View Full Version : What do you think? longevity of bronze coins

Sep 3, 2008, 10:27 AM
I got to thinking today about how long bronze coins might remain in general circulation, provincials that is. Take for example the large bronze issued by Augustus with the "CA" in a wreath reverse. Now RPC believes this coin to have been minted in Antioch in about 20 B.C.E. Let's assume that this is true. Would such a coin as this, a big As type of coin, still be in use in say 35 C.E.? some 55 years later?

It is difficult to "extrapolate" such a situation in the ancient middle East with conditions in the U.S. in the 20th century. Our older bronze coins, i.e. pennies, do not have a very long "life-span" but then they are 19 mm in diameter and not worth much. We have no examples of bronze or copper coins 24 mm in diameter such as this "CA" bronze of Augustus.

So, my thinking was that such large, "sturdy" bronzes could remain in circulation far longer than moderns. The examples we have today of these Augustan large As type bronzes are in pretty good condition with most of the devices still legible.

So what do you think?
Thanks, Breck

Sep 3, 2008, 11:17 AM
Others have answered this question by pointing out that this depends on a number of factors, several of which are:
1. How often cities issued coins--one's that issued less frquently might tend to keep worn coins in circulation longer
2. Whether it was expedient for succeeding emperors to recycle their predecessors bronzes. Hostile takeovers might necessitate an attempt to eradicate these little propaganda pieces (coins) produced by the deposed.
3.The geography of the city in question--more rural, hinterland municipalities may keep recirculating coins due to relative isolation, limitations on their ability to regularly mint coins, and less vested interest in the political exigencies described in #2.

Just a few thoughts--ones passed along to me.


Sep 4, 2008, 10:25 AM
Modern coins used to remain in circulation for much longer than they do today. Look at the poor condition Lincoln cents for sale in shops. You won't find cents in such miserable grades anymore. Presumably this is because people hoard wheat cents and silver. I believe this was also the case for the UK; before decimalization around 1970s half pennies from the 1800s still appeared in circulation in miserable condition.

I'd like to find out how late Roman coins remained in circulation. I know one turned up a few years ago in Chicago but presumably that was stolen from a collector and spent. A paper by T.S.N. Moorhead in _Coinage And History in the North Sea World, C. AD 500-1250_ [ http://books.google.com/books?id=X-qvyzsUkRsCn ] says "excavations at Deir Ain Abata in Jordan suggestion the continued use of late Roman nummi after the Islamic invasions of the 640s". I especially wonder how long Roman gold remained in "circulation", given that there was little new gold being minted.

Sep 5, 2008, 04:07 AM
Roman gold would not have remained in circulation for very long, since it was minted from near pure metal. Being as it was very soft, it needed to be continuously re-minted to preserve the detail. Roman gold did not circulate widely as silver did, and so was more frequently collected and melted down to be re-issued. After the fall of western Rome, any surviving gold coins in circulation would still have been collected in tax or tribute, and reissued under barbarian kings, or the Byzantine Empire. Later, the Islamic powers would mint their own gold too.

Sep 5, 2008, 11:08 AM
Thanks to each of you for responding. All good perceptions and thoughts on my question.

Raising the question of gold coins instead of my original query, which was limited to bronze, was intriguing to me. I have run across accounts of ancient gold coins showing up in the early 19th century, mainly Byzantines but also the occasional Roman coin. Gold back then was, well, gold! :rolleyes:

To me that's the beauty of honest money; money that is either gold or silver, or certificates backed 100% by same. I say honest because it limits governments' ability to over-spend into debt. It preserves the people's wealth and keeps bankers in line. Look at the fiat money we have today and drawn your own conclusions.

As far as large, sturdy bronze coins are concerned, I suspect that those minted in the major metro areas, like Antioch on the Orontes, were used for some many years because the issuing government, Rome, was continuing. Whether the image on the coin was Caear Augustus or Nero, it was all the same empire continuous in time and space. Were not coins kept in circulation, even after not so popular emperors, by the device and practice of counter-marks?

My area of collecting focus is Roman provincial coins during the life and times of the Apostle Paul. Of course they must also correspond to location; i.e. are limited to places that Paul actually visited or where he lived. Part of the charm, to me, of this collecting focus, is that these coins could have been seen or even handled by Paul. Consequently I do not collect Egyptian coins, nor those from Spain (altho' there are some who think Paul visited Spain too), and so forth.

This still leaves a pretty big area and time frame! Today I was fortunate enough to acquire, finally, a coin of Corinth: a city where Paul actually resided, and hence quite important. But provincials of Corinth from Augustus thru part of Nero are not common. Mine is a Helios radiate bronze minted during the time of Claudius.

Now if only I could get a really nice specimen from Ephesus! :o

Cheers to all, Breck