Microstructure and chemical composition of Roman orichalcum coins emitted after the monetary reform of Augustus (23 B.C.)


A collection of ancient Roman orichalcum coins, i.e., a copper-zinc alloy, minted under the reigns from Caesar to Domitianus, have been characterised using scanning electron microscopy (SEM-EDS) and electron microprobe analysis (EMPA). We studied, for the first time, coins emitted by Romans after the reforms of Augustus (23 B.C.) and Nero (63-64 A.D). These coins, consisting of asses, sestertii, dupondii and semisses, were analysed using non- and invasive analyses, aiming to explore microstructure, corrosive process and to acquire quantitative chemical analysis. The results revealed that the coins are characterized by porous external layers, which are affected by dezincification and decuprification processes. As pictured by the X-ray maps, the elemental distribution of Cu and Zn shows patterns of depletion that in some cases penetrate in deep up to 1 mm. The composition of the un-corroded nucleus is a Cu-Zn alloy containing up to 30% of Zn, typical of coins produced via cementation process

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