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Aes Rude

Aes rude (Latin: "rough bronze", plural: also, aes rude) was a nugget or rough irregular ingot of bronze used as a proto-currency in ancient Italy early in the gradual transition from bartering to the use of round coinage made from precious metals.

 

       

Ancient Coins of the Roman Republic and Italy from Before 150 B.C. in the Forum Ancient Coins shop

In Italy, as with other nations in their first stage of civilization, trade was carried on by a system of barter, the basis of which was chiefly cattle.

Useful for manufacturing implements, weapons and decorative items, metal is also particularly useful for barter because it is relatively compact, portable, homogeneous, divisible, easy to measure, easy to store, and does not spoil. Due to these great advantages, from very early times and across much of the ancient world, metal became a primary medium of exchange and measure of value. Bronze ax heads became so widely traded and hoarded as wealth that many were made with designs entirely useless as weapons or tools. These imitations of ax heads were made entirely for trade. Celts traded and hoarded bronze rings (presumably horse tack fittings) essentially as money. In Olbia, small bronze votive dolphins served as a pseudo-coinage. Some of their Black Sea neighbors traded with imitations of bronze arrowheads that could never have been attached to a real arrow. The tremendous advantages of metal meant the evolution of barter away from cattle to metal as the medium of exchange and eventually to coinage was nearly inevitable.

When Greek populated southern Italy was already using silver coinage as a primary medium of exchange, central Italy was still in a primitive state. Festus informs us that cattle still formed the basis of commercial transactions and official fines in central Italy, writing that one ox was equivalent to ten sheep, and that for minor offenses the delinquent paid two sheep, but for grave offenses the fine could be as high as thirty oxen. Metal was not adopted as a gauge of value in central Italy until the middle of the 5th century B.C., when two laws, the lex Aternia Tarpeia (454 B.C.) and the lex Menenia Sestia (452 B.C.), while still listing fines in oxen and sheep, also included bronze equivalents.

Bronze was, however, traded in central Italy long before it was a lawfully recognized official measure of value. Aes rude, rough lumpy bronze ingots with no marks or design, were used in trade and as a proto-currency, perhaps as early as the 8th century B.C. Production of aes rude was almost certainly private and unregulated. The metal in aes rude is mostly copper with roughly 5% tin (one analysis found 93.7% copper and 6.3% tin). There was some intended uniformity in weight based on the libra (Roman pound) weighing 328.9 g, and uncia (Roman ounce, 1/12 libra) weighing 27.4 g. But weights vary greatly with some exceeding twelve pounds and others under an ounce. Many smaller examples are fragments of broken larger specimens. A balance was certainly necessary to measure value for commercial transactions. Photos of aes rude can be seen above and also in the plates below.

Sometime in the 4th century B.C., the production of shapeless aes rude was replaced by casting of rough unmarked shapes. The most common shapes were "round cakes" (round domed discs) and flat roughly rectangular ingots and bricks. Just like aes rude, these shaped ingots were frequently cut and broken to make smaller values and change. When broken it is sometimes difficult to distinguish them from shapeless earlier aes rude (see the last two examples of aes rude above, which may be fractions of an aes formatum). In Coins of the Roman Republic in The British Museum, Grueber describes these cast shapes as follows: "In the find at Vulci, besides the aes rude and the aes signatum there was a number of rough brick-shaped pieces in very poor condition, without any imprint and nothing to indicate their value; their weight varying from an ounce to a pound. These bricks formed about one-sixth of the whole mass. Also there were some elliptical-shaped pieces which represented fractions of the as [328.9 g], most of them corresponding to the weight of the sextans [54.8 g] (Mommsen, Hist. Mon. Rom., p. 176). These pieces would appear to be intermediate between the as rude and the aes signatum." In Aes Grave. Das Schwergeld Roms und Mittelitaliens, published in 1910, the same year as the British Museum Catalog, Haeberlin differentiated these cast shapes from aes rude and introduced a new term for them, aes formatum.

Still today, some authorities call these cast shapes aes rude, some call them both aes rude and aes formatum (classifying aes formatum is a type of aes rude), and others identify the cast shapes as aes formatum only (with aes rude the precursor to and different from aes formatum). Some authorities and dealer lists also use the term aes formatum to describe other shapes of cast bronze trade goods, including objects manufactured outside Italy, including imitative axe heads, cast bronze bivalve shells, cast bronze astragaloi (sheep knuckle bones, see Haeberlin pl. 6), rods, bars and rings, for example. The definitions of aes rude and aes formatum are not firmly established.

Late in the 4th century B.C., people began to inscribe pieces of aes formatum with symbols, most probably intended to indicate weight and thus value (see Vecchi ICC pl. 1., 2.1 & 2.2). Inscribing was sporadic and apparently a short-lived trend. Inscribed pieces are rare and aes formatum was soon replaced by aes signatum.

At the beginning of the 3rd century B.C., aes signatum, a new form of cast Roman bronze money, appeared. Aes signatum consists of heavy oblong, quadrilateral or brick-shaped pieces of bronze, cast with depictions of animals (e.g. birds, elephants, oxen, pigs and dolphins), Pegasus, corn-ears, a caduceus, or a sword and sheath. The depictions were not inscribed, the were on the casting molds. Their weight averages approximately 1350 grams. 

Although in Rome and central Italy bronze traded by weight was the official measure of value only from the about the middle of the 5th to the 3rd century B.C., bronze was a valued trade good and a medium of exchange both earlier and later. Bronze objects were accepted across much of the ancient world and could travel far from their place of origin. Italian aes rude has been found in hoards alongside aes formatum, aes signatum, bronze ax heads, Celtic ring money, all sorts of bronze objects, and with coins as well, as far from Italy as Spain and Croatia.

References

Bertol, A. & K Farac. "Aes rude and aes formatum – a new typology" in VAMZ, 3. s., XLV (2012). PDF available online
Garrucci, R. Le monete dell'Italia antica. (Rome, 1885). Available online
Grueber, H. Coins of the Roman Republic in The British Museum, Vol. 1. Aes rude, aes signatum, aes grave, and coinage of Rome from BC 268. (London, 1910). PDF Available Online
Haeberlin, E. Aes Grave. Das Schwergeld Roms und Mittelitaliens. (Frankfurt, 1910). Available online
Mommsen, T. Geschichte des Romische Münzwesen. (Leipzig, 1860). Available online
Mommsen, T. & D. de Blacas. Histoire de la Monnaie Romaine. (Paris, 1865). Available online
Sear, D. Roman Coins and Their Values, Volume I: Republic to the Flavians. (London, 2000).
Sydenham, E. The Coinage of the Roman Republic. (London, 1952).
Thurlow, B. & I. Vecchi. Italian Cast Coinage. (Dorchester, 1979).
Vecchi, I. Italian aes rude, signatum and the aes grave of Sicily in Thurlow–Vecchi, Italian Cast Coinage. (Dorchester, 1979).
Vecchi, I. Italian Cast Coinage. (London, 2013).

Images, Plates & Descriptions of Aes Rude - Excerpts from References

Grueber, H. Coins of the Roman Republic in The British Museum, Vol. 1. Aes rude, aes signatum, aes grave, and coinage of Rome from BC 268. (London, 1910).

BMCRR I, pp. 1 - 2, 1 - 11.

All bronze, cast, of irregular form.

Page 1.Page 2.
1. 38.3g 00000
2. 34.4 g 86900
3. 28.0 g 11992
4. 24.4 g 00000
5. 19.3 g 00000



6. 18.2 g 00000
7. 15.2 g 00000
8. 14.6 g 00000
9. 11.2 g 00000
10. 10.7 g 00000
11. 9.6 g 00000


Weights in BMCRR I are grains. Above they are converted to grams.

The earliest form of exchange in metal employed by the Romans consisted of amorphous lumps of bronze of no fixed weight, and without any official stamp or mark of value. Hence they received the name of aes rude (Festus, de Verb, sig., s.v. rodus) or aes infectum. When used for currency or exchange these lumps of metal must have passed by weight. A number were discovered in 1828 near Vulci together with some quadrilateral coins, called aes signatum (see BMCRR I p. 3). Many of the latter were broken, the larger pieces weighing from two to three pounds, others being equal to various divisions of the pound, whilst the greater number weighed about two ounces, thus corresponding to the sextans (see BMCRR I p. 9). Somewhat later there was another find of this aes rude at Vicarello, with which were many examples of the aes signatum, of the aes grave (see BMCRR I p. 5), and of Romano-Campanian coins (see Babelon, Mon. de la Republique romaine, vol. i., p. 10 f.). Barron D'Ailly (Recherches sur lamon. rom., p. 10), through whose hands many examples passed, give their maximum weight at about 707.2 gram. (=10913.7 grs.), and their minimum at 2.21 gram. (34.1 grs.).

At what time the aes rude was instituted is impossible to say. It probably remained in use, by weight, for some little time after the introduction of the aes signatum, since specimens of both series have been found together.

In the find at Vulci, besides the aes rude and the aes signatum there was a number of rough brick-shaped pieces in very poor condition, without any imprint and nothing to indicate their value; their weight varying from an ounce to a pound. These bricks formed about on-sixth of the whole mass. Also there were some elliptical-shaped pieces which represented fractions of the as, most of them corresponding to the weight of the sextans (Mommsen, Hist. mon. rout., t. i., p. 176). These pieces would appear to be intermediate between the as rude and the aes signatum.



Haeberlin, E. J. Aes Grave. Das Schwergeld Roms und Mittelitaliens. (Frankfurt, 1910).

Haeberlin pl. 1., 1 - 15.



Modified to optimize internet display.

Weights above are in grains. 15.4324 grains (gr) = 1 gram (g).

1) 174.4 g 70827
2) 168.5 g 00000
3) 27.5 g 00000
4) 22.6 g 00000
5) 12.9 g 00000
6) 11.2 g 00000
7) 10.5 g 00000
8) 9.6 g 00000
9) 7.3 g 00000
10) 4.9 g 00000
11) 4.4 g 00000
12) 1.6 g 00000
13) 1.3 g 00000
14) 0.9 g 00000
15) 31.5 g 86900



Vecchi, I. Italian Cast Coinage. (London, 2013). 

Vecchi ICC pl. 1., 1 - 2.2.


Modified to optimize internet display.

1. Aes Rude, central Italy 8th to 3rd centuries BC.

2. Counterstamped and inscribed aes rude, central Italy 7th to 3rd centuries BC.



Thurlow, B. & I. Vecchi. Italian Cast Coinage. (Dorchester, 1979).

Thurlow-Vecchi pl. 2.


Modified to optimize internet display.


Bertol, A. & K Farac. "Aes rude and aes formatum – a new typology" in VAMZ, 3. s., XLV (2012).

Bertol-Farac pl. 1



Modified to optimize internet display.



Sear, D.R. Roman Coins and Their Values, Volume I: Republic to the Flavians. (London, 2000).

SRCV I 505

SRCV I 505. Irregular cast lumps of bronze with no official stamp or indication of value, ranging in weight from about 8 grams to over 300 grams.



Haeberlin pl. 1., 1 - 15.; Vecchi ICC pl. 1., 1 - 2.2.; BMCRR I, pp. 1 - 2, 1 - 11; Thurlow-Vecchi pl. 2.; Bertol-Farac pl. 1; SRCV I 505

86900