Here was a small button of metal, touched by people in every station in life, and turned out by the millions in one of history's first mass manufacturing operations. The techniques of working copper, silver, and gold were well-known by the Third Century B. C., when the first pieces that could be recognized as Roman coins made their first appearance. Rulers and governments had already discovered the principle that coins were an ideal way to distribute propaganda and political messages because they were so easy to mass produce and distribute. The "books" of that day were rolled papyrus scrolls which were fragile, expensive, bulky, easily damaged by fire or water, and required that the user be able to read. Coins, on the other hand, were small and compact. The image and lettering struck on them lasted over twenty years in average circulation during which they passed through the hands of soldiers, rich merchants, government officials, and ordinary citizens. On the obverse or "heads" side was the portrait of the current ruler or a member of his family. On the reverse, the emperor might proclaim to the world how he protected the citizens of Rome by winning a great battle against her enemies, or announce that he had ensured an abundant supply of grain through his wise economic policy, or that he was just, kind, upright, wise, or generous. The portraits they bore of rulers and the messages portrayed on their reverses are clear to us even after 1500 to 2000 years.
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