Rome and Mediterranean coinages project awarded £2 million

A team that includes Dr Matthew Ponting, from the University of Liverpool’s Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, secured a £2.17 million European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant for their project, Rome and the Coinages of the Mediterranean, 200 BCE – 64 CE.

The project will examine financial and monetary strategies from c. 150 BCE to a c. 64 CE, a period that witnessed the creation of an overarching currency for the Mediterranean world and increasing monetisation.

Between the middle of the second century BCE and the beginning of the first century CE the Roman Empire gained political control of almost the whole of the Mediterranean world and adjacent areas.

Roman conquest led to greater economic and monetary integration of the Mediterranean, and coincided with a major increase in long distance trade, economic growth and a rise in per capita income.

Flows of precious metals to Rome and other important centres of power helped to finance Roman expansion, and understanding the chemical composition of silver coinage will transform our understanding of Roman monetary strategy as an instrument of imperialism.

There are two main strands to the research, which will be led by the University of Warwick and undertaken in conjunction with Dr Adrian Hillier of the ISIS Neutron and Muon Facility, STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory UK. It will also involve museums from around the world with major collections of ancient coins.

The first is to gain detailed knowledge of the composition of silver coins and their weight standards between the middle of the second century BCE and the first century CE. This evidence will be used to create a comprehensive account of the evolution and eventual rise to dominance of the Roman monetary system in the Mediterranean.

The second is to evaluate the reliability of two new and emerging analytical techniques for coins: Laser Ablation Inductively Coupled Mass Spectrometry (LA-ICP-AS) and muonic X-ray Emission Spectroscopy (μXES). The latter is a completely non-destructive technique that could have wider applications to the analysis of museum artefacts in general.

Dr Ponting said: “Coinage was an important feature of identity for ancient Mediterranean communities: a mark of sovereignty and self-government; and silver coinage in particular formed the backbone of state currencies in this period, so much so that the quality of the silver coinage has been taken by historians as an index of the economic health of the state that issued it.

“Some of the conquered areas were incorporated into the system of Roman money, but others kept their traditional, pre-Roman systems.

“However, over time it looks as if even the non-Roman moneys were gradually adjusted to align more fully with the Roman system.

“This project will trace these developments in detail. It will also consider the sources of metals used for the coinage: whether freshly-mined or recycled – recycling being an important consideration when thinking about the booty acquired from conquered states, and the manipulation of currencies.”

The project will be advised by a panel of internationally-recognised experts on the coinages of the period, from Austria, Belgium, France and the UK.

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