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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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