Septimius Severus and the case of RIC321

This week I recorded a coin that I have not seen before and the denarius at this time has an interesting story.

BERK-6C680C Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0

The coin in question is one issued during the reign of Septimius Severus (AD193 – 211). The coin is as follows:

Silver-plated contemporary copy of a denarius of Septimius Severus (AD193 – 211)

Obv: [SEVERVS] PIVS AVG. Bust of Septimius Severus, laureate, right

Rev. PART MAX PONT [TR P IIII]

Date Range of obverse Prototype:AD 202 – AD 210. Reverse prototype of Caracalla dates to AD 201 (RIC IV, pt 1, p 220, no. 54)

RIC IV, pt 1, p. 131, cf. no. 321.

Reece Period 10

Contemporary forgery with an obverse of Severus and reverse of Caracalla.

Sam Moorhead notes: “This type is noted in an Appendix in RIC with other coins which are hybrids or even doubtful. It is quite possible that it is a similar plated coin as this which gives rise to the RIC entry.”

Gazdac (2010: 162) writes “The increase of silver coins and the scarcity of bronze finds in this [Severan] period seem to be a general pattern for most areas of the Roman Empire. As has been argued in the previous chapter, a possible context could be the process of gradual debasement of the silver coinage, which can be combined with the very strong increase of the number of plated silver coins.”

So along with debasement of the denarius, an increase in the number of coins minted we get an increase in forged coins. This sounds rather paradoxical, however, Severus debased the denarius to around 50%. For context, the the Julio-Claudian period it was 90%+. This means it is much easier for people to forge coins. By sight they would have looked very similar. 

Another reason is once people realise what is happening they start to demand more for their goods and in wages as they don’t see the coinage holding its true value. This leads to more coinage being required.

During his reign, Septimius Severus seems to have doubled the army pay (Speidel 2009: 350). This is one reason more coinage was minted during his reign. Debasement of the denarius was needed in order to make the coinage go further. However, it seems that was not enough as forgeries of his coinage is found all across the Empire.

Another type of coin from this period is the so-called Limes Denarius, like this example

BERK-C700D4 Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0

Julia Domna copper-alloy ‘Limes Denarius’ or ‘limesfalsa’

Obv. IVLI[A AVGV]STA, draped bust right

Rev, HILA[RITAS], Hilaritas standing left holding a long branch and cornucopiae.

RIC 639, Limes

These coins copy silver denarii in copper-alloy and could well have been made out of necessity to pay the army – hence the name ‘Limes denarius’ has stuck.

The big question is, were these coins officially or semi-officially sanctioned? Paying the army was important for their loyalty and as Severus had upped their pay he needed to keep up coin production. Whether they were official or not they were likely tolerated in circulation to some extent. Sam Moorhead has said “We need to remember that from AD 197 there was a dearth of base metal coinage until at least the 220s, and it never got to earlier levels. Therefore, plated coins might have served a useful purpose.”

Cassius Dio records his last words as “Be harmonious, enrich the soldiers, and scorn all other men.”

Refs:

Gazdac, C. 2010. Monetary circulation in Dacia and the provinces from the
Middle and Lower Danube from Trajan to Constantine I (AD
106-337). Mega Publishing House: Cluj-Napoca.

Speidel, M. 2009. Roman Army Pay Scales. In Heer and Herrschaft. Römischen Reich der Hohen Kaiserzeit. Stuttgart. 349-380.

Museum Musings – January 2021

This is first in a new series about PAS finds in the West Berkshire Museum. From time to time finds submitted to the PAS are acquired by museums either through the treasure process, temporary loans or donations.

Running until October 2022 the museum currently has a hoards exhibition on display, some of which were found by metal detectorists.

One of these is a probable purse spill of James VI of Scotland/I of England. The coins were identified as:

Eighth Scottish Coinage (1601-4)
1. Gold sword and sceptre piece (AD1601)
Second English Coinage (AD1604-19)
2. Gold unite tower (AD1612-130
Third Coinage (AD1619-25)
3. Gold laurel thistle (AD1621-3)

Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0 – BERK-C479A1  Gold sword and sceptre piece

The Scottish coin was worth 120 shillings Scots when issued, equivalent to 10 shillings sterling; the two English coins were each worth £1 sterling (20-shillings) when issued. Due to shifting gold prices, however, the value of the Second Coinage unite had been enhanced to 22-shillings in 1612 and the laurel was introduced at a lower weight to provide a £1 coin again. The Scottish coin’s value would have been similarly raised in England to 11-shillings.

These coins would have been in currency together and, with a face-value in the years around 1620 of £2 13s, represent a considerable sum of money at the time, equivalent to several months’ income for an ordinary labourer or artisan.

Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0 – BERK-C479A1  Gold sword and sceptre piece

In 1620 this had the equivalent purchasing power of £348.53 in 2017 (according to the national archive). This would have been 52 days wages for the average skilled tradesman.

According to price lists for emigrants to New England in 1630 the total cost here is £30 1s 14d. So not quite enough to emigrate to America. At a market in Southampton in 1625, 10s could buy “The like feather bed for two together by the week.” So these three coins could pay for 5 weeks with 3s change.

Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0 – BERK-C479A1  Gold unite tower 

However, we need to consider the value of the pound during this time. In AD1600 the equivalent value today would have been £365.37. By 1630 this had dropped to £323.70int

In the early to mid-17th century the Dutch-Portuguese War, nicknamed the Spice War, because of the commodities at its centre, reveals how sought after and expensive spices were. As an example, the Dutch had a monopoly on the production of nutmeg on its two native islands and were able to make a 7500% profit on them. So you wouldn’t get much change from this purse. From the early 17th century there was a high demand for plants and pices used in medicines as the demand and cost for medical services boomed. For example, Scammony, a plant from the eastern Mediterranean, cost 160d per lb (13s 4s). In today’s terms, that is about £70. So compared with the prices for everyday items and services, it was extremely expensive.

The Price Revolution from the 15th – 17th centuries saw huge inflation. New sources of precious metals from the New World and German mines mean an influx of coinage. With population growth after the Black Death there were more people to feed and clothe and therefore a higher demand. These and other factors lead to that purse of £2 13s losing significant buying power in the 17th century.

Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0 – BERK-C479A1  Gold laurel thistle

James also suffered financial problems throughout his reign. He inherited a debt of £400,000 from Elizabeth I and he himself is said to have been extravagant in his spending. However, it can be argued that the lack of money and attempts to reform royal finances, such as The Great Contract of 1610, shaped James fiscal policies and lead to clashes with parliament.

Another monetary problem of the 17th century was the lack of small change. The production of copper farthings had stopped due to the Civil War and with growing trade in the 17th century small change was needed locally. Local authorities and traders began to issue their own coinage and while not government sanctioned these coins were traded and accepted. 

In Berkshire the Borough of Newbury issued tokens dated to 1657 with the image of what could be Donnington Castle on the reverse. These didn’t travel far, but this one made it to the Isle of Wight.

Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0 – IOW-2B99DC

This Post-Medieval copper-alloy halfpenny trade token dating AD 1669, issued by Richard Weston, for his business in Ilsley, Berkshire. This token depicts a set of scales but his trade is unclear.

Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0 – PUBLIC-9C64F7

Further reading:

Pauline Croft’s book on King James is a good introduction.

For a more detailed analysis there is John Cramsie’s Kingship and Crown Finance under James IV and I, 1603 – 1625.

On trade tokens, William Boyne’s Trade tokens issued in the seventeenth century in England, Wales, and Ireland catalogue details hundreds known.

You can also find out more about trade tokens on the PAS guide

Berkshire in 2021

Last year was quite a tumultuous one for all. Here’s hoping that 2021 will get better.

For this year I have a few things planned. 

Firstly is finds surgeries. These will be when possible 5 per month.

At West Berkshire Museum this will be the 1st and 3rd Wednesday and 1st Saturday of each month.

Copyright West Berkshire Museum

At the Maidenhead Heritage Centre this will be the 2nd Thursday of the month.

Image supplied by kind permission of the Maidenhead Heritage Centre

At the Berkshire Record Office this will be the 4th Thursday of the month.

Image supplied by kind permission of the Berkshire Record Office

For now here is the first find of 2021, a silver Roman Republican denarius of C. Censorinus Rome, 88 BC

The coin depicts the jugate (two portraits side by side to suggest, to the viewer, the closeness of each to the other) heads of Numa Pompilius and Ancius Marcus. They were the legendary 2nd and 4th Kings of Rome. Their closeness depicted on the coins likely symbolises not only their familial lineage but also their policy of pursuing peace over war, unlike the 3rd king Tullus Hostilius. In the year this coin was issued the First Roman Civil War began.

BERK-42C3B7 ‘Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0’

Until we are out of this new lockdown then all finds surgeries are on hold. However, due to the changing nature of tiers and lockdowns you can send finds digitally to record. For more info on this email me at philip.smither1@westberks.gov.uk

Secondly is more online talks. Since we can’t meet in big groups this is a great chance to do more online outreach. This year I’ll be giving a number of online talks about the PAS, local finds and metal detecting in general.

Lastly, I’ll be doing more on the blog and social media. The Berkshire FLO Twitter (@berkshireflo) and Instagram (@berkshire_flo) accounts have been growing. If you are interested in seeing more PAS finds and well as interesting archaeology and PAS news that is where it will be.

I hope everyone had a good Christmas and let’s make 2021 a great year for the PAS in Berkshire.

Finds of the Month – December 2020

This new series will detail my Top 10 finds recorded each month. Here are those from December.

First up is this Republican Denarius of L Cassius Longinus minted in 78BC (BERK-1037DC). On one side is the head of a young Bacchus or Liber while on the other is the head of Libera (Proserpina) left. It is particularly interesting as there are few Roman denarii found in the region. This one was recorded in Berkshire but was found only just over the border in Oxfordshire (so it counts here!)

Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0

Another similarly interesting coin is this Venitian soldino (BERK-0FF90D). These coins were used in England because during the 15th and 16th centuries the English economy experienced a serious shortage of English-struck halfpennies. In order to fill this gap people began using foreign coinage such as the soldino, meaning ‘little shilling’, which entered into English currency through Venetian traders.

Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0

For my Masters I studied Roman weighing equipment, so I was quite excited this month to record my first two steelyard weights. These weights would have been used on the most common form of steelyard in Britain. One of the weights (BERK-9D26BA) has signs of one loop, which means it slid along the balance are to indicate the mass of an object. The second (BERK-9D65E3) has signs of two loops which means it hung between chains on the load end of a steelyard.

Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0
Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0

Like this other example on the PAS (WMID-184456)

Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0

Another weight brought in was this one of a female head (BERK-A056FA). The head has a hairstyle parted in the centre with a knot at the neck, possible ear wreath. Continental examples have a bust draped in a toga and a more distinctive hairstyle. It is likely that this weight is insular rather than imported and might have been made from old moulds.

Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0

Another thing I had not seen before was this token from the Borough of Andover for the benefit of the disabled poor which is dated 1666. During the mid-17th century (c.1648-1672), due to a shortage of official coins, halfpenny and farthing tokens were issued by private businesses to facilitate small change exchange.

Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0

Although we usually only record objects older than 300 years, sometimes interesting more modern objects come to our attention. This ring (BERK-B2CCB4) is a plain band on the outside with one soldered join. The inside of the ring has a series of indistinguishable letters but many look to be ‘A’s. This is probably a piece of ‘trench art’ or WWI / WWII Prisoner of War ring made from a coin. The lettering is from the legend on the coin and was probably a British penny reading ‘BRITANNIA’

Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0
Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0

This dress hook (BERK-88E6EB) comprises a gilded cinqfoil base-plate, the edges of each leaf are are notched, surmounted by five hemispherical gilded bosses. None of any possible filling of these bosses is extant. Between the five large bosses is a piercing for the missing separate decorative central element. Trefoil and quatrefoil are more usual than this cinquefoil example.

Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0

There was also this Bronze age palstave (BERK-8D73C4) with traces of a primary / early group III Middle Bronze Age date (1500-1300 BC) – most probably associated with the Acton Park II and Taunton metalworking assemblages (Needham Period 5) – both assemblages fit within BurgessMetal Working Stage VIII and IX. It is broken close to the tip and in area where it would be very hard to break.

Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0

Finally is these three coins of Allectus (BERK-B28EFBBERK-B1EB02BERK-B1C271) which make up 15% of all the Allectus coins found in Berkshire. His coinage is found in every part of Britain as putting his own coinage into circulation would be a way of legitimising his rule.

Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0
Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0
Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0

5000 Up For West Berkshire!

Very recently I verified West Berkshire’s 5000 PAS find on the database. Recently I held a poll on Twitter for what should be the 5000th find. As expected, you ask the people who voted for Boaty McBoatface, you get a silly result. The winner was this unidentifiable lead seal/token. However, this makes a wider point about the database. The history of this land is not told only though nice, shiny object, but the things that the everyday folks leave behind: underground and overground (I couldn’t resist).

BERK-7E13C5  ‘Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0’

There have been some fantastic finds from the county over the years and I here to share just a smattering of them in this blog post.

One of the earliest records on the database is this Gold Solidus of Valentinian II, way back in 1999 with a very early PAS number. 

HAMP37 ‘Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0’

Gold Roman coins don’t come up much on the database, let alone in West Berkshire and this is only one of three. The most recent was recorded at the start of 2020 and is of Theodosius I depicting him and his co-emperor at the time, Gratian.

BERK-8950CD ‘Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0’

Coins make up over 50% of the 5000 objects, but there is also a lot of other common and uncommon finds.

Brooches also make up a large proportion as they are use from the Iron Age to the Post-Medieval periods in West Berkshire. An Iron Age type of brooch which is concentrated on the West Berkshire / Vale of the White Horse is haracterised by bulbous mouldings and appear in a variety of shapes including square (this example), cross (quatrefoil around a central dome or variant) and circular.

BERK-D83302 ‘Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0’

Personal adornment, which includes brooches, is a large category as it consists hat pins, shoe buckles and everything in between. People in West Berkshire have been adorning themselves for millenia. I have a soft spot for buckles and this one is one of my favourites. The style of two dolphins meeting face to face either at the strap bar or the middle of the frame came from the Continent in the 4th century AD and was further developed by locals.

BERK-ED2E37 ‘Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0’

This Medieval hat pin would have also looked quite stunning at the time and still does. The decoration is interesting as it bears a Classical influence with a man wearing a Phrygian cap.

SUR-096202 ‘Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0’

In Some areas there is often a large concentration of objects, particularly coins and personal effects, where there might have been a market. The names of some of these markets are known to us but others have been long forgotten. This folded lead token might have come from such a site.

BERK-B5702C ‘Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0’

Newbury, near the border with Hampshire, is known for two battles during The English Civil War; the First and Second Battles of Newbury. The first took place to the west/south-west of the town but the second spread all the way from Thatcham to Boxford. A possible sign of this is concentrations of lead shot found in the area.

BERK-6A24E6 ‘Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0’

After the war to deal with a lack of small denominations in the regal coinage civic institutions and individual business people issued copper-alloy tokens between 1648 and 1672. The Borough of Newbury issued its own tokens. The majority of these are found in West Berkshire, but they have also been found as far afield as Stratford-on-Avon and the Isle of Wight.

BERK-537398 ‘Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0’

Some types of find are extremely uncommon as metal detected finds. One of the most striking is this cremation urn decorated with an ibis or swans. These (ibis) could be linked to the Egyptian God Thoth – god of scribes, wisdom and medicine, akin to the Roman god Mercury or to Jupiter (swans).

OXON-E5DD6A ‘Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0’

One of the most spectacular finds to come from Berkshire is a group of Bronze Age gold torcs and bracelets found near Lambourne. Associations of the two types of object represented in this hoard are well known. Both being to well-documented classes of ornament belonging to the Middle Bronze Age, circa 1300-1100BC.

BERK-687927 ‘Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0’

Finally is another hoard, this time of gold coins of James I. These had a face value of £2 13s in AD1620. I found out the 17th century that buys: A hat Suit Shirt Waistcoat Stockings Boots Cape and enough left for 24 pints with your mates! http://web.archive.org/web/20110426174649/http://www.littlewoodham.org.uk/research/mark.htm

BERK-C479A1 ‘Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.

These two, as well as other hoards, have been brought together for the first time in an exhibition at West Berkshire Museum which you can see now!

West Berkshire Museum is open Wednesday to Saturday 10am – 4pm. Entry is free but donations are most welcome.

I wish to extend my thanks to colleagues past and present who have recorded all of the objects from West Berkshire as detectorists often visit the county to search and then report to their local FLO elsewhere. I hope to see many more of your finds soon.

Berkshire 2020

With the release of the 2019 PAS Annual Report,  here is a couple of special Berkshire ones from the report and a  roundup of finds from Berkshire recorded in the past year.

PAS 2019 Annual Report

First from 2019 is a remarkable find from Bisham, Berkshire, this year was a silver Greek drachm of Alexander III ‘the Great’ (336–323 BC (BERK-66FE72) discovered apparently wrapped in a lead sheet (BERK-670856). This is a posthumous issue of Alexander struck in western Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) in c.310–301 BC and depicts the head of Herakles on the obverse and a seated Zeus on the reverse. Greek coins are hugely rare finds in Britain, and many are likely not genuine ancient losses. If this is an ancient loss, the process of wrapping it in lead may hint at its use for purposes other than as money. – Sally Worrell and Andrew Brown

‘Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0’
‘Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0’

Another interesting find was this Queen Anne ‘touch-piece.’ The lack of medical knowledge in the past resulted in practices that may seem odd to use today. A debilitating condition known as ‘scrofula’ – probably a disease of the lymph glands resulting in painful sores and skin-related ailments – became associated with royalty in the belief that the sores would heal if touched by the monarch. In medieval and post-medieval England this was accompanied by the gift of a gold ‘touch-piece’, pierced to wear around the neck as an amulet. By the reign of Charles II (r. 1660–85) these touch pieces were no longer coins but specially-made medals copying the gold Angel coinage. Only two were reported last year, one an example for Queen
Anne (r. AD 1702–14) from Eton, Berkshire (BERK-AD2BA7). The other, produced for James II (r. 1685–7), was found at Hartley Wintney, Hampshire (HAMP-ECDEB8). Both have the characteristic large piercings at the top of the object, the James II piece also being sharply bent – Laura Burnett and John Naylor

This touch piece has now been acquired by Windsor & Royal Borough Museum. 

‘Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0’

2020 has been a difficult year with the Covid-19 pandemic. This has been felt by the PAS and metal detectorists all over the country. It has been a challenge to meet with finders to record objects and as FLOs we have been doing a lot of this work digitally. I also only took over the role as the Berkshire FLO in August, right in the middle of the pandemic. It has been great to meet and chat to finders where possible and I am pleased that there are so many responsible detectorists in the area.

Berkshire encompasses six unitary authorities on the PAS database; West Berkshire, Windsor and Maidenhead, Reading, Wokingham, Slough, and Bracknell Forest.

LocationFinds
West Berkshire201
Windsor and Maidenhead100
Wokingham8
Reading2
Slough0
Bracknell Forest0
Total311

Berkshire is in an interesting position on the M4 corridor between other counties that other FLOs often record finds found in Berkshire, and vice versa. The Berkshire FLOs this year has recorded 485 objects in total from Oxfordshire (185), West Berkshire (113), Windsor and Maidenhead (92), Hampshire (42), Buckinghamshire (24), Wiltshire (15), Swindon (2),Essex (1)

So to see out 2020 and hoping for a successful 2021 here are some of my favourite finds recorded in 2020.

Starting with coins is this gold quarter noble of Edward III (BERK-8CCFE5). It was included in my summary of the Medieval period as interesting. Firstly, it is a mule, a coin where the obverse and reverse are not commonly found together. Secondly it has a spelling mistake in the reverse legend. Usually it would read. EXALTABITVR IN GLORIA (Exalted in Gloria) but this one reads EXALTABITVR IN GALhORI.

‘Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0’

Another stunning coin is this cut-half of Edward the Martyr (AD975 – 978) (BERK-636D9A). His reign was very short so not much coinage was issued and this one is particularly clear. We can see the coin was issued by the moneyer Boia from the Stamford mint. It was also my first record as the Berkshire FLO.

‘Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0’

Of the few finds from Wokingham this year, one of them was this IA gold stater (ESS-C4A552) recorded in Essex. This coin is a Gallo-Belgic import around 60 – 50BC, around the time of Caesar’s visits to Britain. The coin is particularly well struck. The horse imagery comes from the coinage of Phillip II of Macedon and is a symbol of authority and power.

‘Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0’

Personal adornment appeared multiple times this year. It was a year of early brooches with all but two of the 19 brooch records for the area being Iron Age or Roman. There was this very nice example of the spring in a Colchester type brooch (OXON-97F00B) and what would have once been a bright, sparkling disc brooch (SUR-153B45).

‘Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0’

‘Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0’

Not long after the Roman period this Early Medieval brooch (BERK-47C586) which was normally, women (and, occasionally, young girls) wore them in pairs at the shoulder or the breast.

‘Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0’

There were also buckles, mostly from the Medieval and Post-Medieval periods. A standout one has to be this (SUR-AC3874) rectangular buckle The front of the plate is engraved with three circular floral forms, with radiating and trailing foliage and a double border of intertwined sinuous lines and short transverse parallel lines. This buckle is hard to date because the engraved plate has stylistic similarities to Roman examples; the cusped frame has various similarities with both early and post Medieval frame types. The preservation condition and unusual stylistic composition of this object may suggest however that it is a more modern reproduction or imitation of these styles.

‘Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0’

There were also some very clear jettons appear this year. Particularly clear is this (BERK-0DF027) French jetton, Tower of Tournai type, from the reign of Louis XII (1497-1515) and the early years of Francis I (1515-1547), dating to AD1497-1521 and this (BERK-06F904) double reverse English Jetton.

‘Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0’
‘Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0’

Anyone who knows me, knows I love weights. There have been quite a lot this year. One nice looking weight (BERK-DBEBE9) weight for an Angel, dating to 15th – 16th century.  One side of the weight depicts St Michael with a halo over his head, with one leg straight and the other bent, spearing a dragon.

‘Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0’

It hasn’t been all about this historic periods in Berkshire this year as two Neolithic axes (BERK-D2630D and SUR-C5E84D) have appeared.

And a few hundred years later, even more axes, this time in Bronze (BERK-8D62D5 and BERK-031B9E). These axes are of slightly different types placing their date of creation a couple of hundred years apart.

‘Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0’
‘Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0’

To finish off this roundup is my favourite find of the year. This Romano-British statuette of Putto (BERK-3D408B), a nude chubby child figure, in this instance playing with a ball. This type of figurine is termed ‘genre art’ as it represents an aspect of everyday life, in this case playing with a ball. He is generally derived from personifications of love, or Eros figures, in Greek and Roman art.

‘Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0’

Thank you everyone for recording your finds with the PAS this year. I hope to see you all again in 2021.

Highlights from the West Berkshire Museum Collection – December 2020

This year, West Berkshire Museum had acquired three historic objects of personal adornment which were found by metal detectorists in Berkshire and were declared treasure.

The first is a gold Roman finger ring (BERK-375356) which dates to the 1st – 3rd century AD. It is a plain circular band with an oval intaglio made of cornelian, a semi-precious gemstone, depicting a bird, most probably an eagle.

A ring such as this would have been an important possession to the wearer and would have had a special meaning. The eagle was a symbol of the Roman Empire and of the Roman military. The person who owned this ring might have been a soldier, a veteran or an important member of Roman society. The eagle was also the bird of the God Jupiter and might have been an important deity to the owner. The size of this ring is around a UK size M which is actually the average ring size for a woman. However, rings of this type were typically worn by men. Things like age and genetics play a part in ring sizes and we also don’t know on which finger this might have been worn.

This Medieval silver pendant (BERK-EF232D) dates to the 13th – 14th centuries and was discovered in the parish of Inkpen. The letters are an abbreviation of the Hebrew saying; “Ata gibor le’olam Adonai” (You are mighty forever, O Lord).

This Post-Medieval silver dress hook (BERK-93DC8A) dates to the 16th century. It consists of a four-petalled flower and four conical bosses, with a further central conical boss.

The surface of the front plate and conical bosses are decorated with gilt. This type of dress hook is often described as ‘quatrefoil’ in design, which means a design of four leaves to resemble a flower. On the back near the top there would have been a bar which was stitched to the dress to hook it together.

These are just three of thousands of objects that have been found in Berkshire since the PAS began, thanks to responsible detectorists and members of the public reporting their finds.


Finds Through The Ages – The Post-Medieval Period

This period covers the time from around the beginning of the rule of Henry VIII to the turn of the 20th century. This is generally split into two periods

  • Early = AD1500 – 1650
  • Late = AD1750/1800 – 1900

We don’t use ‘middle’ as there is debate over what constitutes the late Post Medieval.

Of all the coin producing periods, there aren’t as many from the Post-Medieval period on the database because, in general, we don’t record objects beyond 300 years old. By this point more copper coinage was starting to appear and gold was rarely traded. There are a few gold coins on the PAS like this Angel (BERK-FDB621) of Henry VIII (AD1509 – 1557) which shows the Archangel Michael slaying a dragon; a retelling of the bible (according to the ‘Book of Revelations‘ Michael led God’s armies against Satan – represented by the dragon).

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Copper farthings of Charles I (AD1625 – 1649) is a common coinage of this period and comes in various types. The most common of these is the ‘Rose’ type (BERK-461291).

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To deal with a lack of small denominations in the regal coinage civic institutions and individual business people issued copper-alloy tokens between 1648 and 1672 (1679 in Ireland); the end date resulting from the reintroduction of farthings in copper alloy by Charles II. This token (SOM-8613C1) was issued locally in Newbury.

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Jettons also carried on in use into the Post-Medieval period. There were many common issuers of jettons with the surnames Luffer, Schultes and Krauwinkel. However, there were also many oddities such as this (BERK-10706C) which revives Roman imagery issued in the name of Calaigula. The real issuer is anonymous. These are a series of Roman Emperor jettons in the 17th century produced in Southern Germany.

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In this period goods were becoming more regulated. Cloth seals were lead seals attached to industrially produced cloths as part of ‘the alnage’: industrial regulation by officials who controlled the quality of cloth sold and levied a tax of a few pence. After such a long time it is often difficult to read the seals. This seal (BERK-BC8D96) appears to be part of a two-part seal, with a tab remaining on the larger disc. The secong, sealing disc is incomplete but the letters CHAR[.] / WA(L?) can be seen over two lines. Four holes have been punched through the seal, after it was closed. These would have been quite common in Berkshire as the town was known for its cloth trade out of The Cloth Hall, which is the site of West Berkshire Museum.

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Back to coins and there was an interesting use for them during this period. Some silver coins would be completely worn down and then curled at the edges to form what have become known as ‘love tokens’. This example (BERK-371C81) has been bent at both edges. It is unclear when or why this tradition started.

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Buckles during this period become much more ornate, like this fabulous double-loop buckle (SUR-2E3924) with scrolls and fleurs. There is also these ‘snake’ head buckles (BERK-C95E53), which is a misnomer because the ends are goose or duck heads. These are still popular today but no look like snakes.

Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0
Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0

It is also at this time that the English Civil War occurred (AD1642 – 1651). Newbury was the location of two battles during the war and we often get lead shot (BERK-6A24E6) and gunpowder caps (BERK-1C30A8) that might be associated with the battles.

Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0
Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0

As in every period people liked to adorn their dress. This dress hook (BERK-93DC8A) has a beautiful quatrefoil decoration and is gilded. It has also been recently acquired by West Berkshire Museum.

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With the introduction of tobacco to Britain during the Post-Medieval period, pipes and other paraphernalia appeared. One associated object is pipe tampers, for pressing down tobacco into the pipe bowl. These could be very simple or more elaborate like this example (SUR-0101B2) featuring The head of the pope in profile; when inverted he appears as the devil with the inscription ECCLESIA.PERVERSA.TENET.FACIEM.DIABOLI (The church subverted takes on the face of the Devil) and on the other side the bust of Sir Edmundbury Godfrey facing right with MORTENDO.RESTITVIT.REM.E.GODFREY E(dmundbury) (Godfrey by his death re-established the state). Godfrey was believed to have been murdered by Catholics on 12th October 1678.

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Finally, I’ll end with one of the late David Williams favourite objects from the collection (SUR-59B224), which is featured in the book ’50 Finds from Berkshire’. Thought at first to be a pipe tamper it is in fact more likely a very rude toy which no doubt gave someone hours of laughs.

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Finds Through The Ages – The Medieval Period

This period covers the time from the Norman Invasion in AD1066 to the beginning of the 16th century. There is no agreed upon date for the end of the Medieval period. AD1500 is generally considered to be the end. Across Europe different events are used such as the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453 and Christopher Columbus’s first voyage to the Americas in 1492

In England the Protestant Reformation in 1517 is sometimes used as well as the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 and the dissolution of the monasteries in AD1536. As you can see, these dates generally fall around the turn of the 16th century.

For Berkshire, there are 998 records (as of 18/11/2020) which is a fivefold increase on the Early-Medieval period.

As ever, coins are the most common finds from this period, making up 39% of the finds. Not surprising really as during this time coin use increased and in England there were 19 people who claimed the throne of England as well as coins from other countries coming across The Channel.

This coin recorded recently (BERK-8CCFE5) is gold quarter noble of Edward III. Although there are over 150 of these on the database, this one is interesting. Firstly, it is a mule, a coin where the obverse and reverse are not commonly found together. Secondly it has a spelling mistake in the reverse legend. Usually it would read. EXALTABITVR IN GLORIA (Exalted in Gloria) but this one reads EXALTABITVR IN GALhORI.

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During the reign of The Plantagenet’s (AD1154 – 1272) Richard I (AD1189 – 1199) and King John (AD1199 – 1216) would often issue coinage, not with their name, but in the name of Henry II (AD1154 – 1189). There is not many examples of their coinage from Berkshire, but from the few there are they are particularly fine, including (SUR-10981B) and (SUR-CF0A45)

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Although they look much like a coin, Jettons in the Medieval period were counters. The word Jetton comes from ‘jeter’, meaning ‘to throw’ in French, and relates to the ‘casting’ of accounts.  The German term ‘rechenpfennig’, or ‘reckoning penny’, also refers to the use of jettons for accountancy purposes. They were produced primarily in England, France and the area which is now Germany as well as the Low Countries. Jettons had the name of the issuer on them. In Berkshire, the Jettons found are mostly English and French. This one (BERK-888F92) dating from c. AD 1418-1487 has a crown with 3 annulets across band on the obverse. The reverse depicts a triple stranded straight cross fleuretty within 4-arched tressure  around 3 annulets and crown.

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Buckles are another common type of Medieval object. During this period they go through many different stylistic and functional changes. There are multiple types of single and double loop buckle, mostly circular or square with different types of decoration. This single loop buckle (BUC-A7C7C6) is a T-shaped type is one of the more complex designs and can can be dated to the 13th or 14th century. It seems likely that these buckles had a specialist use, perhaps as pairs on animal leashes, probably for a dog. Decoration was often as important as function and this double loop buckle (BERK-3E8C35) dating to the late 15th century is in the form of a rose.

The Medieval period also produces a new kind of object; a seal matrix. These consist of a handle often with a loop or knop on the terminal and a flat bottom which has the reversed image of a seal. These seals take on all kinds of motifs and can be personal. However, more often than not these are off-the-shelf objects bought by people who could not afford their own personal seal, such as (BERK-D0D06C) which depicts the head of St John the Baptist in a bowl or platter.

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Personal adornment is continually important in the Medieval period. Brooches came in many shapes and sizes, but these were not all purpose made. This silver penny (BERK-BA4C81) was gilded and a loop attached to the back to turn it into a brooch.

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Finger rings were also popular across society. Many could be simple bands for those who couldn’t afford something more elaborate. This gold finger ring (LON-C8CE96) must have been quite expensive and special to the owner. It depicts St Catherine holding a wheel and sword, and the raised tapering shoulders are engraved with cross-hatching. It was during the Medieval period that the cult of St. Catherine appeared after the alleged rediscovery of her body around the year AD800 at Mount Sinai, supposedly with hair still growing and a constant stream of healing oil issuing from her body.

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This Medieval silver pendant (BERK-EF232D) dates to the 13th – 14th centuries. The letters are an abbreviation of the Hebrew saying; “Ata gibor le’olam Adonai” (You are mighty forever, O Lord). As you might have noticed, the words should be abbreviated AGLA rather than AGAL as they are on this pendant. This misspelling is not uncommon and occurs on many of these pendants. AGLA was a popular charm used in the Middle Ages to fend off fever and possibly also the Black Death.

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It wasn’t only people who were adorned but also their horses. This harness pendant (BERK-031CD5) decorated with an enamelled white lion standing left with one front paw raised might have been a heraldic symbol for the rider.

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During the Medieval period it became more important to know the weight of coins due to their precious metal content and to know whether they were genuine. One of the most common is the half-noble coin weight (BERK-6F52E4). In the 15th century, this weighed 54 grains (3.5g). This example is just under that weight at 47.8 grains (3.1g) and has probably lost some mass.

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With an influx of Continental coinage it was also important to know the coins coming into the country were genuine. This Portuguese coin weight (SUR-570382) possibly rrepresents a half Moidore.

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Finally is Berkshire’s only pilgrim badge. This example (BERK-29EB55) depicts a robed figure caarying a lamb, or possibly a child in one arm. This figure appears to be sitting or kneeling, possibly on a boat. Pilgrim badges were bought as souvenirs, proofs of pilgrimages and to evoke (the protection of) saints, medieval pilgrims purchased metal badges at shrine sites which were then worn, typically on hats.

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