minatius Sabinus series in ANS Museum Notes 1960, also a classic.]. Yet the two obverse dies [from Crawford 470] with the legend CN.MAGNVS IMP B are linked to a single reverse nowhere found paired with any other obverse legend. . . We may then be confident of the existence of two mints striking the denarii of Cn Pompeius jr. and M Minatius Sabinus.

Hypothesis 3 and 4 are bolstered by literary sources. The story of Cnaeus’ and Sextus’ campaigns in Spain will never be told with any precision. We picture them vaguely, riding off in all directions, seizing cities, attracting troops. Yet one element is clear: almost all significant action took place in Baetica. This was far and away the richest part of Spain, in fields, flocks, and mines, including precious metals. It was the most heavily populated, the most civilised. . .

The question of 2 is also illuminated by the coins. [Type 1 with the obverse die recut from that of Cnaeus] proves that mint B of Sextus had been that of Cnaeus. The other two mints must be close by, since all three share in reverse die [AM: the reverse die of the above illustrated coin of Type 1 was shared also with Type 4 and Type 5]. . . We can hardly imagine a horseman galloping northward hundreds of miles with a die from B. . . Mints of Sextus, like those of Cnaeus, were in the south. What I have called mint X must have been Corduba, the headquarters of Cnaeus’ forces. . . Type 5 portrait die seems to have been reworked from a die of Cnaeus, just such a phenomenon as we found at B. Consequently Corduba is a reasonable site for Sextus’ mint. . . To pin down mints SAL and B is not possible: ultimately the attempt to identify them becomes a guessing game. . .

[AM there follows a discussion on possible mints in Baetica at this point leading to tentative conclusions]. . . I assign Sextus’ SAL denarii to Salpensa. . . I propose Baelo tentatively and without much convition as the mint of the B denarii of Cnaeus and Sextus.

[AM: there follows a discussion on reverse dies, of which I highlight only the following point that relates to the above illustrated reverse of Type 1]. The curious reappearance of a reverse die at Salpensa and Corduba after it was first used at Baelo can only mean that the machinery of the mint moved from one city to another. The die itself might have been reused once elsewhere, but hardly twice, unless the mint itself was moved. . . We must not then think of three mints operating simultaneously for Sextus, but one which struck at various times in three different cities. It doubtless moved with him on campaign. . . [AM: there follows a discussion which notes that despite the widespread transit of dies, Salpensa had some dedicated reverse dies not found elsewhere, a further indication that they were made in a separate place and that SAL is indeed a mintmark].

The conclusion that Sextus’ mint moved from one place to another as it struck this series puts a strain on the argument that the PIETAS denarii were commemorative of one particular event. Sextus’ reconciliation with the senate in 44BC has been a favourite reasonable date. As we have seen the coins reflect no single date. . . We are moving into a realm of hypothesis and this need not be taken as any final solution. But the coins as they stand have indicated this much. The series was struck at three mint cities. I have hopefully identified the first two as Baelo and Salpensa. In any event they must have been in Baetica. The third is by almost universal agreement Corduba, an attribution depending from its importance in Baetica and particularly from its use as Cnaeus’ base earlier. Further, what little information we can recover from die links, breaks and reworkings, proves that some Baelo pieces were struck before some Salpensa, that the legend SAL occurs befor PIVS SAL, and that hypothetically the coinages of Corduba, consistently including PIVS, must be later still. Couple this with our picture of the travelling mint and with the reasonable assumption that the mint and Sextus travelled together.

The result: the Pietas denarii as we have them were mostly struck before the capture of Corduba from the Caesarians, as Sextus moved about Baetica on campaign. They may easily have been struck late in 45BC as well as in 44BC before the reconciliation. If we were able to date Sextus’ first use of the title Imperator, the earliest limit might be moved forward, but that too is unknown. The date of the issues must remain uncertain, nor, given its multiplicity, can we even maintain that the notion of a [single] date is meaningful.

Text Copyright Professor T.V. Buttrey, with permission.



Books: Minting and Money

The Coining process and Mint Management

With just the three compilations listed below you have together many of the current articles on the coining process and mint management. AIIN29 will be difficult to find although some individual articles have been reprinted elsewhere e.g. by HB Mattingly. Buy Conii e scene di coniazione, a book primarily in the English language despite its title, whilst it remains in print at 28 euros, rather than at $100 in two years time. HB Mattingly is important for mint management, as well as for dating of mid-Republican coinage. Campbell’s book on plated coins is unique in its coverage and fairly difficult to get but essential for anyone with a specialist interest.

365-01 C VAL FLAC Eagle Standards Denarius Bronze die for minting coins note excellent die surfaces
(photo taken by me with permission Antiqua Inc)

Annali 29, Istituto Italiano di Numismatica, 1983

This single volume, referred to as AIIN29, contains eight papers on minting, money and circulation in Republican Rome. The volume is quite scarce but, not being greatly sought after except for serious students of Republican numismatics, might be found on book-search websites that include Italian secondhand booksellers. Many of the papers are classics, including Crawford’s “Unofficial Imitations and Small Change”, Burnetts “Currency of Italy” and HB Mattingly’s “Management of the Roman Mint”. The conference marked a watershed in the study of Republican coinage, which prior to this time mainly focused on identifying its content, dates, types and mints, but in more recent times has been more concerned with the organization and usage of coinage, in which small change and local currencies play a much bigger role than in the classical numismatic approach. The paper on locally made small change is discussed in my page on Italian and Provincial. Other important papers include:

  1. The management of the Roman Republican mint, H.B. Mattingly, in AIIN29, 1982. Addresses moneyers, responsibility for coinage, standards and denominations, and mint control. Reprinted in HB Mattingly’s From Coins to History.
  2. The currency of Italy from the Hannabalic war to the reign of Augustus, Andrew Burnett, in AIIN 29, 1982. Prices, wages and small change. Interesting.
  3. Spesa militare, spesa dello stato e volume delle emissioni nella tarde repubblica, Elio Lo Cascio, in AIIN29, 1982. > Reassessment of Crawford’s use of military costs as a proxy to determine long-run coinage issue volumes.
  4. La Legislazione Sillana in materia di falso nummario, Barnardo Santalucia, in AIIN29, 1982. Interpretation of Sullan legislation on forgeries, in the context of statements by Pliny and others
  5. Breves remarques sur les banques et le credit, au premiere siecle avant J-C, Jean Andreau, in AIIN 29, 1982 Issues of credit and financing of business activities. The discussion comments on notable Republican businessmen and financiers (e.g. Crassus, Gabinius, Egnatius Rufus, Brutus).

From Coins to History: Selected Numismatic Studies, Harold B Mattingly, 2004

Making a repeat appearance on this page, HB Mattingly presents his key papers written over the last 40 years or so which in addition to his important corrections to Crawford, includes commentaries on mint organization, moneyers and the control of coinage.

Conii e scene di coniazione, Rome, 2007, edited by Lucia Travaini, Alessia Bolis
Ancient Dies and Coining Methods, Cornelius Vermeule, London 1954

Conii e scene di coniazione is a collection of essays about minting techniques and dies, that, amongst a long list of newer essays, reprints the classic book on dies by Cornelius Vermeule an elementary treatise on coining techniques that has stood the test of time. Helmut Caspar, William Malkmus, Julio Torres, Richard Doty, Benedikt Zaech, Daniel Schmutz, Sanjay Garg, C├ęcile Morrisson, Manuel Gozalbes and Lucia Travaini are also represented, in a mix of languages including English. William Malkmus has published several addena to Vermeule's book, gradually building up into an extensive corpus of known dies, so in this volume you have it all. 484 pages, over the half in English language and many others containing language neutral illustrations. 100 illustrations. Really excellent value and easily available as it is in print.

Greek and Roman Plated Coins, William Campbell, ANS Numismatic Notes and Monographs, 1933

This small format but still substantial book (200 pages, 180 photographic plates) is a scientific analysis of plated coins from experiments by Campbell on a large number of plated coins that he destructively tested, metallurgical analysed, and photographed using microscopes. It is important for a proper understanding of what a plated coin is. The illustrations are excellent if a bit technical and aimed at scientists in places, but lead to conclusions that are now standard numismatic knowledge today. For example that plated coins were generally made using silver foils rather than dipping or chemical techniques. Knowing this allows for the visible signs to be seen on coins with unbroken plate. Campbell gets over the small-format limitations by clever use of fold-out plates. He makes many references to the 18th century Sheffield Plate technique, also a double-foil method that is related to the techniques used by the Greeks and Romans.

Clive Stannard: Papers on mint techniques

Clive Stannard has written a number of important papers on mint techniques that are available for download on http://web.me.com/clive.stannard/1. There is a presentation on mechanical reproduction of dies with many examples including from the Republican era showing why dies were not generally mechanically produced in ancient times, with some exceptions (download to your computer and choose to open the file with your web browser). There are a number of other interesting presentations on the same page including ones that explore Italian small change issues and links with Spain, as well as techniques for making plaster casts of coins. Clive Stannard’s publications page includes a related paper on mechanical reproduction as well as as some oddities in numismatic techniques including a discussion on plated brockages, a paper on accidental two headed or two tailed denarii i.e. where a pair of identical dies was used for both reverse and obverse, and a discussion on a hub die, likely a forgers. Also included are papers on Italian small change issues, discussed further on my page on local coinages. Perhaps the most interesting paper, dealing with a systematic mint technique, is that on al marco weight adjustment of denarius flans. Clive Stannard has generously allowed me to present an abridgement of the paper on this page.

The adjustment al marco of the weight of Roman Republican denarii blanks by gouging


An abridged version of Clive Stannard’s paper, The adjustment al marco of the weight of Roman Republican denarii blanks by gouging, in M.M. Archibald and M.R. Cowell (eds), Metallurgy in Numismatics, Volume 3, pp. 45-70, London, 1993.

Ancient mints sometimes adjusted weights by gouging a sliver, occasionally slivers, of metal from the face of a flan, before striking the coin. The results are characteristic and easily recognizable. Examples in silver are known from Lycia, Paeonia (King Adoleon), Velia and the Roman Republic, and there is a gold example in the coinage of Constantine I. This coin is a clear example of a gouged piece:

72BC 395/1 #04124-39 L.COSSVTI C.F. SABVLA Medusa Bellerephon on Pegasus Denarius

The frequency of the use of gouging in the Roman Republic makes it possible to study whether weight adjustment was carried out al peso (which means that each individual flan was brought within the tolerances of the weight standard for the issue), or whether it was done al marco (which means not paying too much attention to the weights of individual coins, but ensuring that a fixed number of flans were made from a fixed weight of metal). This question can be investigated by looking at the histograms of large number of denarii, in issues known to be use gouging.

In al marco, adjustment, a block of flans is cast a little heavy. The right number of flans for the desired weight of coins is counted out (and the overall weight will, of course be, too heavy). Flans that look heavy are successively picked out one by one, without too much attention to the weight, and a sliver of metal is gouged off. The gouged flans are tossed back into the block, until the overall weight is reduced to the right overall weight. The following figure models this process. As a result of adjustment al marco, the histogram is negatively skewed (the size of the upper leg has been reduced), and has high kurtosis (the centre of the histogram is higher than a normal distribution.)

Denarius model weight adjusted al marco

8,649 denarii from between 144 and 43 BC were checked, to identify issues with gouging. 1.34% of all the coins looked at were gouged. The weight histograms of 4,587 Roman Republican denarii in the issues known to be gouged was negatively skewed, with high kurtosis, showing that they had been adjusted al marco. In these issues, 2.53% of the coins showed signs of gouging.


Coins as Money in the Economy of Republican Rome

A decent library should contain at least one book about the usage of coins as money, or in other words, economics. Any, or preferably all the following will do well. I encourage you to read them through rather than considering them as references, as they are critical to understanding coins as money rather than as historic or artistic objects.

Ancient History from coins, Christopher Howgego, London 1995

A very intelligent book addressing what we can learn about monetary policy from ancient coins – its chapters have quite conceptual headings: money, minting, empires, politics, circulation, crisis – consistent with the thematic nature of the book. Despite the title this book is mainly about economic policy and not about specific historical events.

Harl, K. W., Coinage in the Roman Economy, 300 B.C.-700 A.D. Baltimore, 1996

This book takes an economic perspective on coins, ignoring the usual numismatic focus on rarities, types, designs, magistrates and so on. It is refreshing to read about Roman coins simply as "money" - what is it for, how it was used, what was its macro-economic impact. A good read. Whilst it addresses the entire Roman period, the techniques and conclusions are generally relevant to all eras. It does focus on coins as money rather more than the next book.

Money in the Late Roman Republic, David Hollander, 2007

A more specialised study than Harl, focussed on the Republic, and addressing to a great extent non-coin forms of money such as grain, stock, wine, olive oil or slaves. It hardly addresses coinage in a numismatic manner but is important for the context it provides to coinage, as it does discuss whether coinage was used, why and how, during the Roman Republic. A general conclusion is that the Republic was probably less monetised that we might today assume from popular history and novels. The massive rise in coinage volume in the first century BC might have as much to do with changes in the market economy requiring more coinage for a given level of output, than with growth in the economy per se.

Money and Government in the Roman Empire, Richard Duncan Jones, 1994

Although based on the Empire, much of the discussion is quite general and applicable to the Republic, for example economics, use of coin evidence, money supply, budgets and taxes, prices, size of issues, wastage and small change.

Of Interest

The following books will be of greater or lesser interest dependant on how deep is your interest in minting and money. I would not go out of my way to purchase any of them as part of a standard library of Republican numismatics, however if you have them to hand they can be rather interesting. For example Roman Coins and Public Life under the Empire by G.M. Paul and M. Ierardi contains some fascinating essays on what we know and what we don't know about ancient coins.

The Monetary Systems of the Greeks and Romans, William Harris editor, 2008

Whilst at face value dealing with the same subjects as Howgego, Harl, Hollander and Duncan Jones, the thirteen contributing authors to this 2005 conference were really on a mission to find non coinage forms of money, what we would today call Money Supply in its broader sense. The book covers some of the same themes as Hollander’s above-listed book. Because numismatists tend to ignore wider money supply questions, but also because this is a hot theme subject to warm debate by current experts, a hint at some of the conclusions might whet the appetite.

  • John Kroll, The Monetary Use of Weighed Bullion in Archaic Greece. Written records of money use in Greece regularly pre-date coinage, thus showing that weighed bullion acted as money before the invention of coinage.
  • David Schaps. What was Money in Ancient Greece? Contra the remainder of the book, makes the case that money was essentially coin "I do not see a cowrie shell, nor a token of an embedded transaction, nor a transient marker in a vast system of credits and debits... after more than twenty years of looking at Greek money I still see a coin.
  • Richard Seaford. Money and Tragedy. The Tyrants of Greece used the power given by early money to influence dramatic festivals that had traditionally been local, voluntary, communally funded by participant donations-in-kind, and uncoded. Money made Greek tragedy coded and transferable - the services of an actor or music player could be bought and relayed at a different festival in a different location.
  • Edward Cohen. Elasticity of the Money Supply at Athens. Cites evidence of banking and bank credit at Athens. Athenian control over their large silver mines also gave them a reserve currency role, able to issue new money or withhold at will.
  • J.G. Manning. Coinage as Code in Ptolemaic Egypt. The institutionalisation of coinage by the Ptolemies was an important lever of control in what was essentially a command economy.
  • David Hollander. The Demand for Money in the Late Republic. Changes in Money Demand (money-to-keep) is a more useful indicator than Velocity (its inverse) of the need for coinage. The huge increase in coinage in the last century of the Republic can be readily explained by the increased circulation area of the Empire, plus a doubling of prices from the 2nd to 1st centuries BC, plus a modest increase in per-capita Money Demand due to uncertain times. This leaves almost no room for deeper and wider monetization nor for real-terms growth. [AM comment: Inflation is the free variable in this equation. The evidence of price increases in the last century of the Republic despite the silver denarius remaining constant, does suggest a lack of wider monetization and a lack of real GDP growth, either of which would have increased Money Demand with a tendency for prices to fall rather than rise.]
  • David Kessler and Peter Temin. Money and Prices in the Early Roman Empire. The Mediterranean was an integrated marketplace with the Roman sestertius as its single unit of account, as shown by predictable differences in wheat prices between Rome and distant wheat growing areas.
  • Elio Lo Cascio. The Function of Gold Coinage in the Monetary Economy of the Roman Emptire. In Pompey, gold made up 61% by value of the coins found, and other evidence points to a massive monetisation in gold coin at the end of the Republic and early Empire. Despite their relative rarity today, the Roman economy in the early Principate ran on gold coin. We tend to overlook this, and mischaracterise the economy as on a silver standard, based on the surviving coinage.
  • William Harris. The Nature of Roman Money. In the late Republic, and prior to the early Principate gold monetization, negotiable credit and loan notes were used as wider money supply, specially for payment of large amounts or over distances, a finding which is reinforced by the lack of substantial coin finds in shipwrecks.
  • Peter van Minnen. Money and Credit in Roman Egypt. Higher survival of papyrus records relating to multiple low level tax payments gives a skewed impression of domination by coin money, but the really big transactions were by paper. Some large transactions that have survived suggest trade duties might have generated as much state income as wheat. The state took far more in taxes then spent in local services. Tax receipts in local coin were exchanged with exporter-merchants at Alexandria for Imperial gold or silver and remitted to Rome. Merchants then bought export goods with the Egyptian coin. Evidence of gold aurei accumulation in Egypt shows that more money was brought in - for trade - than the government ever took out in taxes.
  • Constantina Katsari. The Monetization of Rome’s Frontier Provinces. Urbanisation and ease of trading (access to rivers, ports, roads) play a much greater role than the presence of military camps as a predictor of monetization at the Roman frontier. Urbanisation may incidentally have been caused by frontier activities, but it was civilian urban markets and not military camps that needed coin.
  • Walter Scheidel. The Divergent Evolution of Coinage in Easter and Western Eurasia. Separate Chinese and Greek inventions of coinage show that precious metal was unnecessary for a coin-based monetary system. China's lack of gold and silver resources, abundance of copper, and a tradition of conscript rather than mercenary armies which required pocket-money but not portable cash, naturally led to its copper currency. Inertia kept it going until 1912. Compare Rome’s copper currency in the 6th to 3rd centuries BC - a relative abundance of copper, and a citizen rather than mercenary army who needed pocket-money not gold, and relied on their small-holdings and end-of-service benefits for security.

Recherches sur l'Organisation et l'art des Emission Monetaires de la Republique Romaine, Hubert Zehnacker, 2 Volumes, Rome 1973

A large work (1200 pages) in French on mint control and organisation of Republican coinage and on typology. It contains lots of interesting material but was issued just prior to Crawford’s RRC hence was immediately overshadowed by Crawford’s views on the same subjects, e.g. control marks. In format it might be compared with Bahrfeldt’s commentary on Babelon, in this case Zehnacker comments on Sydenham issues, addressing very detailed matters such as portrait styles, mint workshops, morphology of bronzes, mint techniques etc. A specialist student of minting will find much of interest but a bad accident of timing means that Crawford did not take account of Zehnacker’s research and vica versa. Unfortunately it is very poorly illustrated with just a few plates in volume 2 illustrating only a small sub-section of the coins discussed, further detracting from what is evidently a major piece of research. The unread contents of this book are probably waiting to be rediscovered by a scholar who in time may write a similarly detailed commentary on Crawford.

Roman Coins and Public Life under the Empire G.M. Paul and M. Ierardi eds. Michigan 1999

Essays on numismatic method, mainly relating to the Empire but the techniques under discussion are equally relevant to the Republic. A very provocative essay on “coins as primary evidence” uses our supposed knowledge about several Republican issues to illustrate serious weaknesses in historical numismatic methods that underpin long-standing conclusions on attribution and dating, considering how little we know really about some issues, in many cases depending still on the assumptions of Fulvius Orsini and Atonio Augusto in the 1570’s, see my page on Coins and History.

Antike Münzen (Römische Republik und Augustus), Sammlung Zwicker, Teil 6, Erlangen Universitätsbibliothek, 1999

An otherwise undistinguished minor collection catalogue, this is valuable for its comprehensive metallurgical analysis of a wide range of Republican coins.

Specialist die studies

Refer my webpage on Period Specific Studies, for various specialist die studies mainly from the mid-Republic period, that are relevant to mint management.

Coinage, credit and the aerarium in the 80's BC, Jonathan Williams, in essays Hersh 1998

Credit and financing issues and the relationship to coin output.

Pseudomints and small change in Italy and Sicily, Suzanne Frey Kupper and Clive Stannard, in AJN20, 2008

Paestum and Rome, the form and function of a subsidiary coinage, Michael Crawford, 1973

See Italian and Provincial issues for commentary on the issuance of small bronzes.

Systemes et Technologie des Monnaies de Bronze, Bouyon, Depeyrot, Desnier, Moneata 19, 2000

Comprehensive overview of the techniques used to make bronze coins. Not specific to the Roman Republic, but relevant.

Modern Counterfeits and Replicas of Ancient Greek and Roman Coins from Bulgaria (2003); Contemporary Coin Engravers and Coin Masters from Bulgaria - "Lipanoff Studio" (2004); Cast forgeries of classical coins from Bulgaria (2005); Counterfeit Studios And Their Coins (2005); I. Prokopov & other authors

Four little books with photographs of modern forgeries from Bulgaria. The first three books are overpriced relative to their information content since the forgeries are generally poor quality and easy to recognize and there is no discussion on technique. The websites I mention below will suffice instead. However the fourth book includes diagnostics and was favourably reviewed in the August 2005 Celator.

Many of the Republican forgeries (which crop up regularly on eBay) are illustrated on the http://www.ancients.info site. Another comprehensive site for forgeries is http://forgerynetwork.com

Issue size and die counts

This is a complex and greatly disputed topic in its own right that deserves separate attention. To date there is no consensus, with broadly two strands of opinion. On the one hand those scholars with an economic or statistical background tend to conclude that given sufficiently large volumes of statistically relevent data, one can roughly estimate original issue size and die counts for large issues by extrapolation from issues with known die counts. Michael Crawford, Warren Esty and others write from this perspective. On the other hand those scholars who consider the unknowable factors such as the actual metal available in a given year for die manufacture, the related metallurgy techniques and skills, staffing, tools, mint management processes etc. conclude that the effect of these chance factors introduces orders of magnitude uncertainties that swamp any estimates of issue size that might come from statistical techniques. Ted Buttrey is a key advocate of this perspective. I draw no conclusions here, but below is a list of relevant articles, whose views I will not even attempt to summarise. Almost all the relevant studies have been based on Roman Republican coinage because of its consistent annual issues, ample large hoards, and dies that may be countable with the use of symbols. Read and ponder.

  1. Roman Republican Coinage, Michael H. Crawford, 1974, essay on Coinage and Finance: Inopia, Size of issues of coinage, Income and expenditure
  2. A propos du volume des emissions monetaires dans l’Antiquite, Francois de Callatay, Revue Belge de Numismatique, 1984
  3. Estimation of the size of a coinage, a survey and comparison of methods, Warren W. Esty, NC 1986.
  4. The distribution of the numbers of coins struck by dies, Warren W. Esty, ANS AJN 1992
  5. Calculation of the average die lifetimes and the number of anvils for coinage in antiquity, Giles Carter, ANS AJN 1992
  6. Calculating Ancient Coin Production, facts and fantasies, T.V. Buttrey, NC 1993.
  7. Calculating ancient coin production, seeking a balance, F. de Callatay, NC 1995.
  8. Calculating ancient coin production, again. S. E. Buttrey and T. V. Buttrey, ANS AJN 1997. Article is a review of the following works: Francois de Callatay, Georges Depeyrot, Leandre Villaronga, "L'Argent monnaye Alexandre le grand a Auguste". Brussels: Cercle d'Etudes Numismatiques, Travaux 12, 1993. and Francois de Callatay, "Calculating Ancient Coin Production: Seeking a Balance", NC 1995, pp.289-311.
  9. New methods for calculating the original number of dies in a given series, Giles F. Carter, Num.Circ. 1998
  10. Die productivity and wastage in Roman coinage, R.P. Duncan Jones, NC 1999.
  11. Hoard structure and coin production in antiquity, an empirical investigation Kris Lockyear, NC 1999.

Notwithstanding this heated controversy, there is valuable work ongoing to actually count, rather than estimate, the number of coin dies for certain series. Ted Buttrey and Giles Carter have done considerable work on the denarii of Crepusius, which have numbered dies, whilst Richard Shaefer is working on an ambitious project to count dies from selected Republican issues, both silver and bronze, using current auction catalogues as feedstock. Richard is seeking support from volunteers based in Europe who may have access to catalogues from European auction firms and could assist in collation of specimens from auction catalogues. Richard can be contacted on the Yahoo Group RROME: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/RROME


All content copyright © 2004-2011 Andrew McCabe unless otherwise noted. If you've any questions or comments please contact me on the Yahoo Group RROME: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/RROME.
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See my rarity estimates for Roman Republican Bronzes: Roman Republic Bronze Rarities..