barber institute of fine arts
university of birmingham


Roman Republic

For images of the coins mentioned below, see the gallery to the right of this page.

 

The earliest Roman coins

Rome began producing what may be considered proto-coins before the fourth century BC. These earliest coins are known as aes rude. Aes rude are essentially lumps of bronze or copper and are often found in hoards near sacred springs and fountains. There appears to have been no regulation of weight for the aes rude. These ‘coins’ then developed into aes signatum – cast bars of bronze with basic imagery of dolphins or fish spines. They are often found in fragments and often alongside aes rude. In time, another type of coin began to replace the aes signatum: the aes grave. The aes grave were round, smaller and more coin-like, with denominations marked by pellets, but still cast and iconographically simple.

By the late fourth century BC, Rome was issuing struck silver coins. These were more akin to the coins produced in the Greek colonies in the South of Italy at the time, and this presumably enabled Rome to interact economically with them. Some of these coins were milled, meaning they had a cog-like outer circumference. Milling is thought to have been an early anti-forgery or anti-clipping device. Gold coins are virtually non-existent for the republican period.

 

Dating the Roman Republican coins

The early Roman Republican coins were not stamped with dates. Moreover, as a republic, these early Roman coins did not contain the images of rulers, as later imperial issues did. This means that even sequencing these republican coins is excessively difficult. Therefore the dating of Roman Republican coins was reconstructed through hoards. Crawford gathered all of the available information on hoards of Roman Republican coins, and compared the combinations of types. This gradually enabled him to build up a picture of types that appeared to have been circulating at the same time and, ultimately, a sequence. Subsequent scholars have continued to add to this picture.

Republican coins do contain names, but names of otherwise unknown moneyers, who were given the right to strike coins for the Roman state by the senate. Later Republican coins also contained the names of consuls, which does enable modern scholars to date later Republican coins more accurately.

 

Imagery on later Roman Republican coins

Imagery on Roman Republican coins tended to be of gods and goddesses, mythical and legendary scenes, implements of religious practice or voting ballots. Toward the end of the republic, however, a more noticeably propagandistic use of coin imagery emerges. Senators hoping for election appear to have advertised their senatorial credentials by displaying their ancestors on the coins. Julius Caesar took this one step further, however, and eventually had himself portrayed on the coins while still living. This was seen as an affront to the republic and is thought to have been a contributing factor to his eventual murder. Nonetheless, coins of the second triumvirate do depict Octavian, Marc Antony and Lepidus while still alive.

 

Online resources for Roman Republican coins

You can search some of the Barber’s Roman republican coins here: www.mimsy.bham.ac.uk

You can search a fuller catalogue of all of the Roman Republican coin types, produced by the American Numismatic Society, here: www.numismatics.org/crro

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