From commodity to money: the rise of silver coinage around the ancient Mediterranean (6th-1st century BCE)

Francis Albarède*, Janne Blichert-Toft, François de Callataÿ, Gil Davis, Pierluigi Debernadi, Liesel Gentelli, Haim Gitler, Fleur Kemmers, Sabine Klein, Chloé Malod-Dognin, Jean Milot, Philippe Télouk, Markos Vaxevanopoulos, Katrin Westner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The reasons why the Western Mediterranean, especially Carthage and Rome, resisted monetization relative to the Eastern Mediterranean are still unclear. Here, we address this question by combining lead and silver isotope abundances in silver coinage from the Aegean, Magna Graecia, Carthage, and the Roman Republic. The clear relationships which are observed between 109Ag/107Ag and 208Pb/206Pb, reflect mixing of silver ores or silver objects, and lead metal used for cupellation. The combined analyses of Ag and Pb isotopes reveal important information about the technology of smelting. The Greek world extracted Ag and Pb from associated ores, whereas, on the Iberian Peninsula, Carthaginians and Republican era Romans applied Phoenician cupellation techniques and added exotic Pb to lead-poor Ag ores. Massive silver re-cupellation is observed in Rome during the Second Punic War. After defeating the Carthaginians and the Macedonians in the late 2nd century BCE, the Romans brought together the efficient, millennium-old techniques of silver extraction of the Phoenicians, who considered this metal a simple commodity, with the monetization of economy introduced by the Greeks.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberARCH-06-0290
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2020


  • Silver coinage
  • Numismatics
  • Isotopic analysis
  • Geochemistry
  • Ancient Greece
  • Ancient Rome

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'From commodity to money: the rise of silver coinage around the ancient Mediterranean (6th-1st century BCE)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this