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Ancient Skills

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Swarf, Mostly!28/02/2021 15:05:08
614 forum posts
65 photos

Hi there, all,

This thread was prompted by my reading today's posts relating to the Antikythera Mechanism. However, rather than posting 'off-topic' there, it seemed better to start a new thread.

A few years ago, a hoard of Roman coins was discovered - I think it was on Jersey. It was a major find, lots and lots of coins.

Large as it was, this hoard must have been small by comparison with the number of coins in circulation. It seemed to me that, in order to achieve adequate production rates, the Roman mint must have had more than one set of dies to strike each denomination of coin. Each coin would have had the Emperor's head on the obverse - I don't know what they put on the reverse.

Now, even today, die-sinking is a far from easy business. How did the Romans produce multiple sets of dies that would each strike anything close to the same impression??? (I don't believe that the Romans produced their coinage by foundry methods.)

Best regards,

Swarf, Mostly!

Edited By Swarf, Mostly! on 28/02/2021 15:06:16

Edited By Swarf, Mostly! on 28/02/2021 15:07:52

ega28/02/2021 15:16:07
2318 forum posts
190 photos

At Fishbourne, the Romans had a well-trained team of slaves to do the job.

Bazyle28/02/2021 15:31:53
6079 forum posts
221 photos

One man striking the die once a minute (four tims that when the bos was around) would easily make 1000 per day. So in batches perhaps 100k per year with a burst of 200k for a new emperor/king. With a population of less than 3 million in the uk (what we will need to get back to next century) and a 10-20 year coin lifespan you don't need many. Probably in a village only one or two people would even have a coin.

Speedy Builder528/02/2021 16:09:07
2439 forum posts
192 photos

This was the question:

How did the Romans produce multiple sets of dies .

I wonder how hard the dies would have to be for gold, would bronze have been hard enough?

Swords were made of "steel" and engraved - had they perfected acid etching enough to make dies of steel?

Ady128/02/2021 16:45:27
4810 forum posts
717 photos

They sure managed to get a lot done and with far less people around 2000 years ago

"Have that job finished by Friday teatime or we'll crucify you" does tend to motivate

Tim Stevens28/02/2021 18:23:18
1490 forum posts

I think the making of dies was not exactly as might be imagined. Certainly there would have to be a fairly standard version of the emperor's head, but the lettering could be produced - in the die, not the coins - by stamping the letters one by one. I'm sure that by the time coins were expected to be recognised by the users, steel was able to be softened, punched, and hardened. The coinage was for many years a guarantee, not of value per coin, exactly, but a guarantee of origin, to be measured by weight. After all, we still measure it in Pounds - a distant echo of the idea.

And no, bronze would not have been hard enough or strong enough.

It was only in the era of steam presses and pantograph die-sinkers that coins were expected to look really identical.

Swords were a different matter. The blade would be made by a skilled blacksmith, but they would have been engraved, or inlayed, or etched, individually, but only for the top brass. And I don't think etching was common until chemistry took over from alchemy - about 1500 AD.

One other point - there was no one Roman Mint. There were mints all over the empire - at least half a dozen in little isolated Britannia. This continued in the middle ages - Offa, who ruled the Midlands, had his own, for example.

Cheers, Tim

Frances IoM28/02/2021 20:52:58
1172 forum posts
28 photos
when in 1723 the local blacksmith + pub landlord having access to some old cannon metal decided to counterfeit some pennies he apparently just used one good penny to make a mould presumeably using clay - the details were not described in the court hearing but many pennies were made so probably the moulds had the imprints of one side + channels for the molten metal to flow with a corresponding mould of the reverse of the coins which would be abutted to the other mould and the molten metal poured into the baked moulds - the small bits of metal from the channels were filed off.
The jury tho the blacksmith acknowledged having made the coins acquitted him as under a new law counterfeiting of brass as well as silver coins was a capital offence (the blacksmith also hadn't realised but was lucky in that his son had married the daughter of the attorney general!

Many silver coins were quite small and a single master could be used for many copies - the moulds could be reused tho wear would be seen
Dave Halford28/02/2021 21:01:06
1816 forum posts
19 photos

Not hard to find some they all look to be a form of iron.

ega01/03/2021 10:58:03
2318 forum posts
190 photos

By way of comparison (and when conditions permit) a visit to the Royal Mint in Wales is recommended.

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