What's in a Hoard?
|The second Southwarwickshire hoard in a pot|
What indeed? Those living in Leamington may well have seen in the local press a report of the Warwickshire Museum’s intention to fundraise an initial sum of £3,000 towards the acquisition of a hoard of Roman denarii found in 2015 at a site atop the Edge Hill escarpment in south Warwickshire. This is in addition to submissions for more substantial funding from national bodies.
This is not the first hoard, though, that has turned up in the area, nor indeed the largest. One summer evening in 2008 a metal detectorist was on the point of giving up his unproductive search for material in an area a mere couple of hundred yards from the latest hoard, when his equipment began to register a significant find. Helped to unearth this by members of a local archaeological group who happened to be in the vicinity, it was eventually surrendered to the Warwickshire Museum and began its passage through the obligatory processes of the Treasure Act , where its status was established, and thence to the British Museum for valuation. At this point delay set in, principally because of the discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard of gold artefacts, but in time the hoard, valued at £52,000 (divided between the finder and landowner), became available for the Warwickshire Museum to acquire, something achieved thanks to grants by a number of national bodies. By this stage I had already had sight of the material and was able to begin cataloguing what turned out to be 1153 coins covering a range of dates from 194 BC to AD 63/4 in the reign of the emperor Nero. That denarii should remain in circulation for so long should come as no surprise since these coins were of high value (a basic soldier at the time earned 225 denarii a year), so were hardly small change. The catalogue was published as a British Archaeological Report (British Series) 585 in 2013 and is in the Warwick University Library (CJ 1101.I7). The hoard itself, and the pot in which it was found (originally sunk into the wall of a round structure) are well displayed in all their splendour within the Warwickshire Museum in the centre of Warwick.
Turning to the latest hoard there are important differences, which become only too clear when comparing the valuation placed upon them. To begin with, only 440 coins are involved, many of them heavily encrusted with soil or adhering together, having been buried beneath what might have been a threshold in an area where massive wall structures attest to a substantial Roman presence. As a result detailed identification of many awaits cleaning. As in the case of the first South Warwickshire hoard, though, there is a similarly significant proportion of coins dating from the Republican period beginning in the 140s BC, but importantly this second hoard extends its end-date into the reign of the emperor Vespasian, which began in AD 69. Significance? Well, it was preceded by a period of civil war following the suicide of Nero on June 9th AD 68 which saw a rapid turn-over of rulers – rapid measured in months: first Galba, then Otho and Vitellius before Vespasian won through. In addition to the coinages specifically issued in the name of these emperors, there are others anonymous in origin, together constituting a high proportion of the whole hoard, in fact. The resulting rarity of these coins with their short period of production, combined with the only slight wear they have suffered, means that the valuation given by the British Museum (even when the Warwickshire Museum has to find only half the total sum) outstrips that needed to purchase the whole of the earlier, much larger, hoard.
Classics & Ancient History