It's been a while...

Discussion in 'World Coins' started by Ardatirion, Mar 6, 2012.

  1. Ardatirion

    Ardatirion Où est mon poisson

    I don't remember WHEN I last started a thread here, but I know it was quite some time ago. Fear not - I am still collecting my specialty area (Roman lead tesserae [tokens]) quite actively. I have nearly a hundred specimens now, with 87 cataloged and only about 75 cataloged to my satisfaction.

    I will brace myself for the inevitable questions. "What are they?" "When were they made?" Of course, only if someone is interested enough to ask.


    PB Tessera (18mm, 2.81 g, 6 h)
    Roma seated left, holding Victory and spear
    She-wolf standing left, head right, suckling the twins Remus and Romulus
    Rostowzew 1661, pl. VII 71; Turcan 573


    PB Tessera (20mm, 4.62 g, 12h)
    Diana Ephesia
    Rostowzew 2151, pl. VIII 51 (cast from same mold)
  2. Avatar

    Guest User Guest

    to hide this ad.
  3. Hobo

    Hobo Squirrel Hater

    Thanks for sharing. So the second coin is cast. Was it common for Rome to cast many coins?
  4. Ardatirion

    Ardatirion Où est mon poisson

    Most lead tesserae were cast and, according to my research, all of the ones from Rome were. It was highly unusual for Rome to cast circulating coins, which is a part of the reason that the monetary function of these pieces is often overlooked.

    The second one just happens to be cast from the same mold as the plate specimen in Rostowzew.
  5. randygeki

    randygeki Coin Collector

    I'd like to hear(read) a slightly expanded version on what they were for :) other that this, I don't know much:
    "Lead tesserae (tokens) were issued by the monarch to the poor to be redeemed for food and other commodities. Meshorer reports the lead tesserae of Alexander Janus are found almost exclusively in Transjordan, as was this example."

    I have yet to see one at the local shop too. but I'm keeping an eye out for one for you.
  6. Ardatirion

    Ardatirion Où est mon poisson

    That information refers specifically to the lead pieces of Alexander Jannaeus and is sorely out of date, at that. Donative tokens (which are certainly known for the Byzantine and medieval worlds) were made exceptionally small numbers; no more would have been struck than necessary for the donation. The leads of Jannaeus are very common today, particularly after large finds in the Transjordan. This is indicative of a regional coinage, NOT a donation!

    There are several reasons to strike lead coins. While shortages are the most commonly cited cause (which I highly doubt), authorities also could have struck coins to control rising production costs or to limit their areas of circulation. The latter reason is brilliantly illustrated in China under the Southern Song dynasty. The copper cash were habitually exported to the Jin-controlled north, leaving border areas in want of coin, so the local mints responded by casting lead cash. I suspect this cause was at work in Judaea with the lead prutah (Hendin now calls them by the denomination name, fyi).

    The Roman pieces were likely privately cast to provide small denominations after it had ceased to be a profitable venture for the mint. While I'm not saying there are NO donative tokens from Rome, I certainly feel that the majority of tesserae served a monetary function.
  7. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Definitely a area I dont know anything about but I have seen some in your gallery. It looks like a very fun and educational area of ancients that doesnt seem heavily looked at or researched.
  8. medoraman

    medoraman Supporter! Supporter

    So you believe these lead pieces were effectively private quadrans or such struck due to Rome not economically being able to strike such small change? Was lead cheaper than copper in the ancient world? During what timeframes was there such a shortage of small change? The main periods I could think of would be around the 3rd century to around the early fourth century.

    Regarding the Southern Song, coins leaving were also the reason they struck iron coins. However, they then found out the Jin were using the iron to make weapons, so they then mixed the iron with metals that softened it to prevent the usage of the coins for weapon making. :)

  9. randygeki

    randygeki Coin Collector

    From my understanding bronze was expensive. I don't know about lead, but I'd imagine it was cheaper. I think tough also the easiness to make them out of lead played a significant part in the decision. There are clay tesserae too, right? Not sure if they had the same purpose or not.
  10. Ardatirion

    Ardatirion Où est mon poisson

    First off, I would suggest that the tesserae were made not in a panicked reaction to a shortage, but in a measured response to rising costs. The government was losing money by producing small denominations and ceased to do so, while at the same time at least tacitly allowing these pieces to be produced. As far as the denomination (quadrans, semis, etc), we really don't know enough to say for certain. However, there are rare pieces from Memphis in Egypt that name the denomination as two obols.
    As for dating, the Rome mint stopped producing small denominations in any substantial quantity after about the time of Hadrian. The need for such small pieces would have entirely evaporated by the time the main denominations were devalued to a sufficient level, probably around the time of Gallienus or shortly thereafter. This view can be externally supported, too. Lead tokens were found in excavations in the Agora of Athens, which was destroyed in AD 267, thereby providing a terminus ante quem.

    [TABLE="class: tableb, width: 100%"]

    ATTICA, Athens
    PB Tessera. (15mm, 4.00 g)
    Struck circa 200-263 AD
    Helmeted head right
    Lang & Crosby 246

    The style of the bust on this token closely matches one discovered in the Stoa at the Athenian Agora, firmly dated to the mid 3rd century AD.


    From the Roman series, a number of tesserae are known for early emperors, particularly of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. I have noticed that most of these are much more finely produced than the tesserae in general; they probably were made at a different time, for a different purpose, or perhaps even by a central authority. Among the most common rulers are Augustus, Nero, and Trajan. However, these are all widely popular emperors, several of which were even represented on the contornaites of the 4th-5th centuries, and thus useless in terms of dating. I do have a very rare, dateable piece in my collection. It shows the lighthouse of Portus, one of the ports of Rome, along with the legend ANT. This structure was restored during the reign of Antoninus Pius, thus providing a reasonably likely date to sometime during his reign!


    ROME. Antoninus Pius. AD 138-161.
    PB Tessera (22mm, 5.09 g, 11 h)
    The Lighthouse of Portus
    Rostowzew 64, fig. 2; Kircheriano 66

    Possibly ex Trau collection.

    The Lighthouse of Portus was restored during the reign of Antoninus Pius. This tessera was likely distributed during the ceremony.
  11. medoraman

    medoraman Supporter! Supporter

    Of course you are right, I meant to say 2nd to 3rd century. It would not make sense to need small change in the Late Roman bronze period, since all they had was small change, lol.

    Is there any chance some of the earlier pieces were official strikes? You said they were higher quality. Any chance they were undocumented parts of the official currency?
  12. Ardatirion

    Ardatirion Où est mon poisson

    There definitely is a chance, at least for some of the issues. But how could that ever be proven? The mere appearance of an Imperial portrait is not enough. Now, I have noticed that many "Imperial" issues are much more finely engraved and cast. I suspect that these were the ones produced by the central authorities. Unfortunately, I don't have any portrait issues in my collection - they are quite rare! The museum in Milan has some published, and Rostowzew plates a number of specimens as well. I have managed to acquire what appears to be the most common "Imperial" issue (Rostowzew notes quite a few in museums).

    PB Tessera (19mm, 2.71 g, 12 h)
    Imperial issue (?)
    Venus Victrix standing right, resting arm on cippus and holding transverse scepter and clasping hands with Mars, standing left
    Fortuna standing left, holding rudder and cornucopia
    Rostowzew 153, pl. III 2; München 16-7; Kircheriano 572, 582, 738, and 741

    Rostowzew places this with the "Tesserae capitibus et nominibus imperatorum signatae" on the basis of type. In my studies, I have noticed that many of the types bearing Imperial portraiture or names are much more finely engraved, often with a centering dot and pronounced rims.​
  13. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Nice additions Bill!
Draft saved Draft deleted

Share This Page