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Royal Blood transfused


Claire Woodhead (Hampshire Cultural Trust) and Ashvini Sivakumar (British Museum) prepare the condition reports on the Iron Age coins.

It seems like only yesterday that ‘Royal Blood – heads & tales’ was being installed at Andover, but since then versions of the show have visited Fareham and Aldershot and are still in situ at Alton, Christchurch and Eastleigh. Now the exhibition has gone up a notch and ‘Royal Blood – births, battles and beheadings’ has just opened at the Sainsbury Gallery, Willis Museum, Basingstoke.

The larger venue allows for a more expansive display but the time frame has been narrowed to cover, in six steps, the period from 100 BC to AD 1649. Star attraction of the Iron Age case, on loan from the British Museum, are items from the ‘Alton Hoard’, including coins of Tincomarus, an Atrebatic leader. Representing the Romans are objects from recent work at Silchester and a previously unseen enamelled belt buckle with military connections, from Kingsclere. The Saxons chip in with buckets and buckles, but of the most exquisite and rare variety, from Breamore and Monk Sherborne.


Eleanor of Pembroke stands beside Odiham Castle – on her one hand swords, spurs and armour piercing arrows – on the other three stone missiles. But her ‘household roll’ told of servants Gobithesti and Trubodi ad Slingaway, and her maid, Domicella Christiana.

The medieval period focuses on Odiham Castle, one of Hampshire’s hidden gems. As well as a fragment of the building raised for King John, there’s the county’s oldest example of the Great Seal, added to an Andover charter 10 years before the Magna Carta. This is rarely seen outside the Hampshire Record Office. Also on show is a beautiful heraldic horse harness pendant of the Despenser family.

For the Tudors the Tichborne Spoons, a remarkable example of Elizabethan craftsmanship, shine out, but the Stuart period focuses on the Civil War, with armour, a sword and a hoard of 122 silver coins capturing the strife and disruption so widespread at the time.


In addition, hunting – a popular pastime at all periods – and music are celebrated, both via the pages of Tudor volumes, on loan from Winchester College.

Reminding us, throughout, that history is about people not about things, are the costumed figures dressed, appropriately, in shades of red. These majestic personages, based on historical individuals, led far from genteel existences and questions of birth, battles and beheadings were ever present in their royal lives.

Royal Blood is at the Willis Museum until the end of October – Admission Free.


Royal blood reaches Alton

It seems like only yesterday that ‘Royal Blood’ was being installed at Andover, Fareham and Aldershot…and already it’s time to up sticks and cases and graphics and objects and move things to Alton, Christchurch and Eastleigh.  At Alton it’s the Allen Gallery that hosts the touring exhibitions and last week saw RB safely installed, with particular mention of the Late Iron Age and Civil War periods.


Horse skulls, harness fittings, chariot fittings, sling stones and gold coins; military might 2000 years ago.

We chose the Late Iron Age because there’s a hoard known as the ‘Alton Hoard’ in the British Museum. The find was of particular significance because it contained coins of a tribal leader previously known only as ‘Tinc’ – and believed to be ‘Tincommius’ (by adding the ‘Tin’ bit to his father’s or grandfather’s name).  The new finds (well, 1996) contained coins marked ‘Tincomarus‘, causing excitement across the numismatic world.  Incidentally, although the hoard is said to hail from Alton – it’s actually from Froxfield – ‘and that’s nearer to Petersfield’ as one mildly indignant Altonian told me.

Whichever corner of East Hampshire the coins hail from, they’ll be on show in the  main Royal Blood exhibition, which begins its tour (at Basingstoke) in early September.

The other featured element at the Allen Gallery is the ‘Storming of Alton’, and this Civil War episode couldn’t have reached its climax much closer to the exhibition’s location.  In December, 1643, as Alton was occupied by a Royalist force of 900, the Parliamentary General, Sir William Waller, gathered 5000 men and began a night march, ostensibly towards Basing. He turned towards Alton, however, and surrounded the town. A fierce battle ensued, with Waller getting the upper hand by using a number of lightweight leather-barrelled field guns, recently received from London.


And a military episode of 373 years ago. The lead and iron shot all come from Civil War sites. The iron ball from the leather-barrelled gun is top right on the crystal block.

The defenders fell back on the church of St Lawrence, a stone’s throw from the Museum. The attackers tossed in grenades, before storming the building. Colonel Richard Bolles led the defence, defying his men to surrender. With his death, however, they laid down their arms and over 800 were taken prisoner and marched off to Farnham.

Among the items on display is a small iron shot unearthed in Alton Churchyard, which must be from one of the leather-barrelled guns.  Other parts of the exhibition reflect on the careers of Waller and Sir Ralph Hopton  – friends before the war, but on opposing sides during the conflict – and there is the full sweep of the Heads and Tales timeline, from the Atrebates to our very own Elizabeth II.

Royal Blood; Heads & Tales – Allen Gallery, Alton, 16 July to 18 September



Buried in time – an execution cemetery on Stockbridge Down

Woolbury hillfort in 1989, with Stockbridge Down beyond it - upper middle left in the image.

Woolbury hillfort in 1989, with Stockbridge Down beyond it – upper middle left in the image.

The preparation of a site for a bonfire on the hill east of Stockbridge, to mark the 1935 Jubilee of HM King George V, led to the chance discovery of a human skull and other bones. This resulted in two seasons of excavation by Dr N Gray Hill in the summers of 1935 and 1936 and the uncovering of a cemetery containing at least 41 identifiable burials, in an area of about 100 square metres.

Plan of the 41 burials, showing their haphazard nature - the two postholes are also shown.

Plan of the 41 burials, showing their haphazard nature – the two postholes are also shown.

A nearby ‘barrow’, which had ‘well-defined chalk walls’, was also examined but produced no convincing evidence of association with the burials. Finds of clay pipe and glass, and the absence of any Bronze Age material, led the excavator to conclude that its origin may have been as recent as the 17th century.

Excavation in progress. In the general view, skeleton 16 is in the foreground; in the close up (skeleton 19) both a man and dog had been decapitated. The dog's head was not in the grave.

Excavations in progress. In the general view, skeleton 16 is in the foreground; in the close up (below) both a man (skeleton 19) and dog had been decapitated. The dog’s head was not in the grave.

The cemetery graves were generally shallow, haphazardly aligned, narrow and of short length. In one case the interment was less than 15 cm (6”) below the turf and in no other instance was an undisturbed burial found at more than 90 cm (36”) below that level. Frequently a body had been flexed to fit into a grave and it was apparent that little attention had been paid by the grave diggers to earlier burials: in all, nine skeletons had been cut through and occasionally assemblages such as a foot with ankle bones were found at some distance from the associated skeleton.

All of the skeletons were males in ‘the prime of life’ although one was probably in his mid-teens and two were ‘middle-aged’. In general they appeared to be in good health, although there was plenty of evidence of worn teeth, associated with the consumption of bread made from coarsely ground flour, and crude dentistry. One or two skeletons showed past injuries which had healed well, while examination of the several thousand bones showed little evidence of serious disease. Typically the individuals would have stood about 1.70 m (5’ 6”) in height although one may have been about 1.85 m (6’ 0”) tall.


Among the finds associated with individual burials were six silver coins of the reign of Edward the Confessor which were minted in Winchester* (they were hidden in a small bag under an armpit of skeleton 19 and missed by the grave diggers).  There were also two bronze and three iron buckles identified as belonging to the post-conquest period, a ‘wrist-fastener’ and three iron rings, along with evidence of a leather belt. The skeleton of a large dog and the skull of a hornless sheep were also found. There was also a piece of coarse, grey-ware, decorated pottery identified as part of a glazed pitcher, of a type known to be common in the area c. AD 1100.

The indifferent and callous nature of the burials identifies the site as an execution cemetery and it is interesting to note that similar groups of burials have been found along the line of the Winchester-Old Sarum road at Lopcombe Corner, Meon Hill and Old Sarum itself. Two near-identical post holes, found in close proximity to the burials on Stockbridge Down, may have been the sites of gibbets, and an unexplained spread of oyster shells was found across the site.

The path up to Stockbridge Down

The path up to Stockbridge Down

Under the Norman kings ‘Forest Law’ barred anyone other than the king from exclusive ownership and use of a forest. William II Rufus (1087-1100) introduced the death penalty for infringements such as poaching, in place of the mutilation prescribed by his father, William the Conqueror (1066-1087).  This punishment was continued, although with less rigour, into the reigns of Henry I (1100-1135) and Stephen. Forest Law was administered by special justices appointed by the king.

Bearing in mind that only officers of state acting under royal authority would have the power to order the execution of a large number of men over an extended period of time, it seems fair to conclude that the cemetery contained the remains of those put to death for infringement of Forest Law, presumably during the reigns of William II Rufus and Henry I, although the former is perhaps more likely (but see the case – below* – for an earlier start, at least, for the cemetery, based on the coin evidence).

Further reading:

N Gray Hill (1937) Excavations on Stockbridge Down, 1935-36, Proc Hants Field Club, vol 13, 247-259.

* In a follow-up paper published in the British Numismatic Journal in 1955, R H M Dolley refines the dating of the coin hoard and argues that it is with ‘considerable exactitude’ that he can date the execution of the man in question to ‘not earlier than the autumn of 1065, and before the summer of 1066’. There is even enough evidence to suggest the event took place ‘before Christmas’.  The six coins, which were concealed in a linen bag, presumably fixed by wax to the hairs under his armpit, included three from the same die (the moneyer Anderbode) another struck by Anderbode and two made by Leofwine. Three of the coins are in the British Museum, two lost, and one held by the Hampshire Cultural Trust.

Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Jane King, Lesley Johnson, Peter Stone.


Buried in time – the Silchester hoard of rings and things.


Silchester's surviving walls - a dramatic reminder of this Iron Age oppidum and Roman town.

Silchester’s surviving walls – a dramatic reminder of this Iron Age oppidum and Roman town.

Just to the southwest of the walled Roman town of Silchester is a late Iron Age earthwork. In 1985, for the first time in many years, the adjacent area was ploughed. Searching by a metal detectorist unearthed an elaborate and flamboyant gold finger-ring with strands of beaded gold wire forming a filigree hoop and a large engraved gem (intaglio). Such rings generally date to the last few decades of the Roman period in Britain and were widespread throughout the Roman Empire. The intaglio consists of onyx engraved with a satyr and a small cupid. Four late Roman silver coins were found nearby.

The coin hoard

The coin hoard

During the winter of 1986-7 further finds were detected nearby and coin finds reached 55 in total. Although the exact locations were not reported, a visit to the site by an archaeologist revealed a limited area of disturbance and it is thought likely that both sets of discoveries derive from a single hoard. A subsequent small excavation exposed no further late Roman material and no associated features.  This suggests that the collection was lost or hidden and is most likely to have been a ‘flight’ hoard.

One of the better-preserved coins, showing the Emperor Gratian (367 - 383)

One of the better-preserved coins, showing the Emperor Gratian (367 – 383)

Of the 55 coins, all but three were heavily corroded, broken silver examples of the late 4th century AD. At least 13 of them had been ‘clipped’, a practice dated to the reign of Constantine II (407-11 AD). Four additional rings were found, two complete gold examples and two fragmentary, one of which was silver. Because of potential plough damage it is impossible to tell whether the incomplete and broken rings were part of a jeweller’s hoard or were damaged after their concealment.


Gold ring dismantled for cleaning and conservation. The glass intaglio is decorated with a satyr carrying a hare and a pedum or staff.

Gold ring dismantled for cleaning and conservation. The glass intaglio is decorated with a satyr carrying a hare and a pedum or staff.

One of the complete gold rings has a raised bezel set with a glass gem in imitation of onyx, cast with the device of a satyr carrying a hare. This ring is large and heavy; the other complete but distorted gold ring is much slighter, set with a re-used glass bead. Only very fragmentary and mineralised remains of the silver ring survived. This had also been set with an imitation onyx cast glass gem, decorated with the image of a seated bearded man reading from a scroll, interpreted as a philosopher.

Fragments from a gold ring and the gem from a silver ring which had almost totally disintegrated. The subject is a bearded man sitting on a three-legged stool - a philosopher.

Fragments from a gold ring and the gem from a silver ring which had almost totally disintegrated. The subject is a bearded man sitting on a three-legged stool – a philosopher.

Some of the items mentioned here are on display at the Willis Museum in Basingstoke. The Silchester hoard, though smaller in size, can be compared through its composition to the late Romano-British Thetford Hoard, discovered in 1979 in Norfolk. Two rings from Thetford are similar to the Silchester gold ring with the glass bead; a satyr appears on a gold buckle-plate from Thetford.


N1997.20 – archive held by Hampshire Cultural Trust

M.G. Fulford, M. Henig and C. Johns, A Late Roman Gold Finger-Ring  from Silchester, Hampshire, Britannia Vol. XVIII, 1987, pp.279-281.

M.G. Fulford, A.Burnett, and C. Johns, A Hoard of Late Roman Rings and Silver Coins from Silchester, Hampshire, Britannia Vol. XX, 1989, pp.219-228.

Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone

Object photographs by Claire Woodhead.


Buried in time – the Hamble hoard

On 29 March, 1968, a bulldozer levelling a playing field near College Copse, Hamble, unearthed a hoard of Roman coins and the remains of the pot in which they had been buried. Some confusion followed regarding ownership but it was eventually decided that they belonged to the landowners, Hamble-le-Rice Parish Council, who had commissioned the landscaping works.

'Eyes right' - well, almost all. Sixty-four coins from the Hamble hoard.

‘Eyes right’ – well, almost all of them. Sixty-four coins from the Hamble hoard.

The coins went first to the Hampshire Museums Service and then to the British Museum, to be identified. A list of the hoard contents was published and the British Museum also purchased about 200 coins for their own collections. Hamble Parish Council retained 90 coins for display purposes. The remaining 2,190 were deposited with the Hampshire Museums Service, initially as a loan, but in 1997 the loan was changed to a gift and the coins accessioned as N1997.47.

In more recent years a selection of thirty representative coins has been remounted in a frame for display in Hamble.

A total of 2,494 coins have been accounted for, but it is possible that the hoard was originally larger. The majority (2,192) belong to the period 330 to 335.  Only fourteen coins are older than this but 267 are younger, with the latest dating to 348-350. A burial date of around 350 therefore seems likely.  A small number of coins (21) were not from official mints, but were ‘barbarous copies’ – contemporary forgeries! Such practices were rife in Roman times.

Large hoards of this date are quite common in Britain and Gaul and may relate to reforms in the coinage which took place in 348. Equally, the idea that they were buried as an offering to the gods should not be discounted.



The earliest coin in the hoard was issued by Claudius II (268-270). All the other coins belong to the 4th century and most were issued by Constantine I (‘the Great’) and his dynastic companions, including two imperial women, Helena and Theodora. Other well-represented coins include those struck to mark the dedication of Constantinople (Istanbul) as new capital of the Eastern Empire and to placate Rome, the old capital – both showing helmeted busts – personifications of the two cities.

...and tails

…and tails

By the 4th century, coins were being made at many imperial mints around the Empire and these are identified by mint marks. Most of the Hamble coins were manufactured close to Britain (London ceased production in 326) at Trier, Arles and Lyon, but there are also examples from numerous other sites including Nicomedia, Cyzicus and Antioch, showing just how far money travelled.

Hamble hoard mint map.

Hamble hoard mint map.

Further reading:

Recent Coin Hoards from Roman Britain Vol 1, British Museum, 1979; The Hamble and Chorleywood Hoards and the Gallic Coinage of AD 330-335

N1997.47            Archive held by Hampshire Cultural Trust

Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone.

Buried in time – the Rockbourne Roman Villa hoard

The hoard today

The hoard today

The excavations at Rockbourne (1940s to 1970s) unearthed more than 700 coins scattered across the site, but ‘jackpot day’ came on Saturday, August 26th, 1967 when a hoard, of 7,714 bronze and silver-bronze antoninianii and three silver denarii, was found buried in a two-handled storage jar.  The coins mostly belonged to the period 250 to 290, but issues of Diocletian and Maximianus suggested a deposition date of around 305.

Quite a find! A press photo showing the site of the discovery.

Quite a find! A Press photo showing the site of the discovery.

The hoard caused great excitement at the time and the news even made some national papers, presumably resulting in a late-season rush of visitors to the villa.  After the coins had been counted they were carried off to the village shop to be weighed (collectively!).  As the scales were not up to the job, someone produced a set of bathroom scales and they provided a reading of 56lbs (25.4 kg).

Another picture for the papers!

Another picture for the papers!

A T Morley Hewitt, discoverer of the villa and owner of the site at the time, then set about having the coins cleaned and identified.  When it was clear there were numerous duplicates – 2,439 issues of Tetricus I, for example, and 1,474 of Victorinus – he rewarded each of his regular diggers with a small packet of coins at the annual dinner later in the year.

Out on display...with the total number and the dating yet to be finalised.

Out on display…with the total number and the dating yet to be finalised.

This dispersal of the hoard continued in other ways, as the decision was made to sell some of the duplicates in order to raise funds for the continuing excavation.  There was also some dispute about whether the ‘finder’ should have a significant share of the hoard.  At the end of the day (or more precisely in 1979, when Hampshire County Council acquired the site and finds) only 986 coins were present, and only half of these ended up in the site archive.  These 493 coins, along with the New Forest jar in which they were concealed, are part of the museum displays.

Three imperial close-ups, including Carausius, bottom right.

Three imperial close-ups, including Carausius, bottom right.

Debate continues about whether such hoards represent the hiding away of wealth, particularly in troubled times, or a religious offering to the gods.  The discovery of the huge ‘Frome hoard’ in 2010 (52,503 coins in a very large pot) supports the votive offering theory.  The excavator of the Frome find reported distinctive ‘organic matter’ around the pot, suggesting that this was packing to protect it.  Morley Hewitt also mentions an organic component to the Rockbourne find, but it’s not clear in what quantity.

In 1894, a hoard of 4,020 coins, of similar date, was found on the site of Roman farm buildings at Whipps Hill, less than a mile from Rockbourne.

Further reading:

Rockbourne Roman Villa; A Guide  £5 plus p&p, available from Hampshire Cultural Trust.

A1979.6   Archive held by Hampshire Cultural Trust.

Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone.

Buried in time – the Kingsclere ‘crock’

The Kingsclere 'crock'

The Kingsclere ‘crock’

Today, the area around Sandford Springs, near Kingsclere, is occupied by a golf course and attendant hotel. In prehistoric and Roman times it seems likely that the springs were the focus for religious and ritual activity, probably involving a temple or shrine.

When the A339 Kingsclere bypass was constructed, in the early 1980s, a number of Bronze Age artefacts were recovered, including a tanged chisel and socketed axe, presumably from a dispersed hoard. Somewhat previously, the enlarging of the eponymous pond had thrown up a large number of Iron Age and Roman coins and other offerings, including a fine, enamelled, military style Roman belt buckle.

When work began on landscaping the golf course in the mid 1980s, archaeological monitoring took place, although features were few, being limited to a shallow gully and patches of burning. The practice of the then landowner, to always have his metal detector at the ready, resulted in a spectacular find, however, when he discovered the ‘Kingsclere crock’.

The seven gold staters and their triple-tailed horses

The seven gold staters and their triple-tailed horses

As one of the grading machines was smoothing the contours, a large flint nodule detached itself from the soil and rolled obligingly down to his feet. A pass over it with the detector resulted in a loud signal and removal of a clay ‘plug’ revealed seven Iron Age gold staters, neatly filling a natural cylindrical hole. The coins were subject to a Coroner’s Inquest (the flint wasn’t – although it would be today) and declared to be Treasure Trove. Hampshire County Council was happily in a position to acquire them, and the find is on display at the Willis Museum, Basingstoke.

Detail of one of the clearest examples

Detail of one of the clearest examples

The ‘triple tailed horse’ issue dates to around 50 BC and the coins were probably struck by the Atrebates at Calleva (Silchester). The design, a stylised horse straddling a wheel, is derived from Macedonian gold coinage which showed Philip II (d. 336 BC) father of Alexander the Great, driving a two horse chariot in which he was victorious in the Olympic Games.

The other side of the coin...not much to add.

The other side of the coin…not much to add.

The discovery brings to mind a find made some 23 km to the west at Chute, Wiltshire, in 1927.  A 13 year old boy, Victor Smith (living at The Forge!) was acting as a beater for a Chute shoot, when he threw one large flint against another and a shower of gold spilled out.  After one or two return visits he had collected 65 coins and these were declared Treasure Trove. In 1986 an enterprising detectorist searched the same site and found a further 55 coins. These could not all have fitted inside the flint (which is in Devizes Museum) but were struck with the same range of dies (stamps) and must have been part of the original deposit.

There have been other discoveries of flint ‘crocks’, from Rochester in Kent, for example, and more recently (2004) Henley in Oxfordshire, where 32 coins very similar to the Kingsclere examples, came to light.


Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone, with help from Stacie Elliot.