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Aes Formatum

Roman Republic, Italy, Hispania, Croatia, Etc., Mid 5th - Early 3rd Century B.C.

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

From the early bronze age metal was used to manufacture implements and weapons and copper or bronze in any form was a valuable trade good. Metal is particularly useful for barter because it is compact, portable, easy to store, and does not spoil. The first type of smelted bronze bullion metal cast by Romans was rough lumps of bronze known as "aes rude" (rough bronze) pieces of no precise weight and a variety of sizes. Axe heads, rings, cast bronze shells, rods, bars, and ingots, for example, traded alongside aes rude. All  bronze objects were suitable for trade by their weight and were frequently broken to adjust their weight and to make change.

Despite its great advantages, it was not until the middle of the 5th century B.C. that bronze replaced cattle as the primary measure of value in Roman trade. The Roman Lex Aternia et Tarpeia (c. 454 B.C.) a.k.a. "Tarpeian Law" replaced livestock as 'money' with copper, defined as weight of metal per ox (cattle). The Republican law stated oxen were to be valued at 100 libra (pounds) of copper each and sheep at 10 libra.


                                         Used with permission from Ancient Nomos - https://twitter.com/ANAMCurator.

During the 4th century B.C., smelted bronze bullion was cast into regular molds of different shapes with pre-determined weights. Examples include the "round cake" aes formatum pieces depicted above. The aes formatum specimens are generally cast without any type of inscription or images. Bricks, bars, rods, and ingots were also cast. All these aes formatum types were still valued by weight and frequently cut or broken to make change.

At the beginning of the 3rd century B.C., aes signatum, a new form of Roman money, appeared. Aes signatum consists of heavy oblong, quadrilateral or brick-shaped cast pieces of bronze, with depictions of animals (e.g. birds, elephants, oxen, pigs and dolphins), Pegasus, corn-ears, a caduceus, or a sword and sheath. Their weight averages approximately 1350 grams. Aes rude and aes formatum remained in use, by weight, for some time after the introduction of the aes signatum, since specimens have been found together.

Although bronze traded by weight was the official measure of value for only for Rome and central Italy and perhaps only from the about the middle of the 5th to the 3rd century B.C., bronze was a trade good and a medium of exchange both earlier and later and across much of the ancient world. Italian aes rude has been found in hoards alongside aes formatum, aes signatum, Celtic ring money, all sorts of bronze objects, and 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
Fallani, G. "Rilievi ed osservazioni su alcune monete della ser dell' Aes Grave" in IAPN 8 (Wetteren, 1986), pp. 31- 40, pl. 6-7.
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
Sear, D. Roman Coins and Their Values, Volume I: Republic to the Flavians. (London, 2000).
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).


Roman Aes Formatum Copper Round Cake Ingot

Used with permission from Ancient Nomos

http://ancientnomosart.org/exhibits/roman-aes-formatum-bronze-ingot/

Aes Formatum copper round cake ingot
Obv: Truncated conical-shaped, round type molded casting.
Rev: Planar surface and blank.

Welcome to the dawn of ancient Roman coinage and cast bronze as bullion! The ancient cast bronze ingot above represents a very early example of Roman metal bullion first used as a medium for exchange by the burgeoning Republican Roman culture. Known today as “aes formatum” (formed bronze), these earliest of very large cast ingots, like coins, had both intrinsic, bullion and monetary value. The term aes formatum was first mentioned in the major study and 1910 publication of ancient Roman cast bronze coinage titled, Das Schwergeld Rom und Mittelitaliens, by Ernst Haeberlin, (see plate 2, images 7-8). In his major ancient Roman bronze study, the numismatist coined the Latin term aes formatum to describe the earliest formed-shape cast copper and bronze trade ingots. The Haeberlin aes formatum specimens can be seen on plates 3 and 4, and are identified as round “cakes”, bars, ax heads and even pieces of round castings that are broken.

The economic trade of a pure metal bullion object in the form of this very heavy bronze ingot, circa 4th century BC, came late to Roman culture and marks a very remarkable cultural accomplishment for the Republican Roman society. Early Republican society was essentially agricultural where barter and trade of products functioned as the primary medium of exchange among its citizens and neighbors. As the Republic expanded, the agricultural subsistence based economy alone was becoming unsustainable. Coincidentally, regional copper ore deposits were readily available in central Italy and had already been in extensive use by the Etruscan neighbors to the north. It is during this agrarian era that the Romans learned for the first time how bronze bullion could come to represent an “exchangeable” object of value, both economically and literally. Romans quickly learned bullion ingots could be traded, hoarded, stored, consumed, recycled, redistributed or used in a Pagan sacrifice. The use of bronze as bullion, permitted Romans to specialize, expand and provide purchasing power for citizens, soldiers and tradesmen, which could hold long term value well into the future. Many diverse forms, shapes and styles soon emerged for a wide range of various practical, symbolic, religious, economic or ideological ends. In addition, as Roman society expanded, knowledge of copper mining, smelting and mixing with tin to make bronze soon became integral to the burgeoning society.

The Roman knowledge and industry quickly incorporated the use of sophisticated technologies to mine ores including many different types of elemental deposits such as lead, silver and gold, in addition to copper and tin. The need for copper and copper products increased greatly after Pyrrhus of Epirus returned to Greece, circa 280 BC. After defeating the Greeks, the Romans controlled central and south Italy and within a century, would become the largest miners, refiners and producers of copper products in the Mediterranean. Virtually all early Republican bronze metalwork is characterized by practicality and simplicity of design which is emblematic of the ancient Roman metal casting methods and technology. It is these characteristically Roman conditions of pragmatism and austerity that give the early Republican coinage the seemingly crude mightiness and design simplification that display bold, powerful and perhaps somewhat “primitive” appearance.

During the 4th century BC and before Romans created coins, a progression or chronology of three basic cast bronze bullion types evolved. This is when the earliest copper and bronze bullion artifacts emerged as a means of exchange. The first type of smelted bronze bullion metal was cast by Romans into rough lumps of bronze known as “aes rude” (rough bronze) pieces of no precise weights and a variety of sizes. The second type of smelted bronze bullion was cast into regular molds of different shapes, but with precise weights. These are the aes formatum pieces like the specimen depicted above. The aes formatum specimens are generally cast without any type of inscription or images. Lastly, they were smelted and cast into rectangular bars of precise weights, but were cast with device inscriptions and or images. The latter cast ingots are known as “aes signatum” pieces. All three types of early bronze bullion objects, from an elemental point of view, are precious pieces of ‘heavy metal’ that have an intrinsic value because of their copper and tin content.

The archaeological evidence for this early Roman aes formatum bronze ingot as a mining smelting product and as a trade commodity is becoming more and more apparent through the number of ancient Roman sites and finds. Sites where the aes formatum bronze ingots have been discovered range from central Italy including, Aria, Cervetari, Cere, Etruria and in Porto Torres on the island of Sardinia. Sardinia is especially known by archaeologists to have had a highly developed bronze metalworking industry as is evident from many site finds of ingots, molds and bronze artifacts. Many of these bronze ingot find sites are recorded and referred to as in the: Garrucci 1885, Bahrfeld 1901, Willers 1905 and Haeberlin 1910. Similar aes formatum bronze ingots have also been discovered in Europe including, Gračac, Mazin, Štikada and Vrankamen, and also as far away as North Africa, Spain, Britain and the Near East, including China. The vast extent and wide range of aes formatum finds clearly demonstrates the importance, high value and long distances that interconnected the ancient Roman bronze trade beyond the Mediterranean. This wide range of bronze ingot finds throughout Mediterranean Europe directly coincides with the Republican Roman growth and expansion of trade and commerce during the late Bronze Age.

From an economic standpoint, the aes formatum bronze ingot above represents a critical transition stage of Roman currency. The ingot is a tangible artifact that links the mode of production, beginning with the ancient mining and smelting metalworkers, with the regional Republican era distribution corridors ultimately connected to the bronze consumers. While the ancient aes formatum bronze ingots come in a variety of shapes and sizes, the specimen above is a truncated conical-shaped ingot and is a unique variation of the usual round plano-convex discoid type. Many ancient Roman copper mining sites include the remains of blast furnace pits (ovens) offering valuable clues to the heating processes used to separate copper from the mined ores. During the heating process (smelting), copper mats formed at the bottom of the furnace pits. The raw copper was then reheated to a liquid and combined with approximately 10% tin to create the alloy bronze. The bronze was then cast into convenient size aes formatum ingots, stackable in sacks for transport and distribution. The finished aes formatum ingots generally had a weight ranging from one to two kilograms, though larger examples have been discovered. The raised surface is usually convex or conical, which was the surface in contact with the ground or bottom of the mold receiving the molten bronze. The flat surface of the aes formatum ingot was the area that was exposed to air while the molten bronze was cooling. In cross section, they are thickest at or near the center, then slope gradually towards the edges.

DOCUMENTATION
Value: 5 Asses (63 Unciae).
Metal: Ć cast bronze.
Weight: 1750 grams. Original (heavy) libral standard.
Dated: 5th-4th century BC.
Attribution: Italo Vecchi. Italian Cast Coinage. London. 2013, page 84; Haeberlin, Aes Grave; Das Schwergeld Rom und Mittelitaliens, plate 2, #7-8; Lex Aternia-Tarpeia Libra from A. Gaius, Institutes, Book I, 122 (premonetale) Ex. Kent Ponterio Collection, Roman Republic RSSS, #38375; Harlan Berk Aes Formatum Inventory, 2000.


Roman Aes Formatum Copper Round Cake Ingot

Used with permission from Ancient Nomos

http://ancientnomosart.org/exhibits/roman-aes-formatum-ingot/



Aes Formatum circular dome-shaped bronze ingot
Obverse: Round dome-shape with central casting seam.
Reverse: Planar surface and blank.

The vast archaeological evidence for the archaic Roman copper-age and bronze-age history exists in many sites throughout the central Umbria regions and beyond. Prior to the Roman archaic bronze history was a primitive pre-phase “natural” agrarian economy, where goods and services were simply bartered in order to exchange. To better facilitate trade, an archaic copper and bronze monetary economy was employed to simplify transactions, sometime between the 6th – 4th centuries BC. During this time, aes formatum bronze ingots and round specimen types (as depicted above), have been discovered throughout the central Italian peninsula including in Aria, Cervetari, Cere and Etruria. Even as far away as the town of Porto Torres on the island of Sardinia, evidence of a highly developed bronze metalworking industry has disclosed many extant finds of bronze ingots, copper fragments, molds and other bronze artifacts. This new and burgeoning archaic Roman copper and bronze economy refined and weighted these metals based on the already existing barter trade values for a head of cattle, oxen and sheep, long established during the primitive pre-phase “natural” economy. As the bronze trade gradually became more and more refined (weighed metal and therefore money), the system of exchange could easily convert staples like oxen, sheep and other agricultural goods into a copper of bronze equivalence in weight. The vast extent and wide range of aes formatum finds clearly demonstrates the growing importance and high value these metals played, eventually becoming interconnected between the ancient Romans and other cultures beyond the Mediterranean. As the bronze economy expanded, the category of cattle and oxen no longer performed the function of measuring one’s wealth. Instead, copper and bronze emerged as a qualitative and quantitative measure of value and of one’s wealth. The above one libra (one pound) bronze aes formatum ingot is an extremely rare, unusual and fascinating “as made” ingot specimen and exhibits a deep olive green patina, with turquoise highlights over domed surfaces. The “reverse” planar side still contains residual casting clay mold deposits along with several areas of green patina. Compared to the previous five libra aes formatum ingot, this piece is a relatively small one libra specimen and weights only 273 grams (see 5 Libra Aes Formatum). These fascinating copper based ingots became established monetary currency following a historic mid-fifth century BCE trip the Romans made to Athens to study Athenian laws. The trip became a “lessons learned” event that transformed the Roman economy. In 454 BC, the Roman’s developed the Lex Aternia-Tarpeia, a.k.a. “Tarpeian Law” which replaced livestock as money with a newly codified copper by weight economic standard. In part, the law defined a libra weight of copper as an As. The Roman Republican era As began as a libra of just over 300 grams of copper. By 451 BC, the archaic Republican bronze-age period formally enacted exchange laws found in the Law of the Twelve Tables (A. Gaius, Institutes, Book I, 122), stipulating refined and carefully weighed bronze (copper plus tin) was to be used as the only commodity equivalent and instrument of economic exchange in Rome. The new exchange laws valued an ox at 100 asses and valued sheep at 10 asses, in other words, 1 oxen had the same value as 10 sheep.

DOCUMENTATION

Value: 1 As.
Metal: Ć cast bronze.
Weight: 273 grams.
Roman libral standard.
Dated: 5th-4th century BC.
Attribution: Italo Vecchi. Italian Cast Coinage. London. 2013; Haeberlin, Aes Grave; Das Schwergeld Rom und Mittelitaliens, plate 2, #7-8; Lex Aternia-Tarpeia Libra from A. Gaius, Institutes, Book I, 122 (premonetale).


Images, Plates & Descriptions

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

Bertol-Farac pl. 2.

Modified to optimize internet display.

Aes Formatum from Mazin, Croatia.

1-2 Ingots in the shape of a bar, having a rounded end.
3-4 Brick-shaped ingots.
5-6 Brick shaped ingots with a lateral projection.
7 Ingots in the shape of thin quadrangular plates.
8 Disc ingots.
9 Bun ingots.
10-11 Ingots in the shape of a truncated cone.



Fallani, G. "Rilievi ed osservazioni su alcune monete della ser dell' Aes Grave" in IAPN 8 (Wetteren, 1986), pp. 31- 40, pl. 6-7.

Fallani pl. 6.



Modified to optimize internet display.

2 - 2C. Cast from bipod shells, with fan shaped ridges: 2. 23g, 2A. 26g, 2B. 30g, 2C. 62g. 

Forum Note: Very similar cast bronze shells are also found in Spain; most of these have hollow backs. Lead weights are also cast from shells in Italy and other Mediterranean areas. 


Garrucci, R. Le monete dell 'Italia antica. (Rome, 1885). Available online

Garrucci, pl. 6

3. Copper or bronze bar fragment, Palestrina (37 km east-southeast of Rome)
4. Copper or bronze bar fragment, Vicarello, Tuscany
5. Copper or bronze bar fragment, Todi, Perugia, Umbria
6. Copper or bronze bar fragment, Palestrina (37 km east-southeast of Rome)
7. Copper or bronze bar, Palestrina (37 km east-southeast of Rome)
8. Copper or bronze bar, Albano (25 km southeast of Rome)
11. Copper round cake, Ossi, Sardinia
12. Copper or bronze brick, Sculca, Sardinia
15. Copper or bronze disc fragment, Vicarello, Livorno
16. Copper or bronze brick(?) fragment, Palestrina (23 miles east-southeast of Rome)
17. Copper or bronze brick fragment, Vicarello, Livorno
18. Copper or bronze brick fragment
19. Copper or bronze brick fragment, Vicarello, Livorno
20. Copper or bronze brick fragment
21. Copper or bronze brick fragment
22. Copper or bronze brick fragment, Vicarello, Livorno



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).

Grueber does not use the term aes formatum in Coins of the Roman Republic in The British Museum, but does describe the trade in metal and discusses some examples of aes formatum as "intermediate between the as rude and the aes signatum":

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. 2., 1 - 9.

Round cake, whole and fragmented (aes formatum) - Contemporaneous instruments made of bronzeRecent testing indicates round cake is copper, not bronze, with only small amounts of zinc.



Modified to optimize internet display.

1. Copper round cake, 1076.50 g (Porto Torres, Sardinia, 1897)
2. Copper round cake, 391 g (Porto Torres, Sardinia, 1897)
3. Copper round cake cut fragment, 214.40 g (Porto Torres, Sardinia, 1897)
4. Bronze I-shaped section chisel, 432.10 g (Porto Torres, Sardinia, 1897)
5. Bronze I-shaped section chisel, 472.40 g (Porto Torres, Sardinia, 1897)
6. Bronze pick, 1681 g (Porto Torres, Sardinia, 1897)
7. Copper round cake, 1479.20 g (Siniscola, Sardinia, 1892)
8. Copper round cake, 1223.80 (grave find at Chiusi, Tuscany, about 1880)
9. Copper round cake cut fragment, 177.20 g (area of Perugia, Umbria)

Selections from the Haeberlin Collection


Haeberlin pl. 3., 1 - 12.

Other fragments of round cake; pie slice and thaler-shaped pieces.



Modified to optimize internet display.

1. Copper round cake cut fragment, 334.10 g
2. Copper round cake cut fragment, 862.50 g (Porto Torres, Sardinia, 1897)
3. Copper round cake cut fragment, 425.20 g (Porto Torres, Sardinia, 1897)
4. Copper round cake cut fragment, 338.60 g (Porto Torres, Sardinia, 1897)
5. Copper round cake cut fragment, 75.55 g (Porto Torres, Sardinia, 1897)
6. Copper round cake cut fragment, 15.14 g (Porto Torres, Sardinia, 1897)
7. Copper round cake cut fragment, 518.75 g
8. Copper round cake cut fragment, 1599 g (area of Praeneste, modern Palestrina, ancient city of Latium, 23 miles east-southeast of Rome)
9. Copper round cake cut fragment, 567.50 g
10. Copper or bronze disk fragment, half, 33.22 g
11. Copper or bronze disk fragment, half, 34.72 g
12. Copper round cake cut fragment, with graffito, 113.30 g (Mazin, Croatia, 1896)

Selections from the Haeberlin Collection


Haeberlin pl. 4., 1 - 9.


Other fragments of round cake; pie slice and thaler-shaped pieces.



Modified to optimize internet display.

1. 830.20 g (Porto Torres, Sardinia, 1897)
2. 559.65 g (Sardinia, 1899)
3. 419.50 g (Porto Torres, Sardinia, 1897)
4. 124.15 g
5. 511.92 g (area of Praeneste, modern Palestrina, ancient city of Latium, 23 miles east-southeast of Rome)
6. 50.25 g
7. 30.04 g (Perugia, Umbria)
8. 29.50 g (Arezzo, Tuscany)

Selections from the Haeberlin Collection


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