(being continued from 31/08/16)
The origins of Etruria’s coinage can be sought in the central Italian bronze currency
system of the 1st millennium B.C., for which we have literary evidence from Roman
sources and oral traditions only. They are anachronistic, however, and tend to invent
historical as well as monetary events.
It has long been evident that Rome’s early political and cultural development is
more closely linked to that of its northern neighbour Etruria than to the Greek colonies
of southern Italy where a silver coinage had been introduced in the mid 6th century
B.C. based on a weight standard of about 8 g. This coin, Aristotle says, was called a
nomos at Taras. This weight standard which is found nowhere else seems to have had
no influence on the bronze weight standard of central Italy.
The evidence of primitive bronze (aes rude) currency hoards in the Po valley,
Etruria, Umbria, Campania and Sicily confirms the use of bronze currency, as dis¬
tinct from coinage, at a very early date. Roman tradition made the beginning of coin¬
age respectably antique by associating it with king Numa Pompilius.
Pliny (N.H. 33, 34), quoting Timaeus, says that Servius Tullius (later identified with the Etruscan Mastarna) was the first king to adopt marked bronze in Rome. This
statement probably reflects the designation of a bronze unit of weight in some form in
the middle of the 6th century so that commodities, not only bronze, could be cal¬
culated in their bronze value by weight in asses. Fibulas, adzes, aes rude and aes sig¬
natum of the «ramo secco» type were hoarded and must have been the bronze which
needed re-weighing with each transaction, a process that was still in use after the
introduction oi aes grave at the beginning of the 3rd century B.C.
The central Italic libra or pondus was known as an as, «pound», and was weighed, i.e.
pensum, and not counted, numeratum by weighers or cashiers, dispensatores. Soldiers’
pay, sipendium, was heaped and weighed; payments, expensa, were weighed out. The
etymology of as is probably the Greek word ‘(XGIÇ «weighed» or «what draws down».
The early aes rude, «coarse unfinished lumps of bronze», were weighed out in aestimatio,
«appraisal» or «estimate». All these terms lasted well into imperial times (by which
time their origins had been forgotten) and many have passed into modern languages
with little change in their meaning.
Peruzzi has demonstrated that the Latin linguistic tradition produces a clearer
understanding of the function of bronze currency12. Legal acquisitions were confirmed
by the formula per aes et libram, «by bronze and scales» in a transaction called mancupium,«laying one’s hand on something acquired» as early as the period of the XII
Tables (451-450 B.C.). Libra, from the Greek litra, is also attested by the XII Tables
and may have come from southern Italy.
That Etruria must have had a similar economic system is evident from the bronze
hoards in its territory and from the extraordinary occasion recorded by Dionysius of
Halicarnassus which is traditionally dated to 508 B.C. Lars Porsenna, the Etruscan
king of Clusium, narrowly escaped assassination by Mucius Scaevola while he over¬
saw the payment of Stipendium to the Etruscan army which was besieging Rome in an attempt to reinstate the Etruscan Tarquinius Superbus, Rome’s last king, who had
been expelled in 510 B.C.
We have terms from this early period which relate to later coin-striking activities.
Nummus perhaps derives from Numa Pompilius, owing to the tradition that this king
started currency in bronze, and came to mean a coin; it has no connection with the
Greek nomos meaning custom or law, thus nomisma current coin. The word moneta,
«coin», derives from the temple oiJuno Moneta (from the root monere, to admonish or
remind) dedicated in 344, which was built on the site of the older shrine where the
sacred geese ofJuno had been kept. This became the location ad Monetam, «the mint»,
during the war against Pyrrhus (281-272). Solarium was the money given for salt,
hence allowance or pay; the aerarium, «place of bronze», was the public treasury.
Between 295 and 293, Livy (X, 30.3) informs us, 1740 Perusian prisoners were
ransomed for 310 asses each. Perusia and Arretium (X, 37.4) were fined 5,000 asses
each, and the Faliscan settlement cost 100,000 asses of heavy bronze (X, 46.5). It was
in the context of the bronze-using economy of central Italy that Etruscan coins
appeared in the early 3rd century on a weight standard and with marks of value com¬
patible with the contemporary Roman system. Today Roman issues are well under¬
stood but they have a long history of misinterpretation owing to Pliny’s mistaken dat¬
ing of the introduction of the denarius to the 485th year of Rome (269 B.C.), with all
the misleading implications this has had for the chronology of the early cast coinage of
The curious delay in the appearance of coinage at Rome has been ascribed by
Ogilvie to «the economic collapse that followed on the sack of Rome by the Gauls and
the slow recovery thereafter13». Etruria was never to become seriously involved with
the production of coined money in the way of its Greek and Latin neighbours.
Etruscheria’4, attribution and dating
Etruscan coins were first described by Passeri as early as 176715. From the onset
they were misunderstood, misdescribed, misattributed and incorrectly dated. Eckhel
properly identified coins of Populonia and Volterra but added to the general confusion
by attributing the Koson gold stater to Cosa and the coinage of Elis (with F-A in the
field) to Falisci16. Millingan identified Etruria’s aes grave issues as parallel to those of
Umbria and Rome but saw Populonia’s early struck issues as archaic on grounds of
style and types, and believed them to be influenced by coins from Phocaea in Ionia17.
Carelli correctly catalogued Populonia but attributed the bronze coinage of Vetulonia
to Telamon ‘8. In his monumental work Mommsen gave a metrologica! analysis of the subject but dated Populonia’s inception of coinage to the mid 6th century following the
example of Solon at Athens19. Gamurrini wrote an excellent study of the material
available; he followed Mommsen’s dating but noted the parallels between Populonian
and Syracusan litrae for silver and those between the Etruscan and Roman marks of
value for gold and bronze issues20. He was the first to publish the hoard of Auriol-type
coins from Volterra (IGCH 1875) and other finds. Corssen validly interpreted most of
the Etruscan legends in their generally accepted attributions21. Müller and Deecke
catalogued the various Etruscan issues with traditional dates, adding a list of finds22.
Hultsch identified the scruple standard of the early silver of 11.38 g and followed
Mommsen for its Babylonian origin, dating it to the 5th century B.C.23 A parallel was
made between Pliny’s denarius of 269 B.C. and the Attic standard 20 litrae silver
stater which he called a double denarius.
Garrucci was the first to give systematic descriptions of Etruscan coins with find spots and hoard information24. His chrono¬
logy followed Mommsen’s and Hultsch’s but the Roman parallels were not taken up.
Falchi provided a good catalogue of the Vetulonian coinage but misattributed some of
Populonia’s silver; he adopted Mommsen’s chronology and his parallels with Rome25.
Sambon’s work was more complete than Garrucci’s and attempted both to include
all known types and mints and to discuss the beginning of Etruscan coinage from the
mid 5th century on the basis of style and its standard, which he considered Persic26.
To this day it is the basic study. Haeberlin compared the Roman gold coins with the
XXX value mark, now known to be false, with the genuine Volsinii issues27. He later
published an excellent study of central Italian bronze metrology, including Etruria,
though using traditional dating28. Head fixed the beginning of the gold coinage to the
5th century and the gold issue of Volsinii to ca. 300-26529. According to him, an early
Euboeo-Syracusan litra standard before 350 B.C. was followed first by a Vi -litra stan¬
dard, then in the 3rd century by a 2-scruple standard and finally later by a 1-scruple
standard and its bronze equivalents, a very tidy arrangement. In the same year
Kovacs also neatly divided the coinage on metrological grounds into six periods from
500 to 200 B.C., relying heavily on Mommsen, Hultsch and Sambon, and drawing on
Asiatic origins for the weight standard30. Cesano arranged and dated the series by
historical probabilities to the wars against the Gauls and the Romans from the 5th to
the 3rd century31. In the same year Sydenham noted that it would have been most
natural for the Etruscans to have imitated Rome; he went on to date Etruscan silver to before 271 and aes grave to between 275 and 26832. Giesecke attributed the early silver
coinage of scruple standard to the 5th century in southern Etruria33. He dated the lionhead gold issues to after 450, linking them to the Syracusan litra standard, and gave
the Populonian 10-litra Attic weight staters to the 4th century and the 20-litra Attic
weight staters to the 3rd century under Roman influence, thus chiefly following tradi¬
Mattingly noted that the Populonia 20-unit stater was struck on the standard of the
denarius34. His second edition, after the «revolution» in which the date of the denarius
was lowered, omitted the reference to Populonia35. He later assigned the light
Etruscan silver to the Second Punic War (218-201), considerably earlier than his date
for the introduction of the denarius which he calculated to be in 18736.
Pallotino published all known Etruscan inscriptions including those on coins and
dated them to the 4th and early 3rd century on grounds of style (see TLE nos. 357,
378, 409, 459 and 789)37. Thomsen, in his fundamental study, for the first time placed
Etruscan coins in their logical chronological context, parallel to the coinage of Rome,
and placed the introduction of the denarius to ca. 211 B.C. on the evidence of the
Morgantina finds38. The Plinian school was superseded and it became evident that the
Etruscan marks of value denote the same bronze as equivalents which were later
adopted by Rome for its silver 10-a.s coin, the denarius.
Jenkins published two carefully thought-out articles on the subject. He stated that
«the dating of Etruscan coins is notoriously difficult yet there appears to be no
hoard evidence of value for chronology» and indicated that the Populonian X and XX
value didrachm series probably reflected the central Italian bronze devaluations39.
The Etruscan bronze he found «tolerably datable they suffer a reduction from
triental to sextantal», but found it hardly possible that silver and bronze ran parallel as
the style was so different. Later he confirmed the early dating of the X-value
didrachms, but rejecting Breglia’s Asiatic weight standard and Giesecke’s Chalcidian
litra, he opted for a «scruple» and «double-scruple» standard for inland Etruria40.
During the 60s and 70s the Plinian school was championed by Panvini Rosati who
stressed the traditionalist dating and attributions in several articles41.
1975 saw the publication of the «Contributi introduttivi allo studio della moneta¬
zione etrusca» with numerous articles by eminent scholars in the field42. The tradi¬
tional school was prominent, but much useful work was done in specific areas which I
shall note later. Perhaps the most interesting article was by Sutton; it was not well
received by traditionalists as it upheld Thomsen’s theory of the parallel between the
introduction of the denarius and the 20-as gorgoneion issue of Populonia43. Marchetti
took Thomsen’s theory to its logical conclusion by demonstrating the metrologica!
linkage between Etruria’s four main coinages with marks of value and Roman aes
grave44. The Etruscan issues were shown to be parallel to the Roman librai through to
sextantal revaluations which had been identified by many earlier scholars and con¬
firmed by Crawford45.
Marchetti published an all-embracing study of the period in which he repeated the
theories already expounded in his Naples Atti paper on Etruscan metrology46; he was,
however, rebuked by Thomsen for some of his interpretations of the weight standards
used during Rome’s bronze revaluations47. Thomsen goes on to refine and confirm
the dating of the various stages of bronze revaluation from librai aes grave to uncial aes
within the 3rd century.
In 1979 Thurlow and Vecchi attempted a summary of the latest developments in the
dating and attribution of the aes grave of central Italy including Etruria48; their chrono¬
logy was based on Thomsen’s original survey and was therefore roughly in line with
the modern trend toward a lower dating of Republican bronze, with all its implications
for Etruscan metrology.
With Catalli we witness the re-emergence of the traditionalist school; he used the
excellent line-drawn plates of Garrucci to illustrate a well-researched catalogue but
made no attempt at metrological analysis, repeating the traditional chronology based
The Italian Ministry of Culture declared 1985 the year of «Progetto Etruschi» and a
great deal was written on Etruscan coins by well-known scholars such as M. Cristofani
and L. Tondo50. Mostly based on material from the Museo Archeologico of Florence,
catalogues were compiled and dated along traditionalist lines with no concession
given to the latest research. The same year also saw the publication of
Peruzzi’s study of central Italy’s pre-coinage bronze currency economy which clearly
showed how the Etruscan economy was integrated into that of Rome and central Italy from a very early date, but did not take into consideration the anachronistic tendencies
of the classical authors51.
Crawford not only clarified and confirmed the revaluations of bronze from a librai
to a sextantal standard in 218-21152 but demonstrated the widespread use of pre-currency bronze in central Italy and the parallel between the emergence of the 20-a.r
Populonian silver and the Roman denarius which reflected common efforts and
economic conditions in the Second Punic War. Little consideration, however, was
given to Etruria’s early issues except to state that «for all practical purposes (coinage)
was not adopted in Etruria for three centuries after its adoption by the Greek poleis in
In 1985 Parise vigorously argued the cause of the traditionalists of the Naples Atti of
1975, linking the coins of Attic weight standard with those of Syracuse in the 5th and
4th century and resuscitating the archaic Asiatic origin for the earlier scruple silver
standard53. No attempt was made to refute the chronology for central Italy established
by Thomsen and Crawford, although Gardner54 was liberally drawn on, and
Breglia55 and Hackens56 were freely cited, all of whom date the introduction of coins in
Etruria to between the 6th and 5th centuries.
It is my intention in this brief study to demonstrate how close the relationship was
between Etruria and its neighbours in central Italy, most particularly with Rome, its
heir and then its master, in numismatic matters as so often and so potently in the
affairs of war and the arts of peace.
(TO BE CONTINUED)
12 Supra (n. 9), 13-77.
13 Supra (n. 6), 135.
14 A term still in use, see Enciclopedia dell’arte antica (Rome 1960), 504 and Cristofani
(supra n. 4), 99-100.
15 G.B. Passeri, In Thomae Dempsteri libros de Etruria regali paralipomena (Lucca 1767),
153 ff. (de re nummaria Etruscorum dissertatis).
16 J. Eckhel, Doctrina nummorum veterum (Vienna 1792).
17 J. Millingen, Considérations sur la numismatique de l’ancienne Italie (Florence 1841).
18 F. Carelli, Nummorum Italiae veteris (Leipzig 1851).
19 T. Mommsen, Die Geschichte des römischen Münzwesens (Berlin 1860), 260-272.
20 CF. Gamurrini, Le monete d’oro etrusche, Per. Num. Sfrag. II (Florence 1874).
21 W. Corssen, Die etruskischen Münzaufschriften, ZfN 3, 1876, 1-26.
22 K. O. Müller – W. Deecke, Die Etrusker (Leipzig 1877), 379-434.
23 F. Hultsch, Griechische und römische Metrologie (Berlin 1882), 684-689.
24 R. Garrucci, Le monete dell’Italia antica (Rome 1885).
25 I. Falchi, Vetulonia e la sua necropoli antichissima (Florence 1891).
26 A. Sambon, Les monnaies antiques de l’Italie (Paris 1903), 7-83.
27 E.J. Haeberlin, Die jüngste etruskische und die älteste römische Goldprägung, ZfN 26,
28 id., Aes Grave (Frankfurt 1910).
29 HN, 11-16.
30 E. Kovacs, Le système monétaire de l’Etrurie, RIN 24, 1911, 382-403.
31 S. Cesano, Tipi monetali etruschi (Rome 1926).
32 A. E. Sydenham, A Study of the Cast Coinage of Rome and Central Italy (Oxford 1926),
33 W. Giesecke, Italia Numismatica (Leipzig 1928), 20-30.
34 H. Mattingly, Roman Coins (London 1928), 12, n.l.
35 id, 2nd edition (London 1967), 5 ff. See also H. Mattingly – E. S. G. Robinson, The date of the Roman denarius and other landmarks in early Roman coinage, Proceedings of the British Academy 1932, 211-266.
36 H. Mattingly, The first age of Roman coinage, JRS 35, 1945, 65-77.
37 M. Pallotino, Testimonia Linguae Etruscae (Florence 1954 and 1968).
38 R. Thomsen, Early Roman Coins. Vol. I-III (Copenhagen 1957-1961); see II, 287-305.
39 G. K.Jenkins, NC 1955, 132.
40 id., NC 1959, 23-24.
41 E.g. F. Panvini Rosati, La monetazione delle città etrusche e italiche prima della conquista romana (Bologna 1970).
42 Atti del V convegno del Centro Internazionale di Studi Numismatici (Naples 1975), here¬after Naples Atti.
43 R. F. Sutton, The Populonian coinage and the Second Punic War, Naples Atti, 199-211.
44 P. Marchetti, Monnaies étrusques avec marques de valeur, Naples Atti, 273-310.
45 M. H. Crawford, Roman Republic Coinage (Cambridge 1974), 3-35.
46 P. Marchetti, Histoire économique et monétaire de la deuxième guerre punique (Brussels 1975).
47 R. Thomsen, Les dévaluations à Rome (Rome 1978), 9-30.
48 B.K. Thurlow – LG. Vecchi, Italian Cast Coinage (London 1979).
49 F. Catalli, Numismatica etrusca ed italica (Rome 1984).
50 M. Cristofani, L. Tondo et al., L’Etruria mineraria. Artigianato artistico and civiltà degli
Etruschi (Florence 1985).
51 E. Peruzzi, Money in Early Rome (Florence 1985).
52 Supra (n. 7), 1-60 passim.
53 N. Parise, La prima monetazione etrusca, in: Il commercio etrusco, Concilio Nazionale
delle ricerche (Rome 1985), 257-261.
54 P. Gardner, A History of Ancient Coinage 700-300 B.C. (Oxford 1918).
55 L. Breglia, Le antiche rotte del Mediterraneo documentate da monete e pesi (Rome 1955).
56 T. Hackens, La métrologie des monnaies étrusques les plus anciennes, Atti Naples,
SOURCE Schweizerische numismatische Rundschau = Revue suisse de
numismatique = Rivista svizzera di numismatica /1988 http://www.e-periodica.ch