Historical-archaeological and scientific studies on lead production in the Roman Empire: Corpus Massarum Plumbearum Romanarum

Corpus Massarum Plumbearum Romanarum

Historical-archaeological and scientific studies on lead production in the Roman Empire: Corpus Massarum Plumbearum Romanarum

This research project, based at the Commission for Ancient History and Epigraphy of the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut (DAI), and carried out in close collaboration with the DBM, aims to acquire new insights into the extraction and trading of lead in the Roman Empire. In Roman times, lead was a metal with a variety of uses – such as water pipes, weights, lead sling bullets, coffin linings, etc. Lead ore was also an important source of silver, so lead and silver production developed in parallel in the ancient world.

Ingots are the immediate products of the mining industry. Their inscriptions and stamps from producers and traders make them particularly useful for studying the Roman lead industry. According to the current state of research there are about 2250 of them in total; 625 have been lost. The distribution of the ingots extends from Scotland in the north to Morocco in the south, and from Portugal in the west to Israel in the east. The greatest concentration is in the western part of the Imperium Romanum. The evidence extends from the turn of the 2nd/1st century BC to the 5th century AD. Analyses of the inscriptions and stamp markings, and of the provenance and manufacture of the ingots – using lead isotope and trace element analysis – provided new insights into the distribution of lead and the organization of the lead trade. The basis for this is the comprehensive compilation of all the data gathered in the form of a corpus (Corpus Massarum Plumbearum Romanarum – CMPR). A publication in the Auctarium series of the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (CIL) research group at the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften is planned. A further focus of work is the production of an analytical volume dealing with important economic aspects of the Roman mining industry and metal (lead) trade.
After almost four years, it has been possible to appraise nearly all the ingots in almost 100 museums, heritage protection offices and private collections in 15 states. So far 460 samples have been taken for geochemical analysis.
The trace element analyses have been carried out with SC-ICP-MS (Element XR, Thermo Scientific) at the DBM, and the lead isotope measurements in Frankfurt, in cooperation with the geoscience department of the Goethe-Universität, with an MC-ICP-MS.The project is currently in the analytical phase. The first step here is to produce ‘lemmata’ (information sheets) on every single lead ingot, bringing together, as far as possible, all the available data on the individual specimens.

For further information please see the annual report 2012 of the Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum

Responsible body

Deutsches Archäologisches Institut

Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum


2009 - 2013


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  • Hanel, N., Rothenhöfer, P., Bode, M., Hauptmann, A. (2013): Britannisches Blei auf dem Weg nach Rom. Die Metallversorgung der Reichsmetropole am Beginn der Herrschaft des L. Septimius Severus. Skyllis 13, 1, 38-42.
  • Rothenhöfer, P., Bode, M. (2012): Römische Bleigewinnung und Bleihandel im Lichte neuer epigraphischer und naturwissenschaftlicher Forschungen. In: E. Olshausen & V. Sauer (Hrsg.) Die Schätze der Erde – Natürliche Ressourcen in der antiken Welt. Stuttgarter Kolloquium zur Historischen Geographie des Altertums 10, 2008 [2012]. Geographica Historia 28, 345-361.