Numismatic and History Discussions > Ancient Coin Forum

What is a Potin?

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Virgil H:
I just read some posts in the Byzantine section about potins versus billon. It confused me. I didn't want to muddy up the other thread, so posting here.

There were differing definitions of the two things. And they were defined as substances more or less rather than by type of coin. Potin and billon were the same thing in one definition. I always thought potins were cast coins made of bronze/copper or maybe something else, but casting was what defined it. The ones I have seen looked like bronze. To me, the distinguishing feature was the method in which they were made. These coins show up in various areas, most I see are cast Celtic potins. If my memory is correct, almost all potins I have seen no matter where they were from were cast.

Or am I just wrong about this and potin is just a material like bronze, silver, or billon? Are some of them stamped? I ask because I tend to avoid cast coins, even though they are cheaper when it comes to Celtic for sure. They usually look cruder to me, as well.

Note that I have seen the Numiswiki entry and this goes against every coin listing I can remember seeing anywhere.


They are both names of the alloy that coins are made of. The difference is simple:"billon" has silver in it, "potin" does not. "Potin" is also likely to have high levels of iron, tin, zinc, lead, sand, and other stuff that's not copper.

A point on the grammar: you don't have "a potin", you have something that's made from potin. Like all other names of metals, it is a noun, but can be used as an adjective eg. "silver coins" or "gold crucifix" or "potin brooch".

And to add: potin is typically a very brittle metal, making it difficult to strike in the traditional coinage fashion. Which is probably why many potin coins are cast, rather than struck. But the alloy used for final-generation Romano-Egyptian tetradrachms could quite reasonably be labelled as "potin" rather than "billon", since there's no actual silver present, and those coins are always struck.

Joe Sermarini:
If a coin is coppery in appearance, I will call it copper, brass or bronze, not potin.  I reserve potin for white or gray (toned black) metal. For me potin implies "pot metal" which is mostly limited to cast Celtic coins.

Hmm, I have been calling all Egyptian tets billon. Perhaps I need to reconsider. When did the silver go to zero? Still, I think I would call them bronze rather than potin.

Dominic T:
The alloy of copper, tin and sometimes lead (sometimes with traces of other metals) was widely used by the Gallic peoples to make their coins. Potin coins were most often cast and not struck. Its name is derived from the mixture of metals employed in the manufacture of pots. I think we can use the same word in English, can't we ?


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