We still don't know exactly how the ancients made the
dies with which they struck their coins. There are no written records of
their processes, so we have to try to reconstruct them from the evidence
available in the coins and from surviving
Dies for ancient coins
were all made from
hard bronze or iron. Bronze dies were easier to engrave and did not rust,
but wore out faster. Iron dies were used
to strike the largest Greek
silver coins, tetradrachms and dekadrachms,
many of which show traces of die rust.
Iron dies also had to be used to strike some large bronze coins, because
their flans were harder than those of gold and silver coins.
coin dies were sunk is still being debated. There is
evidence, but we have the coins themselves, and
some idea of how many were struck.
It is thought that a coining team could produce
up to 20,000 strikes, probably wearing out a set
of dies, in one day. During the 2nd century a.d.
about 17 million Roman denarii were issued each year, so a year's issue
would have required up to 1000 dies; the
enormous bronze coinage
issues of the Constantinian period must have required many
thousands of dies.
Roman coins all bear
standardized portraits, and it is difficult to visualize how portraits
could be so uniform if dies were individually engraved by many artisans.
Two replication processes were feasible, though we have no proof that the
Romans used them: casting dies and hubbing (impressing a design into soft
metal). We know that the Greeks used bronze or
lead die patterns to cast bronze dies, using the "lost
wax" process, because at least two specimens of
these patterns have survived.