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Did The Romans Actually Make Their Coins From Lead?
One of the popular beliefs about Roman coins is that many of them were made of
lead. While the Romans often did cheat on the amount of silver in their "silver"
coins, they did not strike coins intended for circulation as money out of lead.
Contrary to popular belief, the Romans and the Greeks before them could very
precisely control the amount of copper, silver, and gold in the alloys they used.
They knew that lead was way too soft to be used in making a coin that had to
stand up to the wear and tear of circulation. The facilities and machinery for
the coining of money were expensive to set up and maintain, and if they had
struck coins of lead instead of brass or copper, they would have had to do
the same work three or four times over. Lead coins would wear so much in
circulation that they would soon be useless. During the Fourth and Fifth
Centuries A.D., the bronze alloys used for the small bronze coins often
contained a large proportion of lead which sometimes reached forty percent
The Romans did, however, strike some strange coin - like objects from lead.
These were called tesserae, a word with a meaning similar to
"tile" or "chip". Tesserae were used for various different purposes, including
tokens for admission to the games in the arena, gaming and betting counters, and
as bawdy house tokens. Today, a small worn lead tessera may be much more valuable
than a coin from the same era because the tesserae aren't found as often as coins
and collectors find them fascinating. It is not unusual for them to bring a price
at auction of 1000 to 1500 dollars.
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