Roman Serrated Denarii
The use of a serrated edge is fairly common on Roman Republican coins of this era. It is not certain why this was done, but the best theory we have heard is that these coins were used in payment to Northern tribes who did not always trust the Roman silver and would cut into it to make sure it was not silver-plated copper (silver-plated copper denarii are called fouree and are fairly commonly encountered even today). The serrated edges made the coins look like they had already been tested.
We have examined this specimen very carefully under a microscope and it shows every sign that the serrations were made by chisel cuts to the flan prior to the coin being struck. The chisel cuts seem to have created lips of metal that were pushed back down as overlapping edges inside the cuts when the coin was struck. These overlapped lips of metal give a false impression of the coin being plated.
Recently I posted more comments to Moneta-l about the reasons for these cuts. These comments are as follows:
David Drabold wrote:
Can anybody comment on the current wisdom for why certain Republican denarii were serrated? The obvious (but perhaps wrong) explanation is that it was an anti-fouree measure. It is such a striking feature of the era (and so far as I know it did not persist widely into the empire)...
My reply was:
I believe that the anti-fouree measure was in fact part of the equation, but not the whole equation.
I have looked into these to some degree and, on the specimens I examined, I am certain the serrations were cut into the flans before the coins were struck, probably with a small chisel. The evidence for this was fairly simple. On the cut surfaces, one can see small groves such as a chisel cut would make. When the chisel cuts were made, it would have caused small raised ridges (or burrs) on some of the cut edges. On the coins I examined, these ridges existed, but were pushed down into the cuts, which is what one would expect as they were pushed back as the coin was struck.
Since this shows that the coins were officially issued as serrated coins, we have to ask why. Of course, we will never know for sure, but there is a reasonable theory that I tend to accept.
There are several factors that must be considered together. First, these coins were mostly issued early in the 1st century BC. Second, many of these coins have been on the market in recent years, which suggests they are coming from hoards found in what the Romans knew of as Panonnia, Thrace, Macedonia, and other frontier regions that were not yet firmly under Roman Control. Third, the Romans were commonly trading with tribes in those regions. Fourthly, fouree denarii were very common at that time.
When you put this together, you get an image of the Romans paying the tribal people on their frontiers with silver denarii, but the frontier people, being very aware that many of the coins circulating under Roman influence were fouree, wanted to test every coin by cutting into it. This would make larger transactions rather slow as you waited for them to cut the coins, so why not just present them with coins that were already fairly deeply cut.
By the mid-1st century BC, the Romans had pretty much consolidated their hold on the frontier regions, and trade with people beyond their border probably became of much less importance, thus no longer requiring such a cut coinage to be struck.
This is just a working theory, but I have not yet seen another that I could accept.
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