|Roman Republican Coins and Books by Andrew McCabe
Plated Coins - False Coins of the Roman Republic
Links on this page to Plated Coins - False Coins of the Roman Republic:
Plated Coins of the Roman Republic - Introduction
My other web-pages - links in the menu bar at left - trace a path through Roman coinage from the earliest times through Augustus, but I take a break from the sequence at this point to discuss plated coins. Plated coins are such a contentious subject that anything I utter, as a non-expert, may be discounted. Instead, with permission from the authors, the key reference texts by Michael Crawford are reproduced in full along with selections from other sources: Clive Stannard, Philip Grierson, William Campbell, Phil Davis: and some examples of plated coins from my database and other sources. This web-page only addresses plated coins during the Roman Republic, although it include some look-back citations from later documents as to the effects of Sulla's fundamental and long-lasting Lex Cornelia de Falsis about forgery, As with all things in Roman times, whilst we have some excellent historical texts from Republican times, there's an explosion of documentary evidence on Roman life and laws as we move into Imperial times, often reflecting practices that go back to the Roman Republic.
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. Campbell's analysis of one coin based on its photographed cross-section is reproduced at the bottom of this page.
Michael Crawford: Plated Coins - False Coins, Numismatic Chronicle 1968
Professor Michael Crawford has kindly given me permission to reproduce his classic 1968 article on plated coins, complete and unabridged. Rather than me commenting, let his words speak for themselves.
Michael Crawford: Roman Republican Coinage: Plated coins, pp 560-565
Michael Crawford provided a summary of his views with some slight amends in Roman Republican Coinage, togeter with an inventory of coins that demonstrate abberant features and exclude the possibility of their being official mint products. I include Professor Crawford's comments on plated coins and an abridged list below.
Clive Stannard: Papers on Mint Techniques relating to Plated Coins and Forgeries
Clive Stannard’s publications page includes a related paper on mechanical reproduction which is relevant to the techniques used in plated coins and include amongst his oddities in numismatic techniques a discussion on plated brockages, and a discussion on a hub die, likely a forgers. Clive has given me permission to reproduce his short paper on a Plated Brockage below.
Phil Davis: Plated Coins of Quintus Cornificius
Phil Davis' note on Cornuficius reproduced below presents what may be a specific exception to the general rule on plated coins being forgeries, in circumstances that could not have applied at the mint at Rome. Understanding why this is an exception may help the udnerstanding of the general case of plated coins being forgeries.
The Roman Law of Counterfeiting, Philip Greirson, in Essays Harold Mattingly, Carson and Sutherland eds. 1956
Philip Grierson reviews the main tenets of the law on counterfeiting in the Principate and Dominate. The main provisions in Imperial times stem from Sulla's Lex Cornelia de Falsis of 81BC so we get a clear view also of the law as applied in the late Republic. Later in this web-page I quote some key provisions from Grierson's paper that cast light on counterfeiting law in Republican times and by extension also on the practice of counterfeiting itself.
Plated Coins - False Coins
Michael H. Crawford, Numismatic Chronicle, 1968, reproduced with permission of the author.Footnote additions in green text by Andrew McCabe
No-one seriously doubts that a large proportion of the plated Roman coins which survive for study can safely be dismissed as private forgeries. But it is widely believed that some plated Roman coins should be regard as official products of the mint1. Neither evidence nor probability supports such a belief.
The criteria for dismissing a great many Roman coins as private forgeries are quite simple. Such coins may display garbled legends,2 they may be hybrid pieces combining an obverse and reverse of different periods,3 they may bear inappropriate control marks,4 they may have the wrong die-axes.5
It is also clear that plated coins, once discovered, were regularly rejected in the Roman world. They are almost unknown in hoards6 and presumably got in only occasionally by mistake, but occur frequently in site finds and were doubtless thrown away when they could no longer be passed (to pass a false coin was illegal - see below).7 A whole profession came into being to test coins - the nummularii. Their earliest tesserae probably date from the late second century BC.8 During the first century BC, hoards began to contain coins with punch-marks on them, made to see if the silver9 surface of the coins masked a bronze core.10
The reason for supposing that some plated coins none the less originated from the mint are extremely flimsy. E.A. Sydenham held that "as regards style, plated and unplated coins are indistinguishable from one another. Actually one or two examples of silver and plated coins struck from identical dies are known".11
The argument from style is simply irrelevant. The style of pieces of pure silver covers the whole range from excellent to appalling and the fact that a plated coin is of good style proves no more than that it is a successful forgery. It proves nothing about the origin of the coin. At least some plated coins are of good style because the dies used to strike them were copied from pieces of pure silver. The pieces illustrated below provide an example.12 The obverse of the plated piece (at centre) is very similar to that of the first pure silver piece (at left). Likewise the reverse of the plated piece (centre) is similar to that of the second pure silver piece (at right).
The argument from die-links is more impressive. If it is true that plated and pure silver pieces were struck from the same dies, the official nature of some plated coins might seem established. But a careful examination of the coins illustrated below13suffices to destroy this argument. The coin above is of pure silver, that below is plated, and at first sight the two coins seem to be from the same dies. The only obvious difference is that the plated coin has a slightly blurred appearance. But a closer look shows that the two coins display evidence of different and incompatible die breaks.14 The dies used for the plated piece were also a millimetre smaller.
The two coins, therefore, cannot possibly have been struck from the same dies (compare the dies reported in BSFN 1960,441).
The only likely explanation of the phenomenon is that the dies used for the plated piece were mechanically copied from a pure silver piece, which had been struck from the same dies as the pure silver piece illustrated here before the appearance of any die-breaks. Impressions could have been made in wax, then clay moulds, then the dies. These derivative dies doubtless acquired in use die-breaks of their own, before being used to strike the plated piece illustrated here.
If this is so, there seems no reason why a Roman forger's dies should not have copied a pure silver coin with perfect fidelity. Cases of "plated and unplated coins" apparently from identical dies provide no evidence whatever for the official origin of some plated coins.
Given, then, that there is no numismatic evidence to suggest that Roman plated coins were official mint products, the overwhelming literary and documentary evidence that they were not should be accepted. The Lex Cornelia de Falsis forbade the production of adulterinae monetae, which in the late Republic and early Empire must be plated coins (surviving in vast numbers, compared with a handful of base metal coins).15 The passing of false coins was also forbidden.16
It is sometimes argued that a passage of Pliny should be interpreted to mean that M. Livius Drusus, tribune in 91 B.C., arranged for an eight of the silver coinage to be plated - "octavam partem aeris argento miscuit".17 This interpretation lacks all plausibility. The passage should be considered with another passage of Pliny - "miscuit denario triumvir Antonius ferrum, miscent aera falsae monetae, alii e pondere subtrahunt ..."18 In both stories miscere might be expected to refer to the mixing of a base metal with the silver. But iron and silver are virtually immiscible. In the story about M.Antony, therefore, either Pliny wrote ferrum instead of some other metal or he meant to describe the process of plating. Although legionary denarii of M.Antony are occasionally reported as consisting of silver plated on iron,19 the fact that the legionary issue as a whole was struck from debased silver suggests that Pliny meant to talk about debasement and simply wrote ferrum in error. If, therefore, miscere can keep its natural reference to debasement in the story about M.Antony, it should keep it also in the story about Livius Drusus. And since there is no trace of debasement in denarii of the years immediately after 91 B.C., the story about Livius Drusus should be taken as referring to an abortive proposal.
It is also true that there is some evidence for misconduct on the part of the moneyers. But the form which this seems to have taken does not amount to the official production of plated coins. In the classical period of Roman law, moneyers seem to have been thought capable of two basic offences, both regarded as peculatus.20 They might steal or they might mix a baser metal into the bullion from which the coins were made, presumably pocketing the profit. Subsumed under the heading of theft was the possibility that the moneyers might strike money for themselves. If they did so, they were not guilty of making adulterina moneta, but of furtum, and they thus presumably made acceptable coins out of stolen bullion, forma publica,21 instead of simply stealing coined money. At a later stage, the moneyers seem to have started using their skill to make adulterina moneta, but outside the mint.22 The accusations of the Anonymous de rebus bellicis that the mint itself was to blame should not be believed.23
Three points call for special emphasis. Cicero would hardly have talked about forgery as he did, if he had known that the state engaged in the practice.24 If the state had engaged in forgery, the attempt to supress it when practised by others would have been most unlikely to succeed and thus virtually pointless.25 Finally, a state practising forgery would hardly have built into the law the provision that false coins could be rejected,26 nor would it have permitted the existence of the nummularii, whose function was to weed out false coins.
The number of plated Roman coins with correct legends, control marks, and die-axes is a very small proportion of the total. They should unhesitantly be regarded just as very successful forgeries.27
Text and images © Michael H. Crawford, with permission.
Plated Coins - page index:
Plated Coins: commentary in Roman Republican Coinage
Michael H. Crawford, in Roman Republican Coinage, RRC, pp 560-562, reproduced with permission of the author.Footnote additions in green text by Andrew McCabe. To ease cross-reference numbering continues from that above.
I have argued in NC 1968, 55-59 that all Roman Republican plated coins are unofficial forgeries;29 my reasons for doing so still seem to me to be valid and may indeed be further reinforced; I therefore restate them here with certain modifications.30
(1) A large number of plated coins are self-evidently unofficial forgeries; the list which follows these notes provides ample proof.
(2) Forgery of coins was illegal at Rome,31 so was the mere possession of a forged coin;32 rejection of forged coins was specifically permitted;33 there was a profession one of whose major functions was the testing of coins to see if they were genuine or plated.34 The effectiveness of these nummularii may be seen from the fact that while excavated sites are littered with plated pieces, presumably thrown away as too hot to handle, hoards almost never contain plated pieces.35
(3) No serious historian of the Roman Republic will countenance the degree of idiocy, not to say schizophrenia, which it is necessary to attribute to the Roman state if one is to believe that it manufactured plated coins and yet allowed, even encouraged, their weeding out and their rejection.36
The only thing which may be held to commend the belief that some plated coins are official mint products is the occurrence of plated and silver coins apparently from the same dies. I say apparently from the same dies, because it seems to me certain that in many cases the die-link is not really there. But even if cases could be proved, the considerations advanced above would suffice to make it certain that when the die in question was being used for the plated piece it was being used unofficially.
To substantiate my belief that some die-links between plated and silver pieces were only apparent, I drew attention to two coins from Hannover, one silver and one plated, which at first sight come from the same dies, but which display evidence of different and incompatible die-breaks.37 The only likely explanation of the phenomenon is that the dies used for the plated piece were mechanically copied from a pure silver piece, which had been struck from the same dies as the pure silver piece illustrated here before the appearance of some die-breaks. 38 These derivative dies then acquired in use die-breaks of their own.
In order to make the derivative dies, each side of a coin was presumably pressed directly into the heat-softened face of a die to be. That some such procedure is possible and that good quality results are possible is now proved by the discovery of a group of dies for striking Republican coins at Tilisca in Romania.39 One of these dies seems at first sight the die which struck a denarius in the Maccarese hoard;40 but it cannot have done so because the relief on the latter piece is higher than would have been produced by the die. The only plausible explanation is that the Tilisca die was mechanically copied from a coin struck from the same die as the Maccarese hoard coin, but considerably more worn. If this was possible in Dacia, it was surely possible for a forger in Italy.41
I conclude that there is no numismatic evidence weighing against the inference to be drawn from the factors mentioned at the beginning of these notes and that the view that the Roman Republic struck plated coins is unsupported by any ancient evidence.42
Text © Michael H. Crawford, with permission.
Professor John Melville-Jones kindly provided me an extract of texts relating to forgeries from the forthcoming Testamonia Numaria Romana. Though not referenced by Crawford, I could hardly miss the following three short quotes, in a somewhat lighter tone:
Plated Coins - page index:
Annotazioni Numismatiche 32, 1998, Clive Stannard, reproduced with permission of the author.
A brockage results when a coin sticks to one of the dies, and strikes the next coin, creating a piece with the same design on the two sides, once in relief, and once incuse. Most are 'obverse brockages' (that is, the coin has stuck to the upper, or trussel die), because 'a coin attached to the lower anvil obverse die would be more likely to be seen and removed'.1 Brockages occur most often during intense, high-speed, production, when the operator works on without noticing the error. They are particulary common in the Roman Republic: 'the overall impression is of a coinage produced carelessly and in haste ... Given the scale on which the Republican coinage was produced, we should not be surprised'.2
The coin is twice illustrated here, from plaster casts to show the form; and from the piece itself to show where the plating has come away
Another common phenomenon of the Republican silver coinage is the high number of plated pieces. Crawford has maintained3 - it seems to me conclusively - that all are forgeries. The best evidence for plated coins as an official mint product would be the identification of plated pieces from the same dies as good silver pieces; but he has argued that the apparent examples were made by forgers mechanically reproducing dies; moreover, even if plated coins were shown to share dies with good silver pieces, they could very well be the product of fraud in the mint, by workmen stealing dies, or bringing in plated flans for striking. The contention that the Roman state mixed plated pieces into issues is therefore not susceptible of positive proof from the numismatic evidence, though the inferential negative argument from the many aberrant mules and mistakes, and from the existence of forgers' hoards of all plated pieces, is strong.
The existence of brockage fakes might seem improbable, on prima facie grounds; it is unlikely would be working in volumes and at rhythms such as to give rise to brockages; I imagine, moreover, that they would carefully inspect their output for pieces that might give them away, and that brockages must be spotted.4 However, I illustrate an obverse brockage of a denarius of Cr. 389/1, L.RVSTI, 76BC (2.99 grams). I know of no other plated brockage.5 A number of untestable hypotheses could be formulated to explain it; it is better at present merely to record the piece, in case it can be of relevance in later discussions.
Text and images © Clive Stannard, with permission. Clive has a website with research papers on minting technology and Italian small change.
Clive Stannard's piece was written in 1998 and other plated brockages have since come to light. Aaron Emigh has a website showing eight Roman Imperial Plated Brockages. M.H. Crawford in RRC also noted on p.560: "M.Bahrfeldt observes ... also that some plated pieces are brockages ("Antike Münztechnik", pp 14 and 9 of offprint). I have not seen Bahrfeldt's paper.
Clive Stannard had the following comments on the brockages on Aaron Emigh's site: "Plated brockages are an index of speed of work. But there could also be a laziness factor, when someone simply didn't bother to scrape the offending stuck coin of the trussel. Neither of these are linear measures. One could look for signs that the dies are forgers' dies. I assume [the illustrated coins are from] transfer dies. I would not regard these coins as evidence for the mint striking plated coins. There is another interesting index, which is linear, and shows the number of coins struck from a single pair of dies with a coin stuck to one, that is, the spreading of the incuse image over time. I illustrate some spread brockages - not plates - in Evaluating the monetary supply - were dies mechanically reproduced in antiquity?" The evidence of these pieces bears out the suggestion that forgers were working at speed, with large volumes. John Goddard in Metallurgy in Numismatics 3, showed that in the time of Gallienus, obverse brockages are more common, suggesting that the reverse die was in the pie, not the trussel".
Numismatic Chronicle 1988, pp 141-143, Clive Stannard, abridged with permission of the author.
The interpretation of the object published in the 1986 NC1 as a hub for the official Roman Republican coinage involves special pleading: although it does indeed appear to be a hub, it is likely to be the work of a forger. One major deficiency points to this conclusion: the head of the hub is too small to bear the whole design. The edge of the hub cuts through the exergual inscription, through Victory's wings and through the top of the trophy. No official mint is likely to have prepared so inadequate a tool, for, if a die were struck from it, an engraver would still be needed to clean up the edges of the design.
A more economical explanation is that this is a forger's hub, made by casting bronze in the imprint of a victoriatus in clay or casting sand. This is also the simplest explanation as to why the inscription should be included on the hub. The shape of the coin - a little smaller than the design - is reproduced, and there is no linear border because a well-centred piece, with all the border off the flan, was chosen. The forger may have lacked the skill to cut a die or may have had no confidence in his ability to reproduce the Roman style. In any case the labour involved in the process (mould, bronze cast, and hubbing) was simpler in its elements and probably less in total than the preparation and engraving of a die. The main argument advanced against this - that no forger would make a hub (as this implied more work) unless at least two dies were intended - cannot stand. The lesser - that a forger would not have attempted the newer uncommon coin - has little value: it is precisely the unusual, the new, that is most easily counterfeited and passed; this is the case today and seems to have been the case in antiquity.2
The assertion that [AM: genuine, good silver] victoriati from dies made with this hub have been identified seems to me to be wishful thinking. [AM: Clive Stannard at this point lists numerous small differences between the good-silver coins illustrated in the NC 1986 article, and the forger's hub under discussion]. It follows that the identification of this forger's hub cannot be made to prove the Spanish origin of a group of coins, nor can it lend credence to the argument that the Roman mint used hubs for official coinage. A cast hub is at best a poor instrument: the metal is liable to blow-holes and surface weaknesses, which will deteriorate with use, and the mould must be taken from an actual coin which means means that dies must anyway be engraved.
The mechanical copying of dies has been demonstrated before (though, I feel, incorrectly explained), significantly in connection with forgeries. Crawford has drawn attention to two denarii, one silver and one plated, with the plated piece coming from copied dies, and suggest that "in order to make the derivative dies, each side of the coin was presumably pressed directly into the heat-softened face of the die to be". E.Pagan3 has also published some forger's dies from Yugoslavia, all with very clear steps down, as having been made by forcing actual coins into the metal of the die. I doubt that this is easily done and would argue rather that all these dies were made with cast hubs like the Spanish example.
Text and images © Clive Stannard, with permission. Abridged from the original.
A Plated Quintus Cornuficius
As with many of the Imperatorial series that came to an abrupt end with the death of a relevant Imperator, one wonders how the coins of Brutus, Cassius and their confederates might have developed. The issues of Cornufucius are of great interest; Phil Davis provided the following write-up for this rather interesting plated issue which questions whether our general assumptions on plated coins are applicable in every last case. Michael Crawford indeed considered and allowed for this case in "Plated Coins - False Coins" where in the very last paragraph he says "It is possible that certain irregular coinages, produced in periods of civil war, may include both pure silver pieces and plated pieces. But one must not argue from coinages such as these to the official coinage of the Roman state". Perhaps he had Cornuficius in mind when he wrote this, although in RRC footnote 302 page 565 he says, "For plated denarii of Q.Cornuficius with aberrant style see F.Gnecchi, RIN 1900, 154; Bf.ii,110; A.Alföldi, Mélanges Carcopino, pl, 7 (wrongly disposed to treat the pieces as official mint products)". However the coin discussed below is not of aberrant style and consideration of it and other good style pieces of this Imperator, known in more than usual frequencies, may fit with the last thoughts of Crawford's Plated Coins paper.
Note by Phil Davis
Quintus Cornuficius was the republican governor of Africa Vetus (the "old" province) from 44-42 BC, during the civil wars. He was a man of considerable refinement, a poet and orator and a close friend of Cicero and Catullus. In 43 BC, Cornuficius refused to hand over his province to Antony's nominee, and he was proscribed by the triumviral government. In 42 BC, he was attacked by Titus Sextius, the governor of the neighboring province of Africa Nova. The course of this local conflict mirrored that of the wider civil war. Cornuficius enjoyed some initial success, even briefly invading Sextius' province, but he was utimately defeated and killed outside Utica in 42 BC. Before his defeat, Cornuficius produced a remarkable coinage in gold and silver, of astonishing artistic achievement. The three obverse types, heads of Africa, Jupiter Ammon, and Ceres-Tanit, all refer to his province of Africa. They share a common reverse, which depicts Cornuficius as augur being crowned by Juno Sospita, seemingly a reference to his own Lanuvine origin. All of these coins are of considerable rarity today. In Tresors Monetaires XX, 2002, p. 1-4, Michel Amandry published a definitive die study and corpus of this fascinating issue. Amandry knew of only 24 denarii of all types, including 12 with the head of Ceres-Tanit. These latter were struck from only three obverse and six reverse dies; three of these reverses were also paired with the Jupiter Ammon obverse.
Q. Cornuficius; Denarius Fourre, African Mint, 42 BC, 4.15g. Amandry-27 (D6/R11) Cr-509/5, Syd-1354 (R9); Sear, Imperators-231. Obv: Head of Ceres-Tanit r. Rx: Q. Cornuficius standing l. wearing veil and holding lituus in right hand; Juno Sospita stands on r. with crow perching on shoulder holding spear and shield in l. hand and crowning Q. Cornuficius with r.; Q CORNVFICI AVGVR IMP around.
The present cataloguer is aware of two additional specimens of Ceres-Tanit; thus, this coin is perhaps the fifteenth known example. Following Crawford, the "conventional wisdom" is that all plated Republican silver coins are contemporary forgeries. The coins of Cornuficius seem to present an unmistakable exception to this general rule. Three coins in Amandy's Corpus are also fourrees; thus, including the present coin, out of 15 known examples, four are plated. This is an almost inconceivable percentage, if these fourrees are indeed ancient forgeries. They are struck from two obverse and two reverse dies; thus the hypothetical forger would have needed to possess by happenstance at least two examples of this exceedingly rare coin. There is good reason however to believe that in this particular case the plated coins are just as "official" as the good silver ones, especially as the plated and good silver coins share dies. It is possible to construct a persuasive scenario for this claim which doesn't violate Crawford's general dictum. The good silver coins would be the money Quintus Cornuficius minted to pay his soldiers, in the early, successful days of his struggle for North Africa. As the war turned against him, it is easy to imagine him increasingly strapped for precious metal, and resorting to striking more and more plated denarii. His soldiers expected to be paid, and were probably prepared not to examine that payment overly closely. At the end, he was restricted to Utica and its environs; how much silver could have remained there after months of fighting?.
Text courtesy Phil Davis © Harlan J Berk, with permission.
Plated Coins - page index:
I reproduce below a plate from William Campbell's 1933 classic metallurgical analysis, "Greek and Roman Plated Coins". The frontispiece of the book has a fold-out full-coin cross-section with an enlargement at six points in the cross-section. No doubt confusing countless generations of numismatists, the cross-section and its enlargement are upside down relative to each other in the frontispiece, and the key to the plate is later in the book with a diagram that looks little like the photographed shape of the coin and is upside-down relative to the photo. However in the picture below I've placed the two photos and the diagram in the correct relative positions, with their commentary below: This is only one of 38 coins analysed by Campbell, in a lengthy small-format book, but the discussion around this coin is in a similar vein to others in his book. Note that the conclusions in this case apply specifically to the pictured coin, and not universally to the fourrees in his monograph. The coin whose cross-section below is of Lucius Lucretius Trio, Neptune and a boy on a Dolphin 76BC.
Campbell concludes - for this coin only - that the silver coating was not produced by dipping a copper blank into either molten-silver or molten silver-copper alloy, nor was it made by the Sheffield-plate method where sheet silver is applied to copper by heating the two in close contact such that they produced a film of eutectic alloy by diffusion. Instead, eutectic alloy, or silver solder of 72% silver and 28% copper was attached to the copper and that further addition of silver solder caused the coatings to run with the layered results as seen in the lower half of the cross-section. The book considers each coin on the merits of the metallurgy it presents to the microscope and reaches different conclusions in different cases.
Philip Grierson, in Essays in Roman Coinage Presented to Harold Mattingly, 1956
I cite below some key statements by Grierson on the development of Roman Law on counterfeiting through Imperial times, that also cast light on the law and practice of counterfeiting during the Roman Republic. Sulla's Lex Cornelia de Falsis seems to have had a very long life, as accounts of legal changes in the Empire only mirror changed circumstances, e.g. the widespread use of gold and reintroduction of bronze from the late Republic onwards, and the widening citizenship franchise. The basic tenets of Sulla's law seem to have survived through the fourth century AD. There are some surprises to a modern mind - counterfeiting was generally not a capital offence, it was generally treated as a form of theft or fraud rather than a political crime, and counterfeiting of bronze was not addressed at all.
Lex Cornelia de Falsis
The basis of the Roman law regarding counterfeiting was a section in Sulla's lex Cornelia de falsis c.81BC dealing with the coinage. Its text is lost, and we have to reconstruct its tenor from Ulpian's summary of some of its clauses. It envisaged only the silver coinage, and the punishments it laid down were subsquently construed as banishment (free men) or death (slaves) for anyone guilty of counterfeiting silver coins or conniving at the offence. The buying or selling of coins of lead or tin, i.e. pieces which might be mistaken for silver, was also forbidden. Gold coins were not dealt with, for at that time the Republic had none. No mention at all was made of bronze, presumably because the decision had already been taken to discontinue coinage in this metal. The approach of the law of counterfeiting was purely ethical: it envisaged the offence as a form of fraud, and liable to be punished as such. There is no trace in it of the political approach, which regards counterfeiting as an offence against the state. These features were to influence profoundly the later development of the law of counterfeiting.
Developments in Counterfeiting Law arising from the Lex Cornelia
The Lex Cornelia de Falsis was one of those great constructive pieces of legislation dating from the late Republic and the early Principate on which all subsequent criminal law was built up. Future development came partly through the replies of the emperor or his ministers to requests for decisions in particular cases and partly through the opinions of the great jurists as embodied in manuals of law and handbooks for provincial governors. The terms of the Lex Cornelai were extended, as was natural, to cover the gold coinage. The ways in which gold or sulver coins might be maltreated, by falsifying, washing, melting, clipping, breaking or injuring were elaborated in great detail. The refusal to accept gold or silver coins bearing the imperial portrait, provided they were genuine, became an offence. Makers of tesserae (such as that shown below) which might be mistaken for coins were exempted from punishment, provided it could be shown that they had acted innocently and made amends.
Counterfeiting by Mint Workers
There was the special problem of the moneyers. In the main they were liable in the same way as the other folk. But if they abstracted the dies or other instruments from the mint and used them for coining elsewhere, it was held that in so doing they were guilty only of theft (peculatio), not counterfeiting, since the coins, even if not properly authorised, were struck in due legal form. The fact that the lawyers regarded it as necessary to take special note of it should perhaps cause numismatists to revise the generally accepted view [AM: in 1956] of the official character of the plated denarii of the late replublic and early empire. If the misuse of regular dies, as envisaged in the dictum of Ulpian, really took place on an extensive scale, it disposes of the only serious argument in favour of the official origin of these coins.
Punishment for counterfeiting: Not a capital offence
Penalties which are essentially those of the Lex Cornelia (exile for the rich or banishment to the mines for the poor), seem to have applied only to silver, for Ulpian prescribes severer measures against those caught tampering with gold coins (free men being condemned to the beasts in the amphitheatre). We are confronted by the surprising fact that under the Principate no legislation against the counterfeiting of bronze is known to have existed. The gold and silver were par excellence imperial money, Caesaris moneta, the bronze was not. There is reason to believe that as late as the mid fourth century the death penalty was not normally inflicted, and that counterfeiting was not thought of as a capital crime. The evidence for this comes from the amnesties which it was becoming customary for the emperors to issue every Easter and from whose operation those guilty of capital crimes were expressly excluded. Two amnesties of 367 and 368 give a list of such offences: treason, sorcery, murder, adultery, rape, tomb-robbery and soothsaying. Neither makes any mention of counterfeiting.
A Hoard of Plated Claudian Coins
A forger's stock of plated coins together with a lump of bronze made from melted coins, no doubt ready for use as raw material, was found in North Suffolk in 1995 and reported Coin Hoards X. The hoard is on display in the British Museum. The examples shown below are of good style, with die-matches evident in the two top-right coins.
More coins below show mostly common obverse dies, and a couple of further reverse types. Other examples amongst the 56 displayed in the Museum include an obverse of Augustus and of Tiberius. Many of the coins have lost silvering no doubt due to physical and corrosive effects but had they not, they might easily have been mistaken at sight for genuine coins even to an expert. Michael Crawford's work on Plated Coins - False Coins, explains how predominantly all plated coins are forgeries but this Suffolk hoard is a visible demonstration of that reality, coming from an unquestionable forgers context yet with a wide variety of plated coins of apparently good style.
Plated Coins - page index:
List of Plated Coins in Roman Republican Coinage
Michael H. Crawford, in Roman Republican Coinage, RRC, pp 562-565, reproduced with permission of the authorFormat changes by Andrew McCabe for conciseness and in order to embed references by Michael Crawford to other pages in RRC. Any resultant errors are my responsibility.
The following list of plated coins is not intended to be in any way an exhaustive catalogue of the aberrant legends and types which occur on plated pieces but is should suffice to prove that many of these are characterised by abberant features which exclude the possiblity of their being official mint products.
I do not here list plated hybrids, the existence of which provides further support for the view that plated coins are not official mint products; it is worth remembering, however, that hybrids are often wrongly reported as being of pure silver, when they are in fact plated. The only examples known to me of hybrids of pure silver are (1) a denarius (Rome, Capitol 2858) of L.Trebanius RRC 241 with the obverse type of C.Augurinus RRC 242; it is of pure silver and should be regarded as a hybrid produced in error by the mint; (2) two denarii Turin F645, and Hannover 3894 cf. M. Bahrfeldt Nachträge i,2, of M. Aburius Geminus RRC 250 with obverse of aberrant type; these obverse could technically belong to the issues of Ti.Minucius Augurinus, P.Maenius Antiaticus, N.Fabius Pictor or to that with elephant's head, but their style is almost certainly thar of the issue of P.Maenius Antiaticus RRC 249 The denarii in question are of pure silver and should be regarded as hybrids produced in error by the mint. [AM: the Hannover 3894 catalogue entry refers to this coin as plated; I cannot tell whether this was later determined or if the catalogue is in error]. (3) Haeberlin 2075 = Mabbott 4113 combines the obverse of RRC 391/2 (Cupid) with the reverse of 391/3 (Roma and Venus). (4) Denarius combining obverse of RRC 488/1 with reverse of RRC 489/1 (both issues of M. Antonius) overstruck on a denarius of C. Lentulus RRC 393/1 which is plated, a fact presumably not apparent at the time of overstriking.
For the sake of completeness I list those ancient forgeries which are known to me which are not plated pieces, but pieces composed of a base alloy intended to resemble silver: A denarius of L.Sempronius Pitio in the Cordova hoard and another in Paris. A denarius of M. Tullius "di piombo" in the Ossolaro hoard. A denarius of Sufenas in the BM, 3.97% silver, 1.30% gold; rest tin, antimony and zinc. A denarius of A. Plautius, 70% tin; 28% antimony; 1% zinc; 0.7% lead; traces of sulphur, iron, nickel and copper (G.F. Carter, Chemistry, November 1966,11 = SCMB 1965,58). See also F. Gnecchi, RIN 1892,165 for lead forgeries from Rome of Republican silver and Imperial silver and bronze.
Needless to say, the commonness of different issues of plated coins by and large reflects the commonness of the issues which they copy.
List of Plated Coins, number as per RRC - ALL coins listed below are plated.
Text © Michael H. Crawford, with permission. Format changes by Andrew McCabe - any transcription errors are entirely my own.
A Forger's Die
I thought it appropriate to end this web-page with a picture of a forger's die which I handled and photographed recently. The die is of type 365/1 C.VAL.FLAC. Looking at it for more than a moment it becomes clear that such a piece would never be sturdy enough to allow for the mass-production of coinage at the mint in Rome. Furthermore and very obviously, the die-face is not properly finished - it appears to have been formed from an impression of a real coin but some details at the left of the die are just not there. This could only have been made by some form of mechanical transfer as discussed throughout this web-page, from a coin that itself missed the same details due to being offstruck or weakly struck. For if engraved by hand, why not produce a finished image? Of course coins from this die will evidently miss the same details. Perhaps they weren't caught in ancient times but a keen eye such Michael Crawford possessed when compiling the list directly above should catch such forgeries today. A final thought - this die may be a forgery, but even then it demonstrates a forger's die which was made by mechanical reprodution.
Plated Coins - page index:
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See my rarity estimates for Roman Republican Bronzes: Roman Republic Bronze Rarities..