Object: Coin

C/1982/2/7
Bronze semis coin
Roman
Italy
275-270 BCE
Materials: Bronze

Roman coins from the Republican era like this example were not struck like Greek coins, but cast in molds. The casting process required more metal and made heavier coins. Early Roman coin makers attempted to approximate the value of their coins through weight, so a heavy coin was worth more than a light coin. As the Roman Empire expanded, the cost of producing this type of coin became too great and lead to the adoption of struck coins. This coin is a semis, a denomination of bronze coin meaning “half” that was worth half of an as. Roman Republican denominations for cast bronze coinage are all based on the unit of the as. The as was 1 Roman pound (roughly 324 grams) and was divided into 12 unciae, or ounces. So, by this system, an as was 1 Roman pound of bronze and a semis was half a Roman pound of bronze.

This semis has a Pegasus on both the obverse (heads side) and reverse (tails side). In Greek mythology Pegasus was a winged horse, and a child of Medusa and the sea/horse god Poseidon. Pegasus was born, along with his twin brother Chrysaor, when the Greek hero Perseus cut off Medusa’s head. Pegasus was believed to have transported thunder and lightening for Zeus, created a magical fountain on Mt. Helicon, and helped the Greek hero Bellerophon to defeat the Chimera before being made into a constellation by Zeus. Images of Pegasus appear on coins from throughout the Mediterranean region and are particularly common on coins from Corinth. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

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Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

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