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Heavier Metal: Ancient Coins Made of Lead

markowitz lead coins
CoinWeek Ancient Coin Series by Mike Markowitz …..
SOFT, DENSE AND dull, precede is an unattractive mint metallic element. lead melts at only 327.5° C ( 621.5° F ) – low compared to copper, which melts at 1,085° C ( 1,984° F ) – so it is easily recycled. It ’ south besides toxic, something that was not well sympathize in antiquity. When we find head neologism in history, it often indicates hard times, when nothing better was available. run coins and “ coin-like artifacts ” consequently receive little care from numismatic scholars and even less from collectors .
But these cruddy bits of metallic have something to teach us, if we are bequeath to learn.

The earliest securely-dated lead artifact is probably a bantam ( 6 curium, 2.4 inches ) female figurine from Egypt’s First Dynasty ( c. 3000 BCE ). Found at Abydos, it was acquired by the British Museum in 1899. surprisingly, it was carved ( rather than cast or molded ). Archaeologists have found much older lead beads, of uncertain go steady and consumption, in Anatolia .
romanleadingot Because tip was cheap, ancient counterfeiters often used it for cores plated with a little precious metallic. It was much mix into bull alloys to stretch the provide of metallic ( and lower the melting point of the batch. ) Some deep Roman “ bronze ” coins contain up to 30 % lead. This article, however, will deal with coins and “ coin-like objects ” made of pure or about saturated run .


so when the Lacedaemonians had besieged Samos for forty days with no success, they went away to the Peloponnesus. There is a anserine narrative afield that Polycrates bribed them to depart by making and giving them a great phone number of gild lead coins, as a native currentness .
Herodotus, Book III, ch. 56

Cataloguers much describe the ancient greek lead coins that turn up as “ enigmatic ”. We don ’ t constantly understand why they were made or how they were used [ 1 ] .
Syracuse-and-Akragas A very early model is the “ tetradrachm ” from greek Sicily ( Syracuse or possibly Akragas, ) dated to about 420 BCE. The obverse shows the head of the water-nymph Arethusa surrounded by dolphins. The reverse combines a cancer ( the badge of Akragas ) with a fish. In a recent auction this objet d’art brought €480 ( US $ 522 ) .
A “ keepsake ” or “ tessera ” from the township of Pherai in Thessaly ( Northern Greece ) shows the pass of a beard satyr on the obverse, and the front of a talk through one’s hat on the inverse .
The cataloger wrote :
leash tokens must have served as proof of voting rights, capture passes to theaters or early cultural events, fees for river crossings and, frequently, as a way of distributing goods to entitled citizens ( such as grain or early foodstuffs ) via a semi-permanent marker that would be exchanged for them. In addition, since the coarse metal was easily to melt and reuse, it was ideal for ephemeral activities and could then be made into something else. Its very ephemerality is one argue why so few such tokens have been found, and they must have been produced far more extensively than the surviving examples incriminate .
In a 2012 auction, this piece brought US $ 500 [ 2 ] .
celtic tribes living in Eastern Europe often produced “ barbaric ” copies of contemporary greek coins for their own use. In the second hundred BCE, the Aegean island of Thasos, which had rich people silver mines, produced a series of brilliant silver tetradrachms depicting the wreathe head of Dionysus obverse, and a stand figure of Herakles reverse. A barbarian copy in star reduced this building complex design to a crude child-like scribble of stick figures. In a 2012 auction, it went for just US $ 85 .


leadusagechart The Latin discussion for leave is plumbum. From this parole, we get the chemical symbol Pb and our bible “ plumber ”, since Roman water pipes were often made from lead. Roman mines in Spain and England produced huge quantities of the metal, and precise measurement of the fallout of Roman lead pollutants recovered from Greenland ice cores make it possible to estimate the resurrect and fall of this production ( Hong ) .
A dramatic exercise of a Roman lead “ mine keepsake ” from Spain brought US $ 420 in a 2004 on-line auction. Weighing over 98 grams ( closely 3.5 ounces ), it measured 43 millimeter ( 1.7 inches ) in diameter and depicts the helmeted head of Roma on the obverse and a Cupid driving a chariot drawn by dolphins on the reverse .
The cataloger explains that :
many of these towns were “ caller towns ” owned and operated by the mine owners. It is here that these spark advance tessera saw their use. conduct is by and large obtained as a by-product of silver smelt, and with the cute metal intended for the Roman market, the lead was a handy resource for habit as a local little prize currency in the towns. Some of these lead tessera date to the earliest period of Roman occupation, but most visualize use in the flower of private mine mathematical process, the first hundred BC-AD [ 3 ] .
romantoken The Roman node kingdom of Numidia in North Africa produced a true lead neologism under King Masinissa ( died 148 BCE ) and his son Micipsa ( died 118 BCE ). These big coins ( about 14 grams, 26 millimeter ) feature the baron ’ sulfur bearded head on the obverse, and a prance horse on the reversion ; sometimes a few punic letters can be made out. Issues in bronze and copper-plated lead vitamin a well as pure precede are known. Nice examples typically sell for US $ 60-70 when they appear at auction .
Yannai, the Hasmonean ruler of Judaea ( ruled 103-76 BCE ) better known by his greek list Alexander Jannaeus, issued star “ tokens ” that closely copied the design of his small bronze neologism, except for the reversion inscription in Aramaic ( the speech of the people ) rather than archaic Hebrew script ( known only to the priesthood ) .
The standard reference on Biblical neologism, ( Hendin, 196 ) notes :
“ …it is not far-fetched to conclude that the … issues in interrogate were tokens issued by the jewish king to the masses to be redeemed for gifts. This possibility may besides explain the respective true hoards made up entirely of these pieces. ”
In a 2009 auction, a finely example of this type sold for $ US60 [ 4 ] .

Byzantines and Their Enemies

Some small-denomination Byzantine spark advance coins are known, dating roughly from the late sixth to the early seventh century. They bear a crude facing portrait of an emperor on the obverse and a punctuate of value on the rearward, but no inscription that would place them in the reign of any particular rule. The larger 10-nummi pieces are stylistically similar to bronze issues from Ravenna during this period. identical small 2- and 3-nummi pieces may be from the mint of Antioch, made during the time period of agitation that led to the fall of Emperor Phocas in 610.

SASANIAN- The Sasanian kings of Persia issued a variety of head coins that have been little studied. They rarely survive in a circumstance that would appeal to collectors, but a few examples have appeared in holocene sales at prices around US $ 150-200 .

Collecting Lead

The most common lead objects in the antiquities trade are not coins at all, but seals [ 5 ]. These include “ commercial seals ” from Greek and Roman commodities and medieval and Byzantine objective seals. Sigillography ( the study of seals ) is the neglected younger step-sister of numismatics. Seals provide valuable information for understanding how bureaucratic empires actually worked, long after the documents they validated have crumbled to dust .
Since ancient and medieval lead coins and coin-like objects are not democratic with collectors, they are generally cheap compared to cherished metallic element coins of similar timbre. Because ancient star may be covered with toxic dusty surface deposits, such objects should be handled with common-sense precautions ( wear gloves or at least wash your hands ). clean of lead artifacts is a slippery business best impart to professionals .
References to ancient star coins are scattered in a wide diverseness of old and obscure sources, typically in italian, french, and German. Some of the more accessible sources are listed below .
* * *


[ 1 ] A common description – particularly if a type is singular or extremely rare – is “ blueprint ” or “ test strike ”. Because run is so soft it takes a acuate depression when assume, allowing mint workers to cheaply show their civic authorities a sample of how a precious metallic coin design would look .
[ 2 ] Classical Numismatic Group Electronic Auction 290, 7 November 2012, Lot 103 .
[ 3 ] Classical Numismatic Group Mail Bid Sale 67, 22 September 2004, Lot 1070 .
[ 4 ] Classical Numismatic Group Electronic Auction 216, 12 August 2009, Lot 213 .
[ 5 ] Technically, the “ seal ” itself is the unique engrave bronze or iron cast – which rarely survives – that makes the depression on the gentle lead blister, or “ sealing ”.


Brill, Robert and William Shields. “ Lead Isotopes in Ancient Coins ”, Methods of Chemical and Metallurgical Investigation of Ancient Coinage. Royal Numismatic Society ( 1972 )
Callataÿ, François. “ Les plombs a type monetaires en Grece ancienne : monnaies ( officielles, votives ou contrefaites ) jetons, sceaux, poids, epreves ou fantaisies ? ”
( “ Lead monetary types in ancient Greece : coins ( official, votive or counterfeit ) tokens, seals, weights, patterns or fantasies ? ” ), Revue Numismatique 166 ( 2010 )
Farhi, Yoav. “ City Coins from Roman Palestine Made of Lead and comparable Materials ”, Israel Numismatic Journal 17 ( 2009 )
Herodotus. The Histories. A. D. Godley, transl. Harvard ( 1920 )
Hendin, David. Guide to Biblical Coins, 5th edition. Amphora ( 2010 )
Hong, Sungmin, et alabama. “ Greenland Ice Evidence of Hemispheric Lead Pollution Two Millennia Ago by Greek and Roman Civilizations ”, Science 265 ( 1994 )
Hoover, Oliver, D. “ A New Hellenistic Lead Issue from the Southern Levant ”, Israel Numismatic Research 4 ( 2009 )
Hoover, Oliver, D. “ Ptolemaic Lead Coinage in Coele Syria ( 103–101 BCE ) ”, Israel Numismatic Research 3 ( 2008 )
Kool, Robert. “ Lead Token Money in the Kingdom of Jerusalem ”, Numismatic Chronicle 172 ( 2013 )
Melville Jones, John. A Dictionary of Ancient Greek Coins. London ( 1986 )

Morrisson, Cécile. “ Monnaies en plomb Byzantines de la five du VIe et du debut du VIIe siècle ” ( “ Byzantine lead coins from the conclusion of the sixth hundred to the begin of the 7th ” ), Rivista Italiana di Numismatica 83 ( 1981 )
Morrisson, Cécile. “ Les usages monetaires du plus vil des metaux : lupus erythematosus plomb ” ( “ Monetary uses of the most base of metals : lead ” ), Rivista Italiana di Numismatica 95 ( 1993 )
Nriagu, Jerome. “ lead Resources of the Ancient World ”, Lead and Lead Poisoning in Antiquity. New York ( 1983 )

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