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Author Topic: New NumisWiki Article: Roman Coins - How Many Were Made?  (Read 642 times)

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Online Joe Sermarini

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New NumisWiki Article: Roman Coins - How Many Were Made?
« on: December 02, 2020, 08:08:25 am »
New NumisWiki Article: Roman Coins - How Many Were Made?
by Ken Pilon, November 27, 2020

Roman Coins - How Many Were Made?

A few comments:

I believe the estimate that 150 coins were struck per day per pair of dies is far too low.  

Because Roman coins were a store of value, many circulated far longer than 30 years. That average may apply to modern coins but not ancient coins.

Some Roman coins were demonetized after only a short period and did not circulate 30 years.
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Offline PMah

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Re: New NumisWiki Article: Roman Coins - How Many Were Made?
« Reply #1 on: December 02, 2020, 08:51:24 pm »
The base assumptions on coins per die per day  and die-life are pretty far off from most modern  research. 

Witschonke (2012) summed up the research as to the Republic era:  "various modern experiments replicating ancient conditions indicate that a striking rate of 4,000 to 5,000 coins per day is not unreasonable. [3] I have no independent view on the contentious question of the average number of coins struck by an ancient die, but if we accept a figure of c.20,000 coins per die, this gives us an average die life of 4-5 days, which agrees with Carter’s figure (1981,p. 193). ﬈us, taking a working year as 320 days (Buttrey 1976, p. 101), a single anvil would use up 65 to 80 dies per year, and strike 1.3 to 1.6 million coins."

In addition, since the main issue of money in the Republic was seemingly for legionary pay and expenses, and campaigns did not last nearly a full year, much of the coinage was needed in the first half of the year before standing armies became the norm.  So the rate of production had to be pretty high.   This also explains tolerance of so many poor strikes.

  These numbers also keep the mint organization/headcount relatively low as well, rather than the vast enterprise that would be needed at "150"
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Offline otlichnik

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Re: New NumisWiki Article: Roman Coins - How Many Were Made?
« Reply #2 on: December 03, 2020, 08:57:59 am »
While an interesting thought experiment or starting point for discussion, almost every single 'fact" or assumption in this wiki article can be questioned and in fact should be questioned and expanded upon.

The question is do we treat this as a real wiki and start adding and/or editing, or treat it as an article by one author and therefore restrict our comments to a thread like this.

To take only one example: "Let’s assume the average coin lasted 30 years before it was lost or became too worn to use any more."  The problem is we can't make that assumption.  At all.  That logic might work with a relatively unchanging denominational system - for example US pennies that have basically been identical for over a century.  But in the Roman Empire hoard evidence shows that coin circulation came to abrupt ends when the denominational system changed significantly - based on metrological factors such as size, weight, fineness, etc.  So in, say AD 270 you have nothing but small base-metal antoniniani in circulation.  Almost nothing from before 265 was in circulation.  At other times 100 year old coins still circulated - say sestertii and denarii of Trajan during Septimius Severeu's reign.

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Re: New NumisWiki Article: Roman Coins - How Many Were Made?
« Reply #3 on: December 03, 2020, 11:07:30 am »
I sent a notification of this thread to Ken. Hopefully he will comment.
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Offline Heliodromus

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Re: New NumisWiki Article: Roman Coins - How Many Were Made?
« Reply #4 on: December 03, 2020, 12:17:26 pm »
The assumptions and numbers in the article seem wildly off base, as do the conclusions.

LRBs would have to factor heavily into any overall average stats, and number of dies for a given type can be huge. Try looking for a die match for a given type ... it can sometimes take years to find one for common types! If there were only 13 "die sets" per "variety", as the article suggests, then it would be unusual NOT to find a die match in a group of 5 coins ... (probabilities are counter-intuitive - you only need a group of 23 people to have a 50% chance of two of them sharing a birthday, despite there being 365 different birthdates).

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Offline Danny S. Jones

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Re: New NumisWiki Article: Roman Coins - How Many Were Made?
« Reply #5 on: August 13, 2021, 06:02:17 pm »
I have read estimates between tens of millions to 1.5 trillion total coins minted during the Roman period.

I found an interesting article that addresses the fact that numerical estimations of Roman coin production is extremely unreliable.

Calculating Ancient Coin Production: Facts and Fantasies
T. V. BUTTREY
The Numismatic Chronicle (1966-)
Vol. 153 (1993), pp. 335-351 (17 pages)
Published by: Royal Numismatic Society

Link below:
https://www.jstor.org/stable/42667930

Offline Virgil H

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Re: New NumisWiki Article: Roman Coins - How Many Were Made?
« Reply #6 on: August 14, 2021, 01:11:46 am »
That is a very interesting article and certainly demonstrates the limits of scholarship and dangers of making conclusions on such flimsy evidence. This is a fascinating topic and I am no expert in this area. However, the questions that arise for me I am not sure may be measured. Yet.

150 a day seems very low. 30,000 per die seems high. But what do I know? The real questions relate to how mints operated. Were these traditional jobs where people worked every day all day? If so, one would think the system would have some efficiencies that would allow for many coins per day. 150 is nothing, really, even with a manual system. 150 an hour maybe is more realistic. But that depends on how many workers are involved and the fact that multiple workers would mean multiple dies being used at one time.

How did the mints operate? Did they produce flans for a while and then do the striking or were all the various steps done by different people in an assembly line or even different places, as in flan production? Again, how many striking teams were working at once? Were die engravers working all the time or only when new dies were needed? So many questions.

Did the mints operate year round or only at specified times when coins were needed?

Was this a part-time job? Full-time? What even was a full time job back then? Did people work more or less than now? I have an impression that people perhaps were not as obsessed with work back then as we are today. Maybe slaves were worked more, but who knows? Today, being a workaholic is a virtue in America (not so much in other countries). Was it this way in antiquity? Somehow, I doubt it. Capitalism wasn't yet known.

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Offline otlichnik

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Re: New NumisWiki Article: Roman Coins - How Many Were Made?
« Reply #7 on: August 15, 2021, 09:09:42 am »
You raise some interesting questions.

Too often people focus only on the technical questions - which are important - like how many dies were used for an issue and how any coins were struck per die.  But there is not enough focus on those operational questions you raise. 

People have studied how mints would have operated.  I note in my book that Estiot and Zanchi's study of the operation of the Trier mint 292/293 AD resulted in the following conclusions - two officinae working, a total of at least 11 teams of strikers (so an officinae was not one single anvil), each striking team comprising 6 to 8 employees so 66-88 employees active in these striking teams (plus mint employees working in the mint but not directly in striking teams).  Each team producing 6,000 coins per workday so 66,000 coins per workday from the 11 striking teams.  (Sylvaine Estiot and Pierre Zanchi, De Lyon a Treves: L'ouverture de l'atelier de Treves a l'epoque tetrarchique et ses premieres emissions, in Revue Numismatique 171, 2014.  And that is only one of several mints active in 292/293.

But one thing we don't know is how many workdays there were.  I don't just mean how many work days in a year versus holidays, but 'was the mint meant to operate on a full time basis or not".  As you noted, was it a full time job trying to operate all the time, or did it operate on a project basis - "we have an order for coins, let's operate at our 66,000/day capacity until we finish the job and then wait for the next job".  Hard to be sure though we have no real indications of other professions for mint staff and there are things written that suggest it was a full time job - for example the law that makes mint staff "ignoble" - that is of commoner class - or the description of Aurelian's struggle with the rebellion of the "monetari" of the mint of Rome in 271.

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