Coin Relief – Issue One

This is the first in a new series of blog posts written by our Finds Advisers for ancient coins, Dr. Sam Moorhead and Dr. Andrew Brown. In this series they will explore some of the many (many) ancient coins from the PAS database. So grab yourself a cup of tea and enjoy the first installment.

Vota coins of Gratian (AD367-83) with VOT XV MVLT XX

Copper alloy nummus of Gratian minted in Lugdunum, and found in Yorkshire (record ID: SWYOR-D693C1). Copyright: West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service, License: CC-BY-SA.

This issue is dated AD379-383 (Reece Period 20). These Vota coins are what we might call Jubilee coins today. VOT XV can be loosely translated as “Thanks for 15 years of rule” and MVLT XX can be loosely translated as “Looking forward to 20 years”. Vota coins are common in the 4th century AD, both on bronze nummi and silver siliquae. One has to be careful using them for precise dating because sometimes they celebrated a “Jubilee” early! This coin was probably struck towards the end of the period AD379-383; if one adds 15 (XV) to the accession date of Gratian, AD367, it comes out at AD382/3. The most common issue of this coin comes from the Mint of Lyon (Lugdunum) and many of these coins, including the example above, come up with this search from the database:

The Britannia as of Antoninus Pius, AD154-155 (Reece Period 7)

From the end of the 1st century AD, but particularly into the first half of the 2nd century AD, as series of bronze dupondii and asses were struck in Rome that appear to have almost exclusive circulation in Britannia, probably reaching the province in batches in the AD150s. This has led to the adoption of the term “Coins of British Association” for all these related issues. Over 630 examples were identified by D. Walker from the more than 12,500 Roman coins at the Sacred Spring in Bath.  Almost 500 coins are also known from the similar hoard-like deposit at Coventina’s Well on Hadrian’s Wall. The earliest type identified to date is of Nerva (AD96-98). However, perhaps the most distinctive are coins struck under Hadrian (AD117-138) and Antoninus Pius (AD138-161) with reverse types that depict Britannia in human form.

Copper alloy as of Antoninus Pius minted in Rome, and found in Essex (Record ID: ESS-5A2744). Copyright: Colchester Museums, License: CC-BY-SA.

The most common coin of British Association seen in Britain is the Britannia as type for Antoninus Pius – RIC III no. 934 – struck in Rome in AD154-155 (Reece Period 7). The reverse type is often regarded as depicting Britannia mourning, her head held in her hand, as shown on the example above. However, coins of both Hadrian and Antoninus Pius that depict a seated Britannia suggest that in some examples she could instead be drawing a hood or veil towards her head. This could of course be quite a useful thing to do on a rainy northern frontier at the edge of the known world!

The silver denarius of Tiberius (AD14-37)

This coin was struck for almost the entire reign of Tiberius. One could argue that it is the most common single type ever issued in the Roman period. It is often referred to as the “Tribute Penny” because it was in the reign of Tiberius that Jesus preached and was crucified. In the Bible, Jesus asks to see a coin with the image of the emperor and says: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12, 17). Whether is is this coin or a Roman Provincial coin struck in the East will never be known, but people will probably always call this coin the “Tribute Penny”. These coins are not rare. The PAS database has around 260, including the example below, on this search:

Silver denarius of Tiberius, found in Hampshire (Record ID: SUR-F25D9A). Copyright: Surrey County Council, License: CC-BY.

Although these coins were struck before the Roman invasion of Britain in AD43, most of them would have arrived after AD43. The pay chests of the Roman army at this time would have been full of earlier Republican denarii, and denarii of Augustus and Tiberius. Because denarii of Caligula and Claudius are relatively rare and did not come to Britain in large numbers, many “Conquest Period” (c. AD43-50s) hoards in Britain terminate with coins of Tiberius.

The Malpas Hoard (Cheshire: LVPL-DFD9E1/IARCH-BCCA77), found in 2014, consists of 7 Iron Age gold staters and 28 silver denarii (of the Republican period, Augustus and Tiberius). It was probably buried around AD50. I (Sam Moorhead) have argued that this hoard might have been buried around the time that Caratacus was defeated in Wales and fled to Cartimandua in Yorkshire (c. AD50).

Copies of Claudian dupondii and asses

In the decades following the Claudian invasion in AD43, bronze aes coinage issued under Claudius (AD41-54) was an important component of the currency pool in Britannia, used by the military and in the forts and vici that sprang up around them. A variety of bronze types were issued by Claudius, both in his name and for members of his family including his parents, Nero Drusus Claudius and Antonia, his wife Agrippina, and adopted son, Nero. By far the most common types seen in Britain are dupondii with a reverse type depicting a seated Ceres (RIC I, Nos. 100, 110) and asses with a reverse type depicting a standing Minerva holding a shield and javelin (RIC I, nos. 100, 116). Typically, British finds have been recorded either as official Rome mint issues from the early years of Claudius’ reign in the AD40s, which are rare in Britain, or contemporary British copies that are prolific and date as late as the Neronian or Flavian periods of the c. AD50s-70s. Claudian bronze coins and their local copies are comparatively common on the PAS, with c. 820 recorded examples, including the one below.

Copper alloy dupondius of Claudius, found in Essex (Record ID: CAM-44DE77). Copyright: Cambridgeshire County Council, License: CC-BY-SA.

Recent work by French scholars P-A Besombes and M. Bompaire, as well as Robert Kenyon, has dramatically changed our interpretation of Claudian copies. Rome mint issues are always rare in Britain but many of the “copies” now appear to be the products of semi-official subsidiary or auxiliary mints in Gaul and Iberia. Coins from these mints are then subject to imitation in Britain, resulting in the appearance of often quite crude so-called “native” copies that continue to circulate well into the second half of the 1st century AD, like the example below copying an Iberian mint coin.

Copper alloy dupondius copying Claudius I “CERES AUGUSTA”, found in Oxfordshire (Record ID: HAMP-1672F1). Copyright: Winchester Museums Service, License: CC-BY-SA.

References and further reading:

D. Walker, “Roman coins from the Sacred Spring at Bath” in B. Cunliffe d. The Temple of Sulis Minerva at
Bath II: Finds from the Sacred Spring (Oxford, 1988); see also Sam’s Academia page here

S. Moorhead article on the Malpas Hoard here

R. Kenyon ‘The Claudian Coinage’ in N. Crummy Colchester Archaeological Report 4: The coins from
excavations in Colchester 1971-9 (Colchester, 1987): pp.24-41; G. Boon ‘Counterfeit Coins in Roman Britain’ in
P. J. Casey and R. Reece eds. Coins and the Archaeologist (London, 1988).

P-A. Besombes and M. Bompaire Trésor Monétaires, XXI, Le Depôt de 22,438 Monnaies du Gué de SaintLéonard (Mayenne) (BNF, 2005).