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Roman Mints

The minting of coins in Roman history falls under two specific categories that relates directly to the government styles. In the Republican system, coins were minted through moneyers with generic images of the glorification of Rome and her achievements. Under the Empire, the emperors had direct control of coinage and they included images glorifying themselves, as well as the state.

Republican Coins

The treasury of the Roman Republic which included the minting of coins was under the dominion of the Senate. The responsibility for the issuance of the earliest coinage is generally unknown, as coins from this period bear no names, but it is widely believed to have been the Consuls of the time. Later with the introduction of the denarius a board of three moneyers, the tresviri monetales, was appointed to oversee the mint. These three men were part of a greater board, the vigintivirate, or a board of twenty young men at the beginning of the Cursus Honorum, and worked under the supervision of the Quaestor. Obtaining a position on this board was often a first and important step into a future Senate seat and the elected offices. The moneyers were appointed for annual terms and struck coins concurrently. Later, as the Empire expanded, there were also local boards appointed to oversee the Provincial mints.

With the creation of the montales, Roman coins also began to take on a different appearance. Instead of simple markings, the moneyers often selected coin types that glorified the achievements of famous ancestors and included their own names. Such propaganda not only advertised glorious achievements of the State, but also advanced the influence of the family name, increasing the moneyer's own political aspirations. A side effect of adding names to coins was the ability to track the coin for quality purposes. Problems with weight and metal purities of coins could easily be linked to the moneyer who issued it. While these tresviri monetales were the official appointees of the Senate-for issuing coinage, after 100 BC other authorities did start to appear on coins. Mint marks such as S C (Senatus Consulto) which means "by decree of the Senate indicated coinage authorized directly by the senate, and coins from individual office holders such as Praetors also appeared. During the time of the late Republic (after 49 BC) civil wars so depleted the treasury that the Senate had to issue the coinage. By this time, the Imperators, men such as Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great, also gained the authority to strike their own coinage to pay their legions directly. This not only increased the loyalty of soldiers to their own generals, but also was another small factor into the final fall of the Republic.

Mints employed freedmen and slaves who were skilled designers, die-engravers (Signatores), and metal workers for smelting, flan-casting, and striking (Suppostores et malleatores). During the Republic, the number of mint facilities is unknown, but widely varying coin styles and types indicate that several mints may have been used. Though usually located in Italy, there were some used occasionally in the Provinces. Mintmarks start to appear on Republican coinage around 124 BC and would continue for about 75 years. These marks were indicative of particular mints and possibly the minting authorities and included numbers, fractions, letters, and symbols which could identify the work of a particular period.

Imperial Coins

With the establishment of the principate under Augustus, the issuing of coins was divided between the Emperor and the Senate. The emperor was the authority behind striking gold and silver coinage and the Senate oversaw bronze coinage marked by the legend SC (Senatus Consulto). The Senate, however, had little real authority and the SC legend could be replaced with other markings at the whim or 'suggestion' of the emperor. Also, within the principate, the moneyers took on a less significant role. Coin legends indicate that the tresviri monetales were still in use as late as the third century AD, but their names had already disappeared completely from coinage around 4 BC. The mints of the Emperor switched to the control of a mint administrator; the Procuratir Monetae. Both Imperial and Provincial mints were controlled by provincial procurators and fell under the watchful eye of the Rationibus, or the emperor's financial administrator. Each metal and coin type was also under the responsibility of an Optio et exactor auri argenti et aeris (Reviewer and supervisor of the gold, silver and bronze). Within this system, the mints were also organized into departmental Officinae. Each mint had up to six at a time, and each was responsible for the production level of its own coin types.

Did you know?

Coin strikers working in the mint, struck each coin individually by hand. Errors were sometimes made by double striking or missing the center of the coin. Some coins even have misspelled names or missing letters both confusing historians and amusing collectors.


Roman Mints - Related Topics: Copper - Vigintiviri


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