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Rome and the Coinages of the Mediterranean

The RACOM research project, full title 'Rome and the Coinages of the Mediterranean 200 BCE - 64 CE', is a five year European Research Council funded project headed by Professor Kevin Butcher running from September 2019 to August 2024. The project is hosted by the Department of Classics & Ancient History at the University of Warwick in collaboration with Dr Matthew Ponting at the University of Liverpool, UK, and Dr Adrian Hillier at ISIS Neutron and Muon Facility, STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, UK.

Project summary

Silver coinage formed the backbone of state finance in Classical antiquity. The fineness and quality of a coinage is often taken by historians to be a comment on the fiscal health of the issuing state, yet very little is really known about its fineness and chemical composition, and many of the existing analyses are inadequate to answer key questions. Samples for analysis are commonly taken from the surfaces, or from just beneath the surfaces, of silver coins, and these are not representative of the original alloys used, leading to erroneous estimates of overall composition. The aim of the project is to examine financial and monetary strategies from c. 150 BCE to a major coin reform in c. 64 CE – a period that witnessed the creation of an overarching currency for the Mediterranean world and increasing monetisation – by providing a detailed and reliable set of analyses of the chemical composition of all major silver coinages of the period, obtained by taking samples from deep within the coins. It will also evaluate two new, non-destructive techniques to see how they compare with established protocols. The period witnessed a major increase in long distance trade and probably also economic growth and a rise in per capita income. Roman conquest led to greater economic and monetary integration of the Mediterranean area, and Rome’s apparent currency monopoly may have had its own consequences for the development of coinage and management of finances. Flows of precious metals to Rome and other important centres of power helped to finance Roman expansion, and understanding the chemical composition of silver coinage will transform our understanding of Roman monetary strategy as an instrument of imperialism.

This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (Grant Agreement No. 835180)

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Roman denarius