The Coin Hoard from St Albans

Photo:Gold Solidus of Valentinian II, Constantinople, c380ad

Gold Solidus of Valentinian II, Constantinople, c380ad

Talk by David Thorold of Verulamium Museum

Reported by Joyce Bunting and John Wassell

David Thorold of the Verulamium Museum spoke to the Society on 28 May 2013. This report was first pubished in Newsletter 120.

Discovery

Mr Thorold described the discovery of a hoard of 159 Roman coins, each one a gold Solidus minted during the reigns of several Emperors of the late fourth and early fifth centuries AD/CE. Despite the title of the talk the hoard is actually known as the ‘Sandridge Hoard’ as it was found in that parish in the autumn of 2012. The actual site was not disclosed for obvious reasons!

A metal detectorist acting with the landowner’s permission found 50 coins and duly reported the find. Over a weekend archaeologists found a further 109 coins. These were scattered and not, as hoped, in a container which would have provided useful ‘layering’ evidence. The coins had presumably been scattered by ploughing and were found individually or in small groups at different levels over an area several metres square. Photographs showed that the coins were difficult to see in the light coloured soil even when exposed.

Such hoards are often found in ceramic pots but no trace of pottery was found so the coins were probably buried in a wooden chest.

The coins

All 159 coins were gold Solidi minted in the reigns of the emperors Gratian, Valentinian II, Theodosius, Honorius and Arcadius, who ruled in the period 367AD to 408AD. The coins are not dated and were struck in a standard design so that they are dateable by reign only unless the dates of operation of the specific mint is known.

The Emperors are shown wearing a toga as a symbol of their senatorial status but with an imperial diadem headband and armour under the toga.

Only four different reverse designs were found in the hoard. Those minted under Honorius and Arcadius have what is known as the Concordia design symbolising the harmony of the emperors. This followed the division of the empire between two emperors after the death of Theodosius, the last emperor to rule the entire empire. Honorius and Arcadius were both ‘western’ emperors.

The origin of Britannia on our coinage can be seen in the female personification of Rome on earlier coins in the hoard.

Another design shows the emperor in armour trampling a barbarian underfoot as the goddess of victory places a laurel wreath on his head.

The purity of the gold content was symbolised by a mark OB and each mint had a unique mark. 119 of the coins were minted at Milan (Mediolanum) and others in Ravenna and Rome, Gaul and the east. Both Milan and Ravenna were Imperial bases at this time and few were minted in Rome itself. Some of the coins of Arcadius were minted in Rome and it is known that they were minted in the last years of Arcadius which gives 408AD as the earliest possible date for the hoard.

The Solidi were produced using high quality dies and were struck on circular blanks of exact weight. 

Hoarding

Mr. Thorold noted that 45 hoards of coins including gold from the late Roman period have been found in this country, only two of which have coins of a later date than the Sandridge Hoard. Only the Hoxne hoard has more gold coins than Sandridge.

Gold coin was used as a store of wealth at this time. Only one of the coins in the hoard showed signs of wear. Coins in circulation were of bronze and silver and conversion into a store of wealth was achieved by converting a lot of bronze into the silver equivalent and, for some, conversion of silver into gold.

The armies were paid in gold coin and the wealthy had to pay their taxes in gold coin, which was then regularly returned to the mints and reissued as new coin. The new coin would then pay the armies. The weight and purity of the gold coin was maintained by storing them with either the army or bankers/moneychangers who would exchange the coinage from their holdings. The army needed silver and bronze to spend and the wealthy needed gold to pay their taxes.

These stores of coin would be held in buried containers for security – a common practice judging from the number of hoards found. The hoards were probably buried by individuals such as soldiers, landowners or merchants who for whatever reason were not able to retrieve them and had not told anyone else where the hoard was. The major holders of coin, the army or the bankers, would have been able to move them if danger threatened.

At the time of writing the final disposition of the hoard is undecided.

This page was added by Rosemary Ross on 30/09/2013.

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