Tessera Nummularia and Control Marks



If you’ve read more of this blog than is probably good for your health, you might remember me wondering previously about the possibility that some of our tesserae that are usually attributed to bankers might actually be part of mint operations and the batch control system. I came back to that idea when was reading about this one found in Ostra.  Notice how instead of names or dates as are often found on these it has two symbols.  Reminded me of control marks.  Here’s a translation of the paragraph in the publication of this tessera about the symbols.

The two symbols, the altar burning and lightning, which appear on the card Ostra are not new: they are present, along with other symbols (palm branch, caduceus, dolphin, trident, crown, lightning) on other Tessera Nummularia  (4). The presence of such symbols is found, however, on other classes of objects: first stamps on amphorae from the eastern Mediterranean (5). In this case, the symbols used have been set in relation to the origin of the jars themselves (from Rhodes: caduceus, dolphin, trident, crown, palm branch, from Cnidus: altar, caduceus, trident, from Thasos: caduceus, wreath, from city ​​of Pontus: thunderbolt, caduceus, dolphin, trident, crown, branch). Closer to Tessera Nummularia, and probably not only geographically, is a class of small clay disks found in Taranto among the evidence from the Greek colony (6). Even the symbols on them are similar, a name-probably that of a civil servant rather than that of the manufacturer – an indication of the weight or quantity of the coins she, as well as two holes that are rightly supposed to use these objects similar to that of the Tessera Nummularia . We finally add a significant amount of lead seals from Rome and Lyon (7).”



Here is a link to a pdf of the first item under no. 6, the Les disques de Tarente. I’m not sure they really offers that close of a parallel…

Wiseman, T. P. (1971) New Men in the Roman Senate, 139BC-AD14. Oxford p. 85-6 noticed that the names on the tessera often correspond to moneyers.  He collects a list of known argentarii and faeneratores in his appendix C:



Philip Kay has an up to date summary of the issues:



The chapter length treatment by Andreau, Banking and Business in the Roman World, 1999, chapter 7  is still the most detailed discussion. Here’s a sample:



The first and third arguments are weak, esp. the latter as no evidence is given.  Four in true is by far the strongest.  But #2 is almost strong enough to make the case on its own.  Here’s Lewis and Short sv. specto definition I.B.3:

To examinetrytest: (argentum) dare spectandum, Plaut. Pers. 3, 3, 35: ut fulvum spectatur in ignibus aurum, Tempore sic duro est inspicienda fides, Ov. Tr. 1, 5, 25; cf.: qui pecuniā non movetur … hunc igni spectatum arbitrantur, as having stood the test of fire,Cic. Off. 2, 11, 38; cf. spectatio, I. B., and spectator, I. B.—


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