The Roman Mint
How a Roman Coin was struck
The mint was the centre for coin production within the empire. It was a busy, hot and noisy place, where hundreds of slaves and poor labourers worked long hours striking perhaps as many as 2.5 million coins a month.
The process began with the arrival of sheet metal at the mint, most commonly gold, silver, or copper alloy. This was then stamped into round discs called 'blanks' ready to be struck with the coin design.
The design was first engraved into a piece of metal known as the die. The die would be carved by workers known as 'Celators', these were skilled artists and some of the dies they carved were beautifully detailed. Once a die had been carved for both sides of the coin they were mounted; one onto an anvil and the other onto a hand-punch. A hot blank would then be placed between the two dies and a huge mallet would strike the two dies together on to the blank, creating the impression on the coin.
The coin was then cooled before going to the treasury to be counted and distributed. Older coins were then recalled, melted down and turned into sheet metal, and the process would begin again.
For centuries following the successful Roman invasion of 43 AD Britain was without an official mint, nearly all currency was minted in Rome alone. Initial currency arrived via the Roman garrisons, a low estimate suggests that an army of 30,000 could have brought around, 6.75 million denarii to Britain a year.
Civilian communities were quick to attach to these military camps to sell food, clothes, and other produce to the soldiers. With the encouragement of the Roman generals, towns and cities began to develop on these sites.
Following the increase in trade and commerce within these sites more money was needed and unofficial mints began striking coins. Many areas of the empire had these unofficial mints and to some extent these 'Barbarous copies' appear to have been tolerated by Rome, they filled the gap until official coinage found its way into circulation within the provinces.
It was not until the 3rd century that Britain got its first official mint. In 286 AD Carausian a Roman naval commander declared himself emperor of Britain and Northern Gaul. He opened mints in Londinium, London and most probably Camulodumum, Colchester.
Carasian's successor Allectus was defeated in battle in 296 AD and Britain returned to the empire during a period of reorganisation in the mints. In response to inflation, frontier battles and uprisings the mints were proliferated from Rome throughout the empire. This enabled emperors to pay the armies more money and quicker than before, ensuring he had their full support.
The reorganisation led to the introduction of signature marks being struck on coins, every mint was given its own unique code. The London mint most commonly stamped coins with the letters 'LN' or 'LON', we can therefore tell from recovered coins that the London mint remained open until the reign of Constantine the Great in 325 AD.
Magnentius who claimed power in the western provinces including Britain in 350-353 AD may well have momentarily reopened the London mint, but no great amount of Roman coins would be struck again in Britain. Around 410 AD Roman rule collapsed and British natives reverted to a cashless economy.