65 out of 410 days: Countermarks



It makes me really irritated I couldn’t get MS Word to make the whole table into a picture only a half at a time.

Yesterday I wanted to add something to chapter 6 about the coins of the mid 80s, that irritating in-between-time where the coins are full of strange gods we can’t quite identify. As I looked at them, I realized that I just did’t have a big picture regarding countermarks on coinage in my head.  [That’s not for lack of opportunity.  I’ve supervised a masters thesis die study of a countermarked issue and chaired academic panels with papers on the subject.]  Taking a no-time-like-the-present approach, I did a down and dirty survey of RRC, taking notes as I went.  The picture above is the result of those notes.  There are much better charts and analyses in many publications, but if I didn’t do one myself no matter how crude I’d never get the material stuck in my head properly.   I’m sure there are inaccuracies and missing elements, but I hope it captures the overall trends. Pink are were Crawford thought countermarks were die specific. Blue where they are not. Light pink is for apparent attempts to be die specific with known inaccuracies. Hashed pink is where some sub types are die specific, but others are not.  Dark pink is where countermarks indicate die pairs. Dark blue are for where die pairs are present, but the pairs are represented by multiple dies. Grey is for too little information.  The dates defer to Mattingly and Hollstein’s adjustment of Crawford’s chronology.

The use does not perfectly map onto the use of serrated edges BUT it does follow the same trend.   Early isolated experimentation in Sicily.  A little recurrence in the mid/late 2nd century, and then a much more serious adoption around 104/103 BC.   The difference is that countermarks stay in use almost continuously.  They taper off a bit in the mid 90s, are steady in 80s with a HUGE effort to use them right over the 83-79 period, and then they tale off in the 70s with a revival at the very end of the 60s early 50s.

Serrating each flan is a huge amount of effort and is likely to have drastically slowed production.  Countermarks, especially per die or coordinated applications, also require significant efforts, but are more logistically challenging, rather than man-power challenging.  What the chart above doesn’t capture are trends in types of systems: letters, numbers, symbols, combinations thereof, variations with dots and Greek letters, or double letters, or consonants with vowels.  No one system is dominant.   The hope has been that die studies of countermarked issues can tell us more about the operations of the Roman mint.  Many such studies have producing tantalizing insights and likely hypotheses.   All the different systems mean that countermarks can’t have served a single administrative function.  Like the serrati their popularity and also the experimentation with new systems and revivals of old systems may be about inspiring confidence in the money supply — to be seen to be producing GOOD coin.  45 out of 66 issuers who used them managed some degree of die-countermark coordination.

As a historian I’m most interested in what caused the 104/103 adoption.  The intensity during the time of the Sullan return and dicatorship is not unexpected, if it is about creating confidence in the money supply, but certainly not worth that such systems are applied even to camp coinages presumably made in less than ideal conditions under serious pressure.   Similarly the tail end.  Why the revivals?  Why the complete cessation?  More of a whimper than a bang…

I am also curious about its application to some quinarii.  The quinarii is never serrate.  And it is usually associated with particular applications and especially associated with Cisalpine Gaul…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s