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A glimpse into the Roman finances of the Second Punic War through silver isotopes

F. Albarède1,2,

1École Normale Supérieure de Lyon and CNRS, 69007 Lyon, France
2Earth Science Department, Rice University, Houston, TX 77025, USA

J. Blichert-Toft1,2,

1École Normale Supérieure de Lyon and CNRS, 69007 Lyon, France
2Earth Science Department, Rice University, Houston, TX 77025, USA

M. Rivoal1,

1École Normale Supérieure de Lyon and CNRS, 69007 Lyon, France

P. Telouk1

1École Normale Supérieure de Lyon and CNRS, 69007 Lyon, France

Affiliations  |  Corresponding Author  |  Cite as

Albarède, F., Blichert-Toft, J., Rivoal, M., Telouk, P. (2016) A glimpse into the Roman finances of the Second Punic War through silver isotopes. Geochem. Persp. Let. 2, 127-137.

Geochemical Perspectives Letters v2, n2  |  doi: 10.7185/geochemlet.1613
Received 17 February 2016  |  Accepted 30 March 2016  |  Published 15 April 2016
Copyright © 2016 European Association of Geochemistry

Keywords: silver isotopes, monetary reform, Punic War, silver provenance



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Abstract


The defeat of Hannibal’s armies at the culmination of the Second Punic War (218 BC–201 BC) was a defining moment in Western world history. One of the underappreciated consequences of the conflict was the Roman monetary reform of 211 BC, which ushered in a monetary system that would sustain Roman power for the next many centuries. This system would encapsulate many of the issues plaguing finances of governments until today, such as inflation, debasement, and the size of monetary mass. Here we approach the issue of financial fluxes using a newly developed powerful tracer, that of silver isotopic compositions, in conjunction with Pb isotopes, both of which we measured in Roman coinage minted before and after the 211 BC monetary reform. The results indicate that pre-reform silver was minted from Spanish metal supplied by Carthage as war penalty after the First Punic War, whereas post-reform silver was isotopically distinct and dominated by plunder, most likely from Syracuse and Capua. The 211 BC monetary reform and the end of debasement, therefore, were aimed at accommodating new sources of silver rather than being the response to financial duress. The drastic weight reduction of silver coins implemented by the Roman mint was not motivated by metal shortage but by the need to block inflation after a major surge of war booty.

Figures and Tables

Figure 1 The pre-reform (pre-211 BC) quadrigatus (top) vs. the post-reform denarius (bottom). ‘Cr’ refers to Crawford’s nomenclature (Crawford, 1974).

Figure 2 Silver isotope compositions of Roman silver coins pre- and post-dating the 211 BC monetary reform. Solid symbols: denarii (top) and quadrigati (bottom). Open symbols: victoriati. Mint ages and uncertainties are from Crawford (1974). Error bars on silver isotope proportions are the same as or smaller than the symbol size. Events listed on the right-hand side are chosen for historical relevance. See Supplementary Information for the range of Spanish values.

Table 1 Coin description, Ag/Cu and Ag/Pb ratios, and Ag and Pb isotopic compositions.

Figure 3 Lead tectonic model age (in blue, left-hand scale) and Th/U (k) (in red, right-hand scale) of lead ore sources (see Albarède et al. (2012) for explanations and calculations of these parameters). Up until the last battle of Zama, the source of Pb used to purify silver remained chaotic with a mixture of Alpine and Hercynian ages and scattered k values suggesting that scrap metal was collected for cupellation. Non-alpine lead (Tm > 150 Ma) seems to have dominated the supply afterwards.

Figure 1 Figure 2 Table 1 Figure 3

View all figures and tables  


Supplementary Figures and Tables

Figure S-1 Conventional lead isotope plots of the samples analysed in the present study.

Figure S-1

View all supplementary figures and tables  


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Introduction


The three Punic Wars (264 BC–146 BC) between Rome and Carthage were a turning point in the history of the antique Mediterranean world and, more than any other conflict, the Second Punic War (218 BC–201 BC) appears to have been a defining time in Roman history. An understated consequence of Hannibal’s war was the establishment of the denarius, the longest enduring monetary unit in the history of the western world. Carthage was a colony founded next to modern Tunis in the 8th century BC by Phoenician merchants. During the 3rd century BC its empire expanded westward into southern Spain and Sardinia, two major silver producers of the West Mediterranean. Meanwhile, Rome’s grip had tightened over the central and southern Italian peninsula. The Punic Wars marked the beginning of Rome’s imperial expansion and ended the time of Carthage. The First Punic War (264 BC–241 BC), conducted by a network of alliances in Sicily, ended up with Rome prevailing over Carthage. A consequence of this conflict was the Mercenary War (240 BC–237 BC) between Carthage and its unpaid mercenaries, which Rome helped to quell, again at great cost to Carthage. Hostilities between the two cities resumed in 219 BC when Hannibal seized the Spanish city of Saguntum, a Roman ally. At the outbreak of the Second Punic War, Hannibal crossed the Alps into the Po plain and inflicted devastating military defeats on the Roman legions in a quick sequence of major battles, the Trebia (December 218 BC), Lake Trasimene (June 217 BC), and Cannae (August 216 BC). As a measure of the extent of the disaster, it was claimed that more than 100,000 Roman soldiers and Italian allies lost their lives in these three battles, including three consuls. A modern account of the Punic Wars with references to original Greek and Latin literature can be found in Hoyos (2011)

Hoyos, D. (2011) A companion to the Punic Wars. John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, UK, 570 pp.

.

In addition to the military setbacks, the most crucial collateral damage inflicted by Hannibal’s invasion of Italy was the collapse of Rome’s young monetary system (Frank, 1933

Frank, T. (1933) An Economic Survey of Ancient Rome. Vol. I: Rome and Italy of the Republic. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland, USA, 310 pp.

; Crawford, 1974

Crawford, M.H. (1974) Roman republican coinage. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 944 pp.

; Marchetti, 1978

Marchetti, P. (1978) Histoire économique et monétaire de la deuxième guerre punique. Academie Royale Belgique, Gembloux, Belgique, 547 pp.

; Kay, 2014

Kay, P. (2014) Rome's Economic Revolution. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 400 pp.

). At the outbreak of the Second Punic War with the sack of Saguntum (219 BC), the Carthaginians had paid off to Rome the war indemnities of the First Punic War (264 BC–241 BC) and the Mercenary War (240 BC–237 BC). Their hands, therefore, were largely free to use whatever remaining monetary resources they had. According to Strabo

Strabo Geography.

(3.2.10) quoting Polybius

Polybius Histories.

, ore deposits in the Neogene Betic (Bætic) Cordilleras in the region of Carthago Nova produced 35 tons of silver each year (Kay, 2014

Kay, P. (2014) Rome's Economic Revolution. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 400 pp.

). In contrast to Rome, which armed its own citizens and those from allied cities, Carthage military forces relied heavily on large numbers of mercenary Numidian cavalry and foot soldiers from Gaul, which, in addition to plunder expectations, were paid in Spanish silver. Both in Rome and confederate cities, the aerarium (treasury) was in need of funds, silver in particular, large enough to provide for the stipendium (pay) and supplies of Roman legions and socii (Latin allies). The legionary received a compensation of two obols (c. 1.2 grams) of silver per day, a centurion twice as much, and a cavalryman a drachma (Polybius

Polybius Histories.

6.39.12). A legion with a nominal strength of about 4,500 men, therefore, would cost well over 2 tons of silver a year. Of course, a large fraction of this silver would eventually return to the aerarium through taxes and donations. Assuming that hoarding and loss concerned only a small fraction of the total mass of available silver and that most worn out coins were recycled, the rest of the silver would be lost to commerce, which would quickly deplete Roman monetary supply.

The Roman monetary system was based on bronze, for which the demand in wartime was competing with the needs for weaponry (Harl, 1996

Harl, K.W. (1996) Coinage in the Roman Economy, 300 BC to AD 700. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland, USA, 472 pp.

). Bronze therefore was made convertible to silver, which, however, was also in short supply (Crawford, 1974

Crawford, M.H. (1974) Roman republican coinage. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 944 pp.

). The strain on the Roman treasury hence was extreme. Private hoards peaked (Crawford, 1969

Crawford, M. (1969) Coin hoards and the pattern of violence in the late Republic. Papers of the British School at Rome 37, 76-81.

). The loan contracted in 216 BC with Hieron II, tyrant of Syracuse, (Livy

Livy History of Rome.

23.21.7) was not repaid (Livy

Livy History of Rome.

23.38.12). After an ephemeral and ill-fated attempt at debasing silver in 213 BC, a completely new system was inaugurated in 211 BC or shortly before (Crawford, 1964

Crawford, M.H. (1964) War and Finance. Journal of Roman Studies 54, 29-32.

; Marchetti, 1971

Marchetti, P. (1971) La datation du denier romain et les fouilles de Morgantina. Revue Belge de Numismatique et de Sigillographie 117, 81-114.

; Crawford, 1974

Crawford, M.H. (1974) Roman republican coinage. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 944 pp.

; Woytek, 2012

Woytek, B.E. (2012) The denarius coinage of the Roman Republic. The Oxford Handbook of Greek and Roman Coinage. W.E. Metcalf (Hg.), Oxford–New York, 720 pp.

; Fig. 1). Silver fineness (>92 %) was restored from the pre-211 BC quadrigatus (6.7 g) to the post-211 BC denarius (4.3 to 3.6 g), a monetary unit that would persist for centuries. The exception was the smaller and noticeably debased victoriatus (Walker, 1980

Walker, D. (1980) The silver contents of the Roman Republican coinage. Metallurgy in numismatics 1, 55-72.

), which was used largely to pay the socii and for circulation in Italy outside Rome (Marchetti, 1978

Marchetti, P. (1978) Histoire économique et monétaire de la deuxième guerre punique. Academie Royale Belgique, Gembloux, Belgique, 547 pp.

), notably in the Cisalpine and Transalpine Gauls (Crawford, 1974

Crawford, M.H. (1974) Roman republican coinage. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 944 pp.

). Associated with the new denarius coinage in 211 BC was a reduction of the weight of the bronze asses from three to two ounces (1 ounce = 1/12 of a 324 g Roman pound; Crawford, 1974

Crawford, M.H. (1974) Roman republican coinage. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 944 pp.

). The question being addressed here with Ag and Pb isotopes is whether the 211 BC monetary reform was motivated by a simple need for devaluation upon silver shortage, or whether it consisted in readjustment responding to a necessity of managing new silver resources.


Figure 1 The pre-reform (pre-211 BC) quadrigatus (top) vs. the post-reform denarius (bottom). ‘Cr’ refers to Crawford’s nomenclature (Crawford, 1974 Crawford, M.H. (1974) Roman republican coinage. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 944 pp. ).
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The standard silver purification process is known as cupellation and requires the use of lead. Lead isotopes therefore are expected to provide indirect evidence of the provenance of both metals. Lead isotopes have a long history as a provenance marker in archaeology (Stos-Gale and Gale, 2009

Stos-Gale, Z.A., Gale, N.H. (2009) Metal provenancing using isotopes and the Oxford archaeological lead isotope database (OXALID). Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 1, 195–213.

). The perspective it offers can, however, be made more instructive with the use of geochemically informed parameters, such as Pb model ages, μ (U/Pb), and κ (Th/U), which are characteristic of the geological history of the crustal segments from which the lead and silver ores derive (Desaulty et al., 2011

Desaulty, A.M., Telouk, P., Albalat, E., Albarède, F. (2011) Isotopic Ag-Cu-Pb record of silver circulation through 16th-18th century Spain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 108, 9002-9007.

; Albarède et al., 2012

Albarède, F., Desaulty, A.M., Blichert-Toft, J. (2012) A geological perspective on the use of Pb isotopes in archeometry. Archaeometry 54, 853-867.

; Desaulty and Albarède, 2013

Desaulty, A.M., Albarède, F. (2013) Copper, lead, and silver isotopes solve a major economic conundrum of Tudor and early Stuart Europe. Geology 41, 135-138.

). A downside is that Pb used for cupellation may not share the same geographic origin as its hosting silver (Pernicka, 1995

Pernicka, E. (1995) Crisis or catharsis in lead isotope analysis. Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 8, 59-64.

; Budd et al., 1996

Budd, P., Haggerty, R., Pollard, A., Scalife, B., Thomas, R. (1996) Rethinking the quest for provenance. Antiquity 70, 168-174.

; Pollard, 2008

Pollard, A.M. (2008) Lead isotope geochemistry and the trade in metals. In: Pollard, A.M., Heron, C. (Eds.) Archaeological Chemistry, 2nd Edition, The Royal Society of Chemistry, London, 302-345.

). A clear advantage of silver isotopes is that they carry an intrinsic and clean signal of metal provenance. Even if they do not convey the same wealth of geological and geographic information as lead isotopes, they are largely free of assumptions about how Pb and Ag are related. Beyond the time-consuming, labour-intensive chemical separation of Ag and Pb and their isotopic analysis by mass spectrometry, they both constitute novel tracers that track the provenance of different stocks of core metal used for minting. Our exploratory work (Desaulty et al., 2011

Desaulty, A.M., Telouk, P., Albalat, E., Albarède, F. (2011) Isotopic Ag-Cu-Pb record of silver circulation through 16th-18th century Spain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 108, 9002-9007.

; Desaulty and Albarède, 2013

Desaulty, A.M., Albarède, F. (2013) Copper, lead, and silver isotopes solve a major economic conundrum of Tudor and early Stuart Europe. Geology 41, 135-138.

) demonstrated the strong potential of silver isotopes to determine whether coins from different mints may or may not share common metal sources. In the present work, silver isotope compositions were measured for 26 coins dating mostly from the Second Punic War and its aftermath in order to assess whether the 211 BC Roman monetary reform coincided with changes in silver sources. We complemented the silver isotopes with those of lead in the same coins in an attempt to identify the source(s) of lead used for silver purification.

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Material and Methods


The silver coins analysed in this study were purchased from professional dealers. The die identifications provided by the sellers (Table 1) were carefully checked and verified against Crawford’s (Crawford, 1974

Crawford, M.H. (1974) Roman republican coinage. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 944 pp.

) original nomenclature and photographs.

We devised a new minimally-destructive analytical procedure. Each coin was individually cleaned and then leached in fresh solutions of Suprapur methanol-hydrogen peroxide-ammonia (MHPA), prepared in the proportions of 4:1:1, by keeping the coin submerged in the MHPA solution in an ultrasonic bath until bubbles started to form, then removing it after a few seconds of bubbling. This step served to remove a thin surface layer prone to Pb contamination and, hence, the solution was discarded. The same procedure was repeated with a new batch of 4:1:1 MHPA solution, but this time lasting for 45 seconds of bubbling, long enough to guarantee that sufficient Pb would be available for isotopic analysis. This batch of solution was kept for Ag and Pb separation chemistry. After the MHPA leaching, the coin was rinsed in distilled water and stored away. Upon later polishing of the coins, no trace of their having been leached for Ag and Pb extraction was visible. This technique therefore holds potential for analysis of rare exhibit-quality coins in the future. The recovered leachate was dried down and the residue dissolved in concentrated distilled nitric acid and evaporated to dryness overnight. The next steps were largely identical to the procedure described for Ag separation and isotopic analysis by Desaulty et al. (2011)

Desaulty, A.M., Telouk, P., Albalat, E., Albarède, F. (2011) Isotopic Ag-Cu-Pb record of silver circulation through 16th-18th century Spain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 108, 9002-9007.

. Briefly, after dissolution of the sample in 15 ml distilled water, the solution was heated for 20 minutes at 95 °C followed by addition of 7 ml 0.15 M Suprapur ascorbic acid to precipitate pure silver. The solid silver precipitate was centrifuged out and the supernatant saved for Pb separation. The Ag metal was dissolved in concentrated distilled nitric acid and dried down overnight to obtain pure silver nitrate. The silver yield of this procedure is >99.8 %. A 5 % aliquot was dedicated to elementary concentration analysis on a Thermo Scientific iCAP 7200 ICP-OES.

Silver isotopic compositions were measured on a Nu Plasma 500 HR MC-ICP-MS. Silver was dissolved in 0.05 M distilled nitric acid immediately prior to isotopic analysis to make a 400 ng ml−1 solution. Mass fractionation was controlled with an external standard of chlorine-free Alfar-Aesar palladium in HNO3 media. Standard-sample bracketing was done using an Alfa-Aesar 1,000 µg/ml−1 solution cross-calibrated against NIST SRM 978. Each measurement was repeated 7-9 times to achieve the necessary precision of 5-10 ppm on 109Ag/107Ag. The total procedural Ag blank was <10-4 of the sample size, which is negligible.

The supernatant containing the Pb was taken up in 6 M distilled hydrochloric acid and evaporated to dryness. The sample was then redissolved in 1 M distilled hydrobromic acid and Pb separated on an anion-exchange column filled with 0.5 mL AG1-X8 resin using 1 M distilled hydrobromic acid to elute the sample matrix and 6 M distilled hydrochloric acid to elute the Pb. Lead isotope compositions were measured on a Nu Plasma 500 HR MC-ICP-MS using Tl doping and sample-standard bracketing with the values of Eisele et al. (2003)

Eisele, J., Abouchami, W., Galer, S.J.G., Hofmann, A.W. (2003) The 320 kyr Pb isotope evolution of Mauna Kea lavas recorded in the HSDP-2 drill core. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems 4, doi: 10.1029/2002GC000339.

for NIST SRM 981. The total procedural Pb blank was <20 pg, again negligible with respect to the amount of coin Pb analysed. External 2σ reproducibilities of 206Pb/204Pb, 206Pb/204Pb, and 208Pb/204Pb were ±100-200 ppm (or 0.01-0.02 %).

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Results and Discussion


Silver in the present coins records a sudden change in 109Ag/107Ag of the coinage at the time of the monetary reform (Fig. 2; Table 1). Data are reported in units of ε109Ag, which is the deviation in parts per 10,000 of 109Ag/107Ag from the NIST SRM 978. The general lack of Ag isotopic data on ancient ores prevents direct provenance assessment, but comparison with silver and lead isotopic data on silver coins that circulated at different periods of time in production places such as Spain and the Aegean world before the colonisation of Spanish Americas (Desaulty et al., 2011

Desaulty, A.M., Telouk, P., Albalat, E., Albarède, F. (2011) Isotopic Ag-Cu-Pb record of silver circulation through 16th-18th century Spain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 108, 9002-9007.

; Desaulty and Albarède, 2013

Desaulty, A.M., Albarède, F. (2013) Copper, lead, and silver isotopes solve a major economic conundrum of Tudor and early Stuart Europe. Geology 41, 135-138.

) nevertheless permits relatively robust conclusions to be drawn. Pre-reform Roman coinage has positive ε109Ag values very similar to silver from Southern Spain (see Supplementary Information). Roman silver between 241 and 211 BC was largely minted out of the war indemnities paid in Iberian silver by Carthage to Rome. Crawford (1974)

Crawford, M.H. (1974) Roman republican coinage. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 944 pp.

actually argues that the Janus-faced Roman didrachm (quadrigatus) was introduced after the First Punic War (264 BC–241 BC), which launched Rome as a financial power: defeated Carthage had to pay the victor an indemnity of 2,200 talents (66 tons) of silver in ten annual installments, plus an additional immediate indemnity of 1,000 talents (30 tons) (Polybius

Polybius Histories.

1.62-63). Moreover, Rome annexed Sardinia in the wake of the Mercenary war (240 BC–237 BC), thereby not only depriving Carthage of its traditional silver source, but also adding another 1,200 silver talents to the earlier war indemnities. Such financial burden, exorbitant as it seems, would, however, not have drained Carthage’s resources if these are considered in the perspective of the 150 pounds (50 kg, 1 pound = 324 g) of silver produced by one Spanish mine in Hannibal’s days (Pliny the Elder

Pliny the Elder Natural History

33.31) and which over the entire region of Carthago Nova, according to Strabo

Strabo Geography.

(3.2.10) quoting Polybius

Polybius Histories.

, produced 35 tons a year (Kay, 2014

Kay, P. (2014) Rome's Economic Revolution. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 400 pp.

).


Figure 2 Silver isotope compositions of Roman silver coins pre- and post-dating the 211 BC monetary reform. Solid symbols: denarii (top) and quadrigati (bottom). Open symbols: victoriati. Mint ages and uncertainties are from Crawford (1974)

Crawford, M.H. (1974) Roman republican coinage. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 944 pp.

. Error bars on silver isotope proportions are the same as or smaller than the symbol size. Events listed on the right-hand side are chosen for historical relevance. See Supplementary Information for the range of Spanish values.
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Table 1 Coin description, Ag/Cu and Ag/Pb ratios, and Ag and Pb isotopic compositions.
Lab code #Coin ID1Crawford1Age BC1Ag/Cu2Ag/Pb2ε109Ag3n32s3206Pb/204Pb4207Pb/204Pb4208Pb/204Pb4Tm (Ma)5μ5κ5
1Denarius44/521144415411-0.4490.0618.73115.68438.864809.773.94
2Denarius139/1189-18053013991-0.2180.0718.57215.65638.6811609.733.94
3Victoriatus44/12111371840500.1680.0518.74215.71938.9041159.833.96
3 duplicate

211




18.70615.68638.8181009.773.93
4Quinarius44/6211710704420.3480.0418.76215.67738.808509.753.89
5Denarius53/2211391332557-0.0180.0418.69615.68538.8381079.773.95
5 duplicate

211




18.71315.67738.844849.753.94
6Victoriatus98A/1a211-21034865772-0.1790.0718.68415.65438.713779.713.89
7DenariusMarcia1941592102762-0.8790.0818.43815.64538.5422419.723.95
8Denarius80/1a209-20892146607-0.1490.0518.63115.68238.8201509.773.97
9DenariusMaiana174200618756-0.1390.0718.57415.66438.7661689.743.98
10Denarius53/2211870911740785-0.0890.0418.48715.59638.5001489.623.89
10 duplicate

211




18.57215.65838.6281629.733.92
11Denarius44/5211100120368-0.4580.0618.68915.68938.8291179.783.95
11 duplicate

211




18.67215.66338.772979.733.92
12Denarius113/1206-195127629599-0.680.0618.77115.68238.843509.763.91
13Denarius197/1a-b157-15647052595597-1.0580.0618.52515.67138.6822119.763.97
14Quinarius97/2211-20865666235-0.9190.0818.68815.64638.712649.703.89
15Quadrigatus29/3225-2142213880220.3780.0618.68015.66938.777999.743.92
16Denarius60/1211-20810919154324-0.0980.0418.61615.65738.6561309.733.90
17Quadrigatus28/3225-212239405970.2080.0318.45815.63638.5512179.703.94
18Denarius58/2207216529157-0.6680.0418.61115.63838.6981109.693.92
19Denarius112/2a206-1955877874-0.6380.0318.42215.60438.4342059.643.90
20Tridrachma Carthage

311135732-0.3180.0518.67915.66738.791969.743.93
21Quadrigatus29/3225-2141182576920.0170.0418.63115.65338.7211149.723.92
22Denarius44/521122627274101-0.4280.0518.68915.66038.770819.733.91
23Denarius30/1225-214296662830.2270.0418.81015.67238.82399.743.87
24Quinarius44/6211298439860.0870.0418.63915.66138.7051189.733.91
25Victoriatus112/1206-19519649471-0.1070.0518.71815.67138.771739.743.90
26Victoriatus102/1211-210233127271.3270.0818.71215.65838.745629.723.89

1 Nomenclature and minting age from Crawford (1974). Crawford, M.H. (1974) Roman republican coinage. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 944 pp.
2 Weight ratios refer to the surface layer that was leached from the coin, not to the bulk coin (Ponting, 2012 Ponting, M. (2012) The Substance of Coinage: The Role of Scientific Analysis in Ancient Numismatics. In: Metcalf, W.M. (Ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Greek and Roman coinage. Oxford OUP, 12-30. ).
3 Relative deviation of the 109Ag/107Ag ratio from the NIST SRM 978 value. Unweighted average and standard deviation s of n runs.
4 Uncertainties on Pb isotope ratios are <10-4.
5 Tectonic model age Tm of the lead ore source and model 238U/204Pb (μ) and 232Th/238U (κ) calculated from the measured time-integrated Pb isotope ratios (Albarède et al., 2012 Albarède, F., Desaulty, A.M., Blichert-Toft, J. (2012) A geological perspective on the use of Pb isotopes in archeometry. Archaeometry 54, 853-867. ).

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In contrast, post-reform Roman coinage systematically has recorded negative ε109Ag values apparently no longer consistent with a provenance of silver in southern Spain. Scipio Africanus only captured Carthago Nova (today Cartagena) in 209 BC, two years after the reform. If silver did not come from the West, could it have come from the East? It is known that at some point between 210 and 215 BC, the Romans sent an ambassador to the king and pharaoh of Ptolemaic Egypt, Ptolemy IV Philopator, in an attempt to summon financial support (Polybius

Polybius Histories.

9.11a). Meadows (1998)

Meadows, A. (1998) The Mars/Eagle and Thunderbolt Gold and Ptolemaic Involvement in the Second Punic War. Spink, London, UK.

endorsed by Kay (2014)

Kay, P. (2014) Rome's Economic Revolution. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 400 pp.

suggested that Ptolemy may have provided gold and bronze coinage used during the pre-reform period of 213-211 BC (Crawford, 1964

Crawford, M.H. (1964) War and Finance. Journal of Roman Studies 54, 29-32.

). As far as silver was concerned, however, the classic view holds that Egypt had its own shortage problems in the aftermath of the battle of Raphia in 217 BC against the Seleucid king Antiochus III (Reekmans, 1951

Reekmans, T. (1951) The Ptolemaic copper inflation. Studia Hellenistica 8, 61-119.

), but this line of thinking has recently been called into question (Lorber, 2000

Lorber, C.C. (2000) Large Ptolemaic bronzes in third-century Egyptian hoards. American Journal of Numismatics 12, 67-92.

; Le Rider and De Callataÿ, 2006

Le Rider, G., de Callataÿ, F. (2006) Les Séleucides et les Ptolémées. L’héritage monétaire et financier d’Alexandre le Grand. Rocher, Monaco, 296 pp.

).

Regardless of metal provenance, the isotopic discontinuity displayed by post-reform Roman coinage is remarkably sharp and attests to new sources of precious metal suddenly having become available and prominent. An unexpected rise in output of the Roman military mint in Sicily occurred between 214 and 211 BC (Frank, 1933

Frank, T. (1933) An Economic Survey of Ancient Rome. Vol. I: Rome and Italy of the Republic. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland, USA, 310 pp.

; Crawford, 1964

Crawford, M.H. (1964) War and Finance. Journal of Roman Studies 54, 29-32.

, 1974

Crawford, M.H. (1974) Roman republican coinage. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 944 pp.

), i.e. at a time when bronze asses were still weighing three ounces. Crawford (1974)

Crawford, M.H. (1974) Roman republican coinage. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 944 pp.

associated this surge with the beginning of military operations against Syracuse in 212 BC by M. Claudius Marcellus. Livy

Livy History of Rome.

(25.31.11) writes that ‘the quantity of booty was so great, that had Carthage itself [..] been captured, it would scarcely have afforded so much’. The author does not mention, however, how much silver was found in the city and even less how much of it was brought to the Roman aerarium. Likewise, Capua fell after a long siege in 211 BC and the silver spoil amounted to 10 tons of silver (26.14). With Syracuse and Capua not being primary silver producers, alternative origins must, therefore, be sought. Negative ε109Ag values have been reported for coinage of pre-Hellenistic Macedonian and Greek, Parthian and Roman Gaul and Spain provenance in the first and second centuries BC (Desaulty et al., 2011

Desaulty, A.M., Telouk, P., Albalat, E., Albarède, F. (2011) Isotopic Ag-Cu-Pb record of silver circulation through 16th-18th century Spain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 108, 9002-9007.

). To get a better overview of the primary sources of post-reform silver, Ag isotope studies on silver ingots found in shipwrecks are warranted.

The lead isotope proportions of the coins until the defeat of Hannibal in Zama (201 BC) are too scattered to shed light on specific metal provenance (Table 1 and Fig. S-1). They correlate with neither ε109Ag nor the date of mint. If the Pb isotope data are considered in terms of the model ‘tectonic’ age, μ (U/Pb), and κ (Th/U) representation (Albarède et al., 2012

Albarède, F., Desaulty, A.M., Blichert-Toft, J. (2012) A geological perspective on the use of Pb isotopes in archeometry. Archaeometry 54, 853-867.

; Table 1 and Fig. 3), tectonic ages scatter through Alpine and Hercynian values. It is only after the war ended that a stable supply to the mint of lead with a strong Hercynian tectonic age flavor (>150 Ma) similar to the lead used for the water distribution system of Rome (Delile et al., 2014

Delile, H., Blichert-Toft, J., Goiran, J.P., Keay, S., Albarède, F. (2014) Lead in ancient Rome's city waters. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 111, 6594-6599.

) was established. The model U/Pb ratios are inconsistent with Pb ores originating in the periphery of the Mediterranean, except for the southwestern Iberian Peninsula, which at that time was not under Roman control. Rather, the model U/Pb ratios are more consistent with ores from Germany or Northern Brittany in the West, and Macedon and the Pontus region on the southern coast of the Black Sea in the East. This disorderly isotopic pattern therefore reflects the lack of a steady and homogeneous lead supply. Roman mints were clearly recycling scrap lead from different origins to purify older coinage and metal plundered from their defeated enemies. Emergency minting as suggested here by Pb isotopes echoes the commonplace overstriking of seized coins (Crawford, 1974

Crawford, M.H. (1974) Roman republican coinage. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 944 pp.

).


Figure 3 Lead tectonic model age (in blue, left-hand scale) and Th/U (k) (in red, right-hand scale) of lead ore sources (see Albarède et al. (2012)

Albarède, F., Desaulty, A.M., Blichert-Toft, J. (2012) A geological perspective on the use of Pb isotopes in archeometry. Archaeometry 54, 853-867.

for explanations and calculations of these parameters). Up until the last battle of Zama, the source of Pb used to purify silver remained chaotic with a mixture of Alpine and Hercynian ages and scattered k values suggesting that scrap metal was collected for cupellation. Non-alpine lead (Tm > 150 Ma) seems to have dominated the supply afterwards.
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The present Ag and Pb isotopic results confirm that the monetary reform of 212-211 BC was conducted somewhat hastily and coincided in time with the delivery of massive amounts of silver from new sources, enough to replace the pre-reform silver supply from the by now expired Carthaginian war penalties. Crawford (1974)

Crawford, M.H. (1974) Roman republican coinage. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 944 pp.

acknowledges that from 212 BC onwards metal again began to become available. New monetary windfalls also would account for the new financial system bringing attempts of silver debasement to an end. The reform, therefore, was not a consequence of monetary duress after major military setbacks (e.g., Crawford, 1974

Crawford, M.H. (1974) Roman republican coinage. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 944 pp.

; Livy

Livy History of Rome.

’s inopia aerarii (22.39.16; 23.5.5–6, 5.15; 24.18.11–13)), but instead was designed to accommodate new metal resources. Why then was the decision made to reduce the weight of the reference coin, from the Janus-faced quadrigatus to the lighter denarius? The reform clearly demonstrated the desire of aligning the different monetary units (Crawford, 1974

Crawford, M.H. (1974) Roman republican coinage. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 944 pp.

). Beyond this concern, we speculate that it may have been an inspired move on the part of the Roman Senate, which in this manner introduced a form of permanent tax allowing more troops to be hired at the same cost in silver while anticipating the inevitable inflation that would consume the value of the hard-won silver booty. The effect of increased numbers of troops on demand and prices likely to be going up was at least temporarily compensated for by a reduction of the effective stipendium due to smaller coins being paid out. Reducing the size of the denarius at such a calamitous time while maintaining high silver fineness would both reassure the population made wary of debasement about the new silver value of coins and preempt the inflationary effect of massive injection of new money into the financial system. This study therefore suggests that the Roman government had already grasped some of the monetary pitfalls of a major state during wartime.

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Acknowledgements


We thank the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (Grant Minemet) for supporting M.R.’s salary and the Institut National des Sciences de l’Univers (CNRS) and the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon for their continuous support of the analytical facility at ENS Lyon. Claude Domergue was, as always, a great source of information. We further thank the professional dealers for providing quality material. We also acknowledge the thoughtful comments of three anonymous reviewers, Gil Davis, Michael Crawford, and the Editor, Bruce Watson.

Editor: Bruce Watson

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References


Albarède, F., Desaulty, A.M., Blichert-Toft, J. (2012) A geological perspective on the use of Pb isotopes in archeometry. Archaeometry 54, 853-867.
Show in context

The perspective it offers can be made more informative with the use of geochemically informed parameters, such as Pb model ages, μ (U/Pb), and κ (Th/U), which are characteristic of the geological history of the crustal segments from which the lead and silver ores derive (Desaulty et al., 2011; Albarède et al., 2012; Desaulty and Albarède, 2013).
View in article
Table 1 [...] 4 Uncertainties on Pb isotope ratios are <10-4. calculated from the measured time-integrated Pb isotope ratios (Albarède et al., 2012).
View in article
They correlate with neither ε109Ag nor the date of mint. If the Pb isotope data are considered in terms of the model ‘tectonic’ age, μ (U/Pb), and κ (Th/U) representation (Albarède et al., 2012; Fig. 3), tectonic ages scatter through Alpine and Hercynian values.
View in article
Figure 3 Lead tectonic model age (in blue, left-hand scale) and Th/U (k) (in red, right-hand scale) of lead ore sources (see Albarède et al. (2012) for explanations and calculations of these parameters).
View in article


Budd, P., Haggerty, R., Pollard, A., Scalife, B., Thomas, R. (1996) Rethinking the quest for provenance. Antiquity 70, 168-174.
Show in context

A downside is that Pb used for cupellation may not share the same geographic origin as its hosting silver (Pernicka, 1995; Budd et al., 1996; Pollard, 2008).
View in article


Crawford, M.H. (1964) War and Finance. Journal of Roman Studies 54, 29-32.
Show in context

After an ephemeral and ill-fated attempt at debasing silver in 213 BC, a completely new system was inaugurated in 211 BC or shortly before (Crawford, 1964; Marchetti, 1971; Crawford, 1974; Woytek, 2012; Fig. 1).
View in article
Meadows (1998) endorsed by Kay (2014) suggested that Ptolemy may have provided gold and bronze coinage used during the pre-reform period of 213-211 BC (Crawford, 1964).
View in article
An unexpected rise in output of the Roman military mint in Sicily occurred between 214 and 211 BC (Frank, 1933; Crawford, 1964, 1974), i.e. at a time when bronze asses were still weighing three ounces.
View in article


Crawford, M. (1969) Coin hoards and the pattern of violence in the late Republic. Papers of the British School at Rome 37, 76-81.
Show in context

Private hoards peaked (Crawford, 1969).
View in article


Crawford, M.H. (1974) Roman republican coinage. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 944 pp.
Show in context

In addition to the military setbacks, the most crucial collateral damage inflicted by Hannibal’s invasion of Italy was the collapse of Rome’s young monetary system (Frank, 1933; Crawford, 1974; Marchetti, 1978; Kay, 2014).
View in article
Bronze therefore was made convertible to silver, which, however, was also in short supply (Crawford, 1974).
View in article
After an ephemeral and ill-fated attempt at debasing silver in 213 BC, a completely new system was inaugurated in 211 BC or shortly before (Crawford, 1964; Marchetti, 1971; Crawford, 1974; Woytek, 2012; Fig. 1).
View in article
The exception was the smaller and noticeably debased victoriatus (Walker, 1980), which was used largely to pay the socii and for circulation in Italy outside Rome (Marchetti, 1978), notably in the Cisalpine and Transalpine Gauls (Crawford, 1974).
View in article
Associated with the new denarius coinage in 211 BC was a reduction of the weight of the bronze ass from three to two ounces (1 ounce = 1/12 of a 324 g Roman pound; Crawford, 1974).
View in article
Figure 1 The pre-reform (pre-211 BC) quadrigatus (top) vs. the post-reform denarius (bottom). ‘Cr’ refers to Crawford’s nomenclature (Crawford, 1974).
View in article
The die identifications provided by the sellers (Table 1) were carefully checked and verified against Crawford’s (Crawford, 1974) original nomenclature and photographs.
View in article
Crawford (1974) actually argues that the Janus-faced Roman didrachm (quadrigatus) was introduced after the First Punic War (264 BC–241 BC), which launched Rome as a financial power: defeated Carthage had to pay the victor an indemnity of 2,200 talents (66 tons) of silver in ten annual installments, plus an additional immediate indemnity of 1,000 talents (30 tons) (Polybius 1.62-63).
View in article
Figure 2 [...] Mint ages and uncertainties are from Crawford (1974).
View in article
Table 1 1 Nomenclature and minting age from Crawford (1974)
View in article
An unexpected rise in output of the Roman military mint in Sicily occurred between 214 and 211 BC (Frank, 1933; Crawford, 1964, 1974), i.e. at a time when bronze asses were still weighing three ounces.
View in article
Crawford (1974) associated this surge with the beginning of military operations against Syracuse in 212 BC by M. Claudius Marcellus.
View in article
Emergency minting as suggested here by Pb isotopes echoes the commonplace overstriking of seized coins (Crawford, 1974).
View in article
Crawford (1974) acknowledges that from 212 BC onwards metal again began to become available.
View in article
The reform, therefore, was not a consequence of monetary duress after major military setbacks (e.g., Crawford, 1974; Livy’s inopia aerarii (22.39.16; 23.5.5–6, 5.15; 24.18.11–13)), but instead was designed to accommodate new metal resources.
View in article
The reform clearly demonstrated the desire of aligning the different monetary units (Crawford, 1974).
View in article


Delile, H., Blichert-Toft, J., Goiran, J.P., Keay, S., Albarède, F. (2014) Lead in ancient Rome's city waters. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 111, 6594-6599.
Show in context

It is only after the war ended that a stable supply to the mint of lead with a strong Hercynian tectonic age flavor (>150 Ma) similar to the lead used for the water distribution system of Rome (Delile et al., 2014) was established.
View in article


Desaulty, A.M., Albarède, F. (2013) Copper, lead, and silver isotopes solve a major economic conundrum of Tudor and early Stuart Europe. Geology 41, 135-138.
Show in context

The perspective it offers can be made more informative with the use of geochemically informed parameters, such as Pb model ages, μ (U/Pb), and κ (Th/U), which are characteristic of the geological history of the crustal segments from which the lead and silver ores derive (Desaulty et al., 2011; Albarède et al., 2012; Desaulty and Albarède, 2013).
View in article
Our exploratory work (Desaulty et al., 2011; Desaulty and Albarède, 2013) demonstrated the strong potential of silver isotopes to determine whether coins from different mints may or may not share common metal sources.
View in article
The general lack of Ag isotopic data on ancient ores prevents direct provenance assessment, but comparison with silver and lead isotopic data on silver coins that circulated at different periods of time in production places such as Spain and the Aegean world before the colonisation of Spanish Americas (Desaulty et al., 2011; Desaulty and Albarède, 2013) nevertheless permits relatively robust conclusions to be drawn.
View in article


Desaulty, A.M., Telouk, P., Albalat, E., Albarède, F. (2011) Isotopic Ag-Cu-Pb record of silver circulation through 16th-18th century Spain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 108, 9002-9007.
Show in context

The perspective it offers can be made more informative with the use of geochemically informed parameters, such as Pb model ages, μ (U/Pb), and κ (Th/U), which are characteristic of the geological history of the crustal segments from which the lead and silver ores derive (Desaulty et al., 2011; Albarède et al., 2012; Desaulty and Albarède, 2013).
View in article
Our exploratory work (Desaulty et al., 2011; Desaulty and Albarède, 2013) demonstrated the strong potential of silver isotopes to determine whether coins from different mints may or may not share common metal sources.
View in article
The next steps were largely identical to the procedure described for Ag separation and isotopic analysis by Desaulty et al. (2011).
View in article
The general lack of Ag isotopic data on ancient ores prevents direct provenance assessment, but comparison with silver and lead isotopic data on silver coins that circulated at different periods of time in production places such as Spain and the Aegean world before the colonisation of Spanish Americas (Desaulty et al., 2011; Desaulty and Albarède, 2013) nevertheless permits relatively robust conclusions to be drawn.
View in article
Negative ε109Ag values have been reported for coinage of pre-Hellenistic Macedonian and Greek, Parthian and Roman Gaul and Spain provenance in the first and second centuries BC (Desaulty et al., 2011).
View in article


Eisele, J., Abouchami, W., Galer, S.J.G., Hofmann, A.W. (2003) The 320 kyr Pb isotope evolution of Mauna Kea lavas recorded in the HSDP-2 drill core. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems 4, doi: 10.1029/2002GC000339.
Show in context

Lead isotope compositions were measured on a Nu Plasma 500 HR MC-ICP-MS using Tl doping and sample-standard bracketing with the values of Eisele et al. (2003) for NIST 981.
View in article


Frank, T. (1933) An Economic Survey of Ancient Rome. Vol. I: Rome and Italy of the Republic. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland, USA, 310 pp.
Show in context

In addition to the military setbacks, the most crucial collateral damage inflicted by Hannibal’s invasion of Italy was the collapse of Rome’s young monetary system (Frank, 1933; Crawford, 1974; Marchetti, 1978; Kay, 2014).
View in article
An unexpected rise in output of the Roman military mint in Sicily occurred between 214 and 211 BC (Frank, 1933; Crawford, 1964; Crawford, 1974), i.e. at a time when bronze asses were still weighing three ounces.
View in article


Harl, K.W. (1996) Coinage in the Roman Economy, 300 BC to AD 700. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland, USA, 472 pp.
Show in context

The Roman monetary system was based on bronze, for which the demand in wartime was competing with the needs for weaponry (Harl, 1996).
View in article


Hoyos, D. (2011) A companion to the Punic Wars. John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, UK, 570 pp.
Show in context

A modern account of the Punic Wars with references to original Greek and Latin literature can be found in Hoyos (2011).
View in article


Kay, P. (2014) Rome's Economic Revolution. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 400 pp.
Show in context

In addition to the military setbacks, the most crucial collateral damage inflicted by Hannibal’s invasion of Italy was the collapse of Rome’s young monetary system (Frank, 1933; Crawford, 1974; Marchetti, 1978; Kay, 2014).
View in article
According to Strabo (3.2.10) quoting Polybius, ore deposits in the Neogene Betic (Bætic) Cordilleras in the region of Carthago Nova produced 35 tons of silver each year (Kay, 2014).
View in article
Such financial burden, exorbitant as it seems, would, however, not have drained Carthage’s resources if these are considered in the perspective of the 150 pounds (50 kg, 1 pound = 324 g) of silver produced by one Spanish mine in Hannibal’s days (Pliny the Elder 33.31) and which over the entire region of Carthago Nova, according to Strabo (3.2.10) quoting Polybius, produced 35 tons a year (Kay, 2014).
View in article
Meadows (1998) endorsed by Kay (2014) suggested that Ptolemy may have provided gold and bronze coinage used during the pre-reform period of 213-211 BC (Crawford, 1964).
View in article


Le Rider, G., de Callataÿ, F. (2006) Les Séleucides et les Ptolémées. L’héritage monétaire et financier d’Alexandre le Grand. Rocher, Monaco, 296 pp.
Show in context

As far as silver was concerned, however, the classic view holds that Egypt had its own shortage problems in the aftermath of the battle of Raphia in 217 BC against the Seleucid king Antiochus III (Reekmans, 1951), but this line of thinking has recently been called into question (Lorber, 2000; Le Rider and De Callataÿ, 2006).
View in article


Lorber, C.C. (2000) Large Ptolemaic bronzes in third-century Egyptian hoards. American Journal of Numismatics 12, 67-92.
Show in context

As far as silver was concerned, however, the classic view holds that Egypt had its own shortage problems in the aftermath of the battle of Raphia in 217 BC against the Seleucid king Antiochus III (Reekmans, 1951), but this line of thinking has recently been called into question (Lorber, 2000; Le Rider and De Callataÿ, 2006).
View in article


Marchetti, P. (1971) La datation du denier romain et les fouilles de Morgantina. Revue Belge de Numismatique et de Sigillographie 117, 81-114.
Show in context

After an ephemeral and ill-fated attempt at debasing silver in 213 BC, a completely new system was inaugurated in 211 BC or shortly before (Crawford, 1964; Marchetti, 1971; Crawford, 1974; Woytek, 2012; Fig. 1).
View in article


Marchetti, P. (1978) Histoire économique et monétaire de la deuxième guerre punique. Academie Royale Belgique, Gembloux, Belgique, 547 pp.
Show in context

In addition to the military setbacks, the most crucial collateral damage inflicted by Hannibal’s invasion of Italy was the collapse of Rome’s young monetary system (Frank, 1933; Crawford, 1974; Marchetti, 1978; Kay, 2014).
View in article
The exception was the smaller and noticeably debased victoriatus (Walker, 1980), which was used largely to pay the socii and for circulation in Italy outside Rome (Marchetti, 1978), notably in the Cisalpine and Transalpine Gauls (Crawford, 1974).
View in article


Meadows, A. (1998) The Mars/Eagle and Thunderbolt Gold and Ptolemaic Involvement in the Second Punic War. Spink, London, UK.
Show in context

Meadows (1998) endorsed by Kay (2014) suggested that Ptolemy may have provided gold and bronze coinage used during the pre-reform period of 213-211 BC (Crawford, 1964).
View in article


Pernicka, E. (1995) Crisis or catharsis in lead isotope analysis. Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 8, 59-64.
Show in context

A downside is that Pb used for cupellation may not share the same geographic origin as its hosting silver (Pernicka, 1995; Budd et al., 1996; Pollard, 2008).
View in article


Pollard, A.M. (2008) Lead isotope geochemistry and the trade in metals. In: Pollard, A.M., Heron, C. (Eds.) Archaeological Chemistry, 2nd Edition, The Royal Society of Chemistry, London, 302-345.
Show in context

A downside is that Pb used for cupellation may not share the same geographic origin as its hosting silver (Pernicka, 1995; Budd et al., 1996; Pollard, 2008).
View in article


Ponting, M. (2012) The Substance of Coinage: The Role of Scientific Analysis in Ancient Numismatics. In: Metcalf, W.M. (Ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Greek and Roman coinage. Oxford OUP, 12-30.
Show in context

Table 1[...] 2 Weight ratios refer to the surface layer that was leached from the coin, not to the bulk coin (Ponting, 2012) ratio from the NIST SRM 978 value.
View in article


Reekmans, T. (1951) The Ptolemaic copper inflation. Studia Hellenistica 8, 61-119.
Show in context

As far as silver was concerned, however, the classic view holds that Egypt had its own shortage problems in the aftermath of the battle of Raphia in 217 BC against the Seleucid king Antiochus III (Reekmans, 1951), but this line of thinking has recently been called into question (Lorber, 2000; Le Rider and De Callataÿ, 2006).
View in article


Stos-Gale, Z.A., Gale, N.H. (2009) Metal provenancing using isotopes and the Oxford archaeological lead isotope database (OXALID). Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 1, 195–213.
Show in context

Lead isotopes have a long history as a provenance marker in archaeology (Stos-Gale and Gale, 2009).
View in article


Walker, D. (1980) The silver contents of the Roman Republican coinage. Metallurgy in numismatics 1, 55-72.
Show in context

The exception was the smaller and noticeably debased victoriatus (Walker, 1980), which was used largely to pay the socii and for circulation in Italy outside Rome (Marchetti, 1978), notably in the Cisalpine and Transalpine Gauls (Crawford, 1974).
View in article


Woytek, B.E. (2012) The denarius coinage of the Roman Republic. The Oxford Handbook of Greek and Roman Coinage. W.E. Metcalf (Hg.), Oxford–New York, 720 pp.
Show in context

After an ephemeral and ill-fated attempt at debasing silver in 213 BC, a completely new system was inaugurated in 211 BC or shortly before (Crawford, 1964; Marchetti, 1971; Crawford, 1974; Woytek, 2012; Fig. 1).
View in article


References to ancient authors:

Livy History of Rome.
Show in context

The loan contracted in 216 BC with Hieron II, tyrant of Syracuse, (Livy 23.21.7) was not repaid (Livy 23.38.12).
Note: Livy History of Rome 23.21.7 refers to book 23, chapter 21, sentence 7 of the publication History of Rome.
View in article
Livy (25.31.11) writes that ‘the quantity of booty was so great, that had Carthage itself [..] been captured, it would scarcely have afforded so much’.
View in article
The reform, therefore, was not a consequence of monetary duress after major military setbacks (e.g., Crawford, 1974; Livy’s inopia aerarii (22.39.16; 23.5.5–6, 5.15; 24.18.11–13)), but instead was designed to accommodate new metal resources.
Note: Livy History of Rome 23.5.5–6 refers to book 23, chapter 5, lines 5 and 6 of the publication History of Rome.
View in article


Pliny the Elder Natural History
Show in context

Such financial burden, exorbitant as it seems, would, however, not have drained Carthage’s resources if these are considered in the perspective of the 150 pounds (50 kg, 1 pound = 324 g) of silver produced by one Spanish mine in Hannibal’s days (Pliny the Elder 33.31) and which over the entire region of Carthago Nova, according to Strabo (3.2.10) quoting Polybius, produced 35 tons a year (Kay, 2014).
Note: Pliny the Elder Natural History 33.31 refers to book 33, chapter 31 of the publication Natural History.
View in article


Polybius Histories.
Show in context

According to Strabo (3.2.10) quoting Polybius, ore deposits in the Neogene Betic (Bætic) Cordilleras in the region of Carthago Nova produced 35 tons of silver each year (Kay, 2014).
View in article
The legionary received a compensation of two obols (c. 1.2 grams) of silver per day, a centurion twice as much, and a cavalryman a drachma (Polybius 6.39.12).
Note: Polybius Histories 6.39.12 refers to book 6, paragraph 39, sentence 12 of the publication Histories.
View in article
Crawford (1974) actually argues that the Janus-faced Roman didrachm (quadrigatus) was introduced after the First Punic War (264 BC–241 BC), which launched Rome as a financial power: defeated Carthage had to pay the victor an indemnity of 2,200 talents (66 tons) of silver in ten annual installments, plus an additional immediate indemnity of 1,000 talents (30 tons) (Polybius 1.62-63).
Note: Polybius Histories 1.62-63 refers to book 1, lines 62 and 63 of the publication Histories.
View in article
Such financial burden, exorbitant as it seems, would, however, not have drained Carthage’s resources if these are considered in the perspective of the 150 pounds (50 kg, 1 pound = 324 g) of silver produced by one Spanish mine in Hannibal’s days (Pliny the Elder 33.31) and which over the entire region of Carthago Nova, according to Strabo (3.2.10) quoting Polybius, produced 35 tons a year (Kay, 2014).
View in article
It is known that at some point between 210 and 215 BC, the Romans sent an ambassador to the king and pharaoh of Ptolemaic Egypt, Ptolemy IV Philopator, in an attempt to summon financial support (Polybius 9.11a).
View in article


Strabo Geography.
Show in context

According to Strabo (3.2.10) quoting Polybius, ore deposits in the Neogene Betic (Bætic) Cordilleras in the region of Carthago Nova produced 35 tons of silver each year (Kay, 2014).
Note: Strabo Geography 3.2.10 refers to book 3, chapter 2, paragraph 10 of the publication Geography.
View in article
Such financial burden, exorbitant as it seems, would, however, not have drained Carthage’s resources if these are considered in the perspective of the 150 pounds (50 kg, 1 pound = 324 g) of silver produced by one Spanish mine in Hannibal’s days (Pliny the Elder 33.31) and which over the entire region of Carthago Nova, according to Strabo (3.2.10) quoting Polybius, produced 35 tons a year (Kay, 2014).
View in article


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Supplementary Information


The 109Ag/107Ag of silver from Southern Spain

An event particularly relevant to the provenance of coinage silver was the union of Castile and Aragon through the wedding of the Catholic Kings (1479). The Spanish armies overran the Emirate of Grenada in southern Spain in 1482, allowing the Spanish rulers to capture the silver mines in southern Spain that had been under Carthage and Roman rule nearly two millennia earlier. Positive ε109Ag values ranging from 0.0 to +0.2 and lead model ages consistent with the young tectonic age of the Betic Cordilleras are observed in coins minted at the time the Catholic Kings invaded the Grenada Emirate (Desaulty et al., 2011

Desaulty, A.M., Telouk, P., Albalat, E., Albarède, F. (2011) Isotopic Ag-Cu-Pb record of silver circulation through 16th-18th century Spain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 108, 9002-9007.

). In contrast, medieval silver coinage predating the invasion has negative ε109Ag. It therefore can be concluded that silver from southern Spain is characterised by ε109Ag > 0 (Albarède et al., 2012

Albarède, F., Desaulty, A.M., Blichert-Toft, J. (2012) A geological perspective on the use of Pb isotopes in archeometry. Archaeometry 54, 853-867.

).



Figure S-1 Conventional lead isotope plots of the samples analysed in the present study.
Full size image | Download in Powerpoint

Supplementary Information References

Albarède, F., Desaulty, A.M., Blichert-Toft, J. (2012) A geological perspective on the use of Pb isotopes in archeometry. Archaeometry 54, 853-867.
Show in context

It therefore can be concluded that silver from southern Spain is characterised by ε109Ag > 0 (Albarède et al., 2012).
View in Supplementary Information


Desaulty, A.M., Telouk, P., Albalat, E., Albarède, F. (2011) Isotopic Ag-Cu-Pb record of silver circulation through 16th-18th century Spain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 108, 9002-9007.
Show in context

Positive ε109Ag values ranging from 0.0 to +0.2 and lead model ages consistent with the young tectonic age of the Betic Cordilleras are observed in coins minted at the time the Catholic Kings invaded the Grenada Emirate (Desaulty et al., 2011).
View in Supplementary Information

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