Ancient coins show how empire shifted from Carthage to Rome

Scientists show importance of Spanish mines to Rome becoming an ancient superpower

A study of Roman coins has shown how the defeat of Hannibal and the Carthaginian empire led to coinage spreading across the Roman Empire from silver mines in Spain.

According to historical accounts one of the most famous achievements of Hannibal, considered one of history's greatest generals, was marching an army of elephants from Iberia over the Pyrenees Mountains and the Alps into Italy during the Second Punic War. However the attack on Rome failed, and led to the conquest of the Iberian peninsula by the Romans, who also gained control of the lucrative Spanish silver mines around 211 BC. Revenues from the mines plus reparations from Carthage helped fund the expansion of its territory.

"What our work shows is that the defeat of Hannibal and the rise of Rome is written in the coins of the Roman Empire."

Up to now there has been little physical proof of the importance of Spanish silver for the coinage of Rome, but that has changed thanks to scientists in Germany and Italy who analyzed 70 Roman coins from 310 to 101 BC using geochemical techniques, according to The Telegraph:

Using Mass Spectrometry, they were able to show that lead in the coins made after 209BC has distinctive isotopic signatures which identified most of the later coins as presumably originating from Spanish sources.

After 209BC, the lead isotope signatures mostly correspond to those of deposits in southeast and southwest Spain or to mixtures of metal extracted from these districts.

The results means that before the Second Punic War, Roman silver came from mines in the Aegean region, but after 209 BC the silver coins were minted from mines in Spain.

"This massive influx of Iberian silver significantly changed Rome's economy, allowing it to become the superpower of its day," The Telegraph quotes study co-leader Dr Katrin Westner, of Goethe University in Frankfurt. "What our work shows is that the defeat of Hannibal and the rise of Rome is written in the coins of the Roman Empire."

Image of a coin depicting Roman Emperor Severus Alexander (222 to 235 AD) by Steve Chatfield.