Featured Ancients: The Evolution of Roman Coinage (Aes Grave)

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by AncientJoe, Sep 6, 2014.

  1. AncientJoe

    AncientJoe Well-Known Member


    Unlike the Greek monetary system which was based around the value of silver and gold, the early coinage of Rome was based on bronze. The progression and maturation of Rome’s currency was chronicled by Pliny the Elder, who described the earliest bronze currency as “aes rude”.

    While it allowed for wealth to be portable, it didn't fulfill all of the critical aspects of coinage, as it was only traded by weight, needing to be cast or broken into irregular shapes without being assigned a specific unit of value.

    Eventually, these were refined into rectangular bars named “aes signatum”, which featured images and inscriptions, bringing them closer to actual conventional coinage. However, making change still required the bars to be physically broken into pieces. To further improve and optimize trade, the coinage was refined into cast bronze in a disc shape, known as “aes grave”, learning from the concepts introduced by the round coinage of the Greeks.

    They came into use during the third century BC and had their value indicated by markings on the coin: “I” for the as, “S” for semis, and various numbers of pellets for smaller denominations known as unciae (with one pellet denoting one-twelfth of an as).

    Their weights were closely controlled by the issuing authority, and each denomination was consistent. Depending on where they were issued, an as weighed 272, 327, or 341 grams. This coin is a “semis”, which literally means “half” and is valued at half an as and weighs 135.41 grams, nearly precisely one half of the 272 gram as.

    Shortly before the Second Punic War in 218 BC, the method of production of the coinage would be changed to be struck rather than cast. It fell out of use during the Roman Empire, and many of the coins were melted down with their metal reused as other coins.

    This coin shows a bull jumping forward on the obverse and a Campanian wheel on the reverse. This type of wheel was formed from bent pieces of wood held in positions of mutual pressure and secured to a hexagonal hub. Several different suggestions as to the meaning of this type have been proposed, speculating that it could be referring to the completion of the Appian Way, the completion of another road construction project, or perhaps a cosmic symbol, as some contemporary coins depict wheels alongside stars and crescents.

    Aes Grave. Semis, 265-242 BC bull jumping to the left, head facing forward; below 'S' Rv. Wheel with six spokes; 'S' between two spokes. 135.41 g VT 32 Häberlin pl. 25, 4 Syd. 60 Cr. 24/4. Dark olive green patina. Good Very Fine.

    Post your Aes Grave coinage! (Also, as soon as I can, I'll be taking an image of mine with another coin to show its size)
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  3. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Thats one thing I never had the desire to own, rudes. I see them often, but just the lumps of bronze from the 5-4th century BC do nothing for me.

    Your coin is very nice!
  4. TIF

    TIF Always learning.

    My first "coin that got away" was an aes grave. I hope to capture one soon :)

    Great writeup! I didn't know most of that information.
    Ryro likes this.
  5. stevex6

    stevex6 Random Mayhem

    *Sproooiinnngggg!!* => yeeeehaaa, sweet!!!

    => yah, unlike my awesome comrade Mat, I am a total fan of these "huge", early Roman bronzes .... wow, that is a super-cool coin!! (congrats, AJ)

    ... sadly, I only have a handful of slightly later AE examples ... by then their weights had decreased significantly (*sigh*)

    => but hey, as you know, I'm not too shy to post those slightly later examples ...

    AE Semis (88 BC) ... 6.0 grams
    AE Semis.jpg

    AE Quadrans (128 BC) ... 4.3 grams
    Anonymous AE Quadrans Prow & Elephant.jpg

    AE As (169-158 BC) ... 26.0 grams
    Anonymous Roman Republican Janus.jpg

    AE AS (179-170 BC) ... 34.0 grams
    Anonymous AE As Fly.jpg
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2014
    tibor, Ryro, Alegandron and 11 others like this.
  6. chrsmat71

    chrsmat71 I LIKE TURTLES!

    this is my only republican ae, a semuncia


    Ryro, Alegandron, RaceBannon and 11 others like this.
  7. Gil-galad

    Gil-galad I AM SPARTACUS

    Very nice RR bronze coins. I still don't have one yet.
  8. John Anthony

    John Anthony Ultracrepidarian

    That's a fabulous big hunk of primitive bronze, AJ. 135g is a serious rock. What's the diameter?

    I only have a later Semis to share, but it's one of my favorite bronzes...

    Anonymous Roman Republic
    AE Semis 21mm, 8.6g, anonymous, after 211 BC.
    Obv.: Laureate head of Saturn right; S behind.
    Rev.: Prow of galley right; S above, ROMA below.
    Crawford 56/3; Sydenham 143a; BMCRR 229; Sear 766.

    Ryro, Alegandron, RaceBannon and 11 others like this.
  9. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

    These are my largest I think:
    Nero_Caludius_Drusus 1_opt.jpg
    REVERSE: TI CLAVDIVS CAESAR AVG P M TRP IMP Exe: SC - Claudius seated left, holding branch; weapons on floor
    Rome 41BC-2 AD
    28.6g, 36mm
    RIC 93

    Ptolemy IV.jpg
    OBVERSE: Diademed head of Zeus Ammon right.
    REVERSE: PTOLEMIAOU BASILEWS, eagle standing left on thunderbolt, looking back at cornucopiae under right wing
    Struck at Egypt 221-205 BC
    46.4g, 38mm
    SNG Cop 221
    Ryro, Alegandron, dlhill132 and 5 others like this.
  10. Gallienus

    Gallienus coinsandhistory.com

    Here's mine. [​IMG]
    This is an Aes Grave As, weight = 258 g. <s>Struck</s>, sorry, cast ca 225 - 217 BC. This was a relatively recent acquisition for me. Bought it out of a foreign auction. I just have the old Vecchi & Thurlow book on Italian Cast coinage which is a wonderful edition: cleared up a lot of confusion I had on the types of these.

    I shipped it to David R. Sear for authentication just after receiving it. Came with foreign export certificates. These coins must be seen to be appreciated. One year when I get money, I'd like to get perhaps some of the older & heavier series.
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2014
  11. AncientJoe

    AncientJoe Well-Known Member

    I agree that they must be seen (or held) to be appreciated. And, they're certainly a type which NGC won't be able to slab any time soon! :) The larger Aes Signatum bars are also incredible.

    The export certificates are very important for these now that they're limiting the importation. I was pleasantly surprised that mine came through without a problem as I bought it from a German auction and the pedigree wasn't completely clear for it.
  12. stevex6

    stevex6 Random Mayhem

    => cool coins, fellas (JA => man, that's nice, I always appreciate that cool ol' semis when I see it!!)

    Last edited: Sep 11, 2014
  13. Gallienus

    Gallienus coinsandhistory.com

    While the large bronzes of Ptolemaic Egypt of this module are not rare I find them very interesting. The color and metal quality has to do with them containing a high percentage of Tin in the alloy while the Roman Aes Grave series had a high degree of Lead.

    Unlike Lead, Tin is a safe metal to handle and is used a lot in modern "hobbyist" castings due to it's low melting point and non-toxicity.
    Mikey Zee likes this.
  14. Gallienus

    Gallienus coinsandhistory.com

    Although as a newbie Aes Grave buyer I was looking for an As, your Semis is now extremly nice & interesting. The "wheel" coins are practically impossible to obtain in As form. Also 135.41 grams is nothing to sneeze at. Today, I might provide some competition for such a piece...

    I may have posted this somewhere else but last year some very interesting early Roman Aes Graves sold for what I thought were cheap prices. Possibly this is because of the meltdown in Roman bronze coin prices? However these items are so neat that I can't possibly exist only having one. Of course the problem is that one buys from a foreign auction and it's pretty much a guess until the coin shows up. I wonder if these have gone thru the tampering that apparently struck Roman Imperial bronzes have? I'd guess not as they're much less popular items?
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2015
  15. Bart9349

    Bart9349 Junior Member

    Ancient Joe: Thank you for the write-up.

    What are the diameters of some of those larger bad boys?

  16. Gallienus

    Gallienus coinsandhistory.com

    My Vecchi & Thurlow does not give any diameters. However I found that I both measured & weighed my specimen and have the following.
    Roman Republic Aes Grave As, Janus Head /Galley Prow right, with obv & rev mark of denomination, 225 - 217 BC (the most common type)

    listed as 242.3 g and 61 mm, however, I weighed it at 258 g and 63 mm at point of max. diameter. Some of the older As in the Aes Graves series exceed 400 gms.

    I'd love to be able to get metallurgy and specific gravity but that will have to wait. Note that the accurate jewlers' scales do not typically go over 50 or 100 gms so weighing these can be a challenge. My dentist's office refused to let me use their scale for example.
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2015
  17. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

    I'd find me another dentist!!!!:punch:
    Pishpash likes this.
  18. ro1974

    ro1974 Well-Known Member

    Great coins:happy:
  19. Okidoki

    Okidoki Well-Known Member

    here is mine
    Anonymous. Semis after 211, æ 22 mm 7.43 gr
    Laureate head of Saturn r.; behind, S. Rev. Prow r.; above, S and below, ROMA.
    Hannover 597. Syd. 143a. Cr. 56/3.
    323 Greek.jpg
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  20. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member

    I only have one and it is a tiny 38.4g sextans with turtle.

    I am anxious to see your 400g as. The heavy series as should be a Roman pound (328.9g) but I don't recall seeing one over 300g let alone 400. Of course there are rare multiple denominations that weigh that much (the British Museum has a 10 as piece) but I would not trust an as that weighed that much over the theoretical weight. Of course we would be very happy to see a double as well!
    Ryro, Alegandron, stevex6 and 4 others like this.
  21. Mikey Zee

    Mikey Zee Delenda Est Carthago

    Great write-up and postings guys!!

    I have to get at least one of these types...hopefully, before they are are legally unavailable. I suppose the law change will significantly or substantially affect the pricing of those left available.
    Mic123 likes this.
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