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

silch

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.

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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.

References:

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.

 

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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.

Heads

Heads

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.

N1989.8

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