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November 14, 2014

Coining in Roman Britain Part 3: Counterfeiting

During the late second and early third centuries AD more evidence has been discovered for the production of Roman coins in Britain. Found almost exclusively on archaeological sites, clay moulds for casting copies of Roman silver denarii have been excavated in their thousands across the country. These double sided disc shaped moulds, made by pressing a coin into clay, would have been arranged in rows, with molten metal poured from above. The moulds would then have been broken apart to gain access to the freshly copied coins. Moulds such as these have been discovered in large quantities in Somerset, London and the Midlands, with sporadic discoveries in Scotland. One might assume these moulds were used for making counterfeit coins, that is, coins intended to deceive the user. However, sites from continental Europe indicate these practises might not have been covert (moulds such as those found in Britain have been discovered surprisingly near to places of Roman establishment), suggesting a much more organised and possibly legitimate use of these tools. In contrast, the flat and open landscape of the Somerset Levels would be a seemingly ideal place for forgers to produce fake coins, and hide the evidence quickly should any figures of Roman authority appear. An in depth study into the context of Romano-British coin moulds may reveal the answer to the enigma.


Coin mould (lead) for casting imitation coins of Tetricus (AD 271-274). This mould was discovered in Nottinghamshire. Note the hole at the top of the mould, through which molten metal would have been poured. Image: Portable Antiquities Scheme, Unique ID: LVPL-0A5332.

domThis month's coin series on Roman Britain is written by Dom Chorney, a young numismatist from Glastonbury, Somerset. He studied for his undergraduate degree at Cardiff (in archaeology), and achieved a 2:1. Dom is currently studying for an MA in Ancient Visual and Material Culture at the University of Warwick, and intends to undertake a doctorate in 2015. His main areas of interest are coin use in later Roman Britain, counterfeiting in antiquity, coins as site-finds, and the coinage of the Gallic Empire.

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