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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 artifacts.

 

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.

How these coin dies were sunk is still being debated. There is little archaeological 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.

This Greek Imperial bronze coin has a very interesting doubled portrait. The shift in this portrait is just what would be expected if the portrait had been hubbed with multiple strikes of the hubbing tool, and a shift had occurred between strikes.


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