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“Cutting bronze” in Italy during the 4th-3rd centuries BC: from the word to realia

Abstract : This paper addresses both historical linguistics and the history of realia, especially numismatics. It focuses on the concrete implications of the etymological data concerning the Latin verb aestimāre that are reappraised from the very beginning of historical linguistics onwards. First aestimāre is scrutinized in order to show how the meaning of this verb evolved from ‘determine, estimate the extrinsic value of a thing’, ‘estimate the damages to be paid’ (within the framework of a lawsuit)’ to ‘pay attention’, then to ‘judge, think’. The same semantic evolution can be observed in the few words morphologically related to aestimāre: the original technical meaning vanishes, and the verb ultimately expresses a mind process like other Latin verbs such as putāre ‘clean, trim, prune…’, hence ‘reckon, judge, think…’. Regarding its formation aestimāre (Archaic Latin aestumāre) appears to be the derivative of a compound noun *ais tómos ‘one who cuts bronze’; such a morphological process is regular in Latin and in many other Indo-European languages as well. Moreover the compound agent noun *ais tómos is morphologically and semantically close to libri pens ‘one who causes the scale(s) to hang down’. The etymology of the verb aestimāre indeed finds a decisive support in the realia of the Italian Peninsula. The economical use of weighed metal is attested in Rome after the 5th c. BC in the literary sources, in the vocabulary (stipendium in the context of the mancipatio) and in the archaeological data as well. Even more significant is the first mention of the compound ex īstimāre (3rd-2nd c. BC) that follows the period when the early Roman coinage develops. Firstly, coined bronze and silver with legends in Latin appeared from the end of the 4th c. BC onwards, and then, heavy ingots (aes signatum) and discs (aes grave) of cast bronze at the beginning of the following century. When observing the ingots it can be asserted that many of them were deliberately divided into two pieces or into smaller fragments. The cutting of ingots only makes sense inside the framework of a divisional value system: as a matter of fact using such a system implies that people refer to a stable standard, the Roman pound, which favoured the increasing use of weighed bronze. Hypothesizing that cutting concerned specifically ingots is perfectly compatible with the etymology proposed for aestimāre and understood as the action performed by an *aistómos ‘one who cuts bronze’.
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Submitted on : Thursday, April 28, 2022 - 12:26:34 PM
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Nicole Guilleux, Pierre-Marie Guihard. “Cutting bronze” in Italy during the 4th-3rd centuries BC: from the word to realia. Études celtiques, Droz, 2020, Dossier numismatique, Du métal pesé à la monnaie antique : entre mondes celtique, ibérique et italique (Katherine Gruel, Eneko Hiriart, éd.), 46, pp.157-176. ⟨hal-03142474⟩

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