theodora, coin jewelry, ancient coin, ancient rome, roman coin, history

Coin Jewelry – Part IV: Hammer Time

Given their practicality and relative ease to carry around, the use of coinage spread quickly throughout the ancient world.  Soon after, the look of these coins came into importance and coins were regarded as miniature pieces of art (in addition to acting as currency).  But how did treasuries keep up with the vast demand for coins? And how did they also make sure that each coin featured uniform yet intricate artwork? This week, we’re looking into the ancient workshops to see how these coins were struck and showcasing another piece of our Coin Jewelry Collection.

Need to catch up on our Coin Jewelry blog series? Discover our coin pendants and learn about the history of coinage in Part I: From Cattle to Coinage, Part II: Fakes and Forgeries,Part III: Heads or Tails, Part V: The Good, Bad, and Deceptive,Part VI: Spreading Rumors, and Part VII: The Son Also Rises.

Hammer Time (You probably shouldn’t touch this…)

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Today, we don’t give much thought as to how coins come to be.  After all, since the 19th century, coins have been minted by machines that quickly press and cut each piece.  We take it for granted that the first coins were struck by hand.   It is estimated that each team of ancient artisans would strike 20,000 coins per day – an impressive accomplishment, considering that each coin was handcrafted!

Although it seems like an impossible feat, striking coins was actually a rather tedious and repetitious task.  A die was created from a design made by a master artisan.  A die cutter and engraver would then work together to translate two-dimensional art into a three-dimensional die.  The dies were typically made of iron or bronze.

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Meanwhile, the individual “blank” coins were either cast from molds or, if made from brass, cut from sheets of metal (thinned out by hammering).  The hot blanks were then placed by one worker between two dies (for the front and reverse sides of the coin). The bottom die was affixed to an anvil (for a stable foundation).   A second worker struck the top die with a coining hammer, imprinting both front and reverse designs into the malleable coin.  This sounds like a slow process, but strikers developed a rhythm and a two-man team could strike thirty coins per minute or more.

Given the speed of the workers, some coins were struck off-center or otherwise imperfectly.  Perfectly struck hammered coins of antiquity are rare, valuable, and often of great beauty – masterpieces of the die engraver’s art.

empress theodora coinCoin Jewelry Collection

Our Coin Jewelry Collection celebrates the imperfections and craftsmanship of these ancient coins.  Each piece is cast from an ancient coin and is true to the coin’s detail and origin.  We invite you to explore this collection and discover the history behind each piece.

ancient goddess Pietas, goddess of familyFlavia Maximiana Theodora Coin

Not to be confused with the Byzantine Empress Theodora, Flavia Maximiana Theodora was the wife of Roman emperor, Constantius.  Not much is known of her life – it is estimated that she was born around 273 AD and died around 305 AD.

She was the daughter of Emperor Maximian, yet again it is unclear whether she was his biological daughter or his stepdaughter.  In either case, she would have lived a life of relative luxury.

As is becoming the trend in this blog, no one knows exactly when Theodora married Constantius.  One thing that scholars can agree on, however, is that their marriage took place after Constantius’ divorce from Helena (a given, considering bigamy would have reflected poorly on the imperial family).  Soon after the divorce, he was named Caesar under Maximian.  For that reason, their marriage was most likely based in politics and power rather than love.  The couple would have six children together, most of whom, with other descendants, were massacred after her death.

There is no historical data on or account of Theodora after Constantius’ death in 306. It is thus assumed that she died around the same time.  At this time, they were “…both at York in Britain to suppress a rebellion.” It was only posthumously that Theodora was named “Augusta.” 

Given that there is not much information on Theodora (and what little we do know is rather unremarkable), we would assume that she is featured on currency as traditional gesture towards the wife of the emperor.  However, the Theodora coins were minted posthumously, presumably around she same time she was given the “Augusta” title.  This leads many to believe that while the reason for her coinage is uncertain, but it may have been directed by Constantine the Great’s [(her stepson)] will.” 

Our Theodora coin was struck between 337 and 340 AD and is the smallest pendant in our Coin Jewelry Collection. It features the draped bust of the posthumous Augusta.  It is unclear whether she is crowned with a laurel wreath or her hair is styled in a braided crown.  The reverse side of the coin depicts Pietas, the Roman goddess of family, holding a baby to her breast.

Coins featuring the women of the Roman imperial family often depicted Pietas on the back, in view of her symbol of Roman virtue.  “A […] woman with pietas respected his or her responsibilities to the gods, family, other people and entities (such as the state), and understood his or her place in society with respect to others.”

Forum Ancient Coins:
A to Z of Ancient Greek and Roman Women (Lightman):
Littleton Coin “Emperors of Ancient Rome and Family”:
Money Museum “Roman Empire, Constantius Chlorus for his Wife Flavia Maximiana Theodora, Bronze Coin”:
Classical Coins “How Ancient Coins Were Made”:
Fleur de Coin “Minting in Ancient Times”:
Ancient Creations “History of Coins”:
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