Now the application of geochemical analysis techniques has provided proof of the importance of the Spanish silver to the Roman conquest.
Scientists based in Germany and Denmark analysed 70 Roman coins dating from 310-300BC to 101 BC, a period which bracketed the Second Punic War.
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.
The changing origin of the coin bullion is mirrored by differing ratios of the lead isotopes 208Pb, 207Pb, 206Pb and 204Pb, which serve as ‘geological clocks’ recording the formation age of the ores used to extract the silver.
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.
Study co-leader Dr Katrin Westner, of Goethe University in Frankfurt, Gemrany, said: “Before the war we find that the Roman coins are made of silver from the same sources as the coinage issued by Greek cities in Italy and Sicily.
“In other words the lead isotope signatures of the coins correspond to those of silver ores and metallurgical products from the Aegean region.
“But the defeat of Carthage led to huge reparation payments to Rome, as well as Rome gaining high amounts of booty and ownership of the rich Spanish silver mines.
“From 209BC we see that the majority of Roman coins show geochemical signatures typical for Iberian silver.
“This massive influx of Iberian silver significantly changed Rome’s economy, allowing it to become the superpower of its day.
“We know this from the histories of Livy and Polybius and others, but our work gives contemporary scientific proof of the rise of Rome.
“What our work shows is that the defeat of Hannibal and the rise of Rome is written in the coins of the Roman Empire.”
Professor Kevin Butcher, of the Department of Classics and Ancient History at…