British treasure trove a link to rogue Roman emperor Carausius
Jack Malvern The Times 9 July 2010
ONE OF Britain’s most colourful rulers is to have his place in history rewritten after the discovery of a buried hoard of 52,500 Roman coins.
The treasure, the largest haul of Roman coins found in Britain in a single container, will give insight into the mysterious reign of Emperor Carausius, a rogue Roman general who broke away from the rest of the empire and set up his own dominion in Britain.
The coins had been buried in a field near Frome in Somerset, in southwest England, for 1,700 years until a hospital chef with a second-hand metal detector made a chance discovery.
David Crisp, 63, of Devizes in Wiltshire, has been practising his metal detecting hobby for 22 years with occasional minor discoveries, but his luck changed in late April.
“It was in the middle of nowhere,” he told The Times. “I got a signal, but it wasn’t a very good one. Usually it’s a bit of a ploughshare or some cut-up cans. I dug down and I found what I thought was a bit of black stone. It turned out that it was a piece of black Roman burnished pottery. I saw a small Roman coin, about the size of a fingernail. I dug deeper and I found more coins. I thought to myself, `Hello, I’ve got something. After 22 years I’ve done it. I’ve got a large Roman hoard’.”
After three days of digging they found a Roman hoard matched only by a haul of 54,912 coins found in two containers at Cunetio in Wiltshire, in 1978.
The Frome hoard has not yet been valued. Although it will become the property of the Crown under the Treasure Act 1996, Mr Crisp and the landowner will each receive half of its value.
The discovery challenges conventional wisdom about why large hoards of coins were buried, experts at the British Museum said. The usual explanation is that people stashed their valuables during times of unrest in the hope of recovering them when the threat had passed.
Roger Bland, head of portable antiquities and treasure, said that this was unlikely because the pot was too fragile to be moved with the money in it. “What they must have done is put the pot in the ground and then filled it with coins.”
The oldest coins were found in the middle of the pot rather than at the top, which suggests that the cash may have been poured in on a single occasion as an act of devotion to the gods, he said.
The most exciting coins are those made to celebrate Carausius, a bull-necked, bearded general whose seven-year reign over Britain and northern Gaul was brought to an end when he was assassinated by his finance minister.
Carausius knew something about propaganda, issuing the first proper silver coins to be seen in the Roman Empire for generations. He realised that good quality coinage would enhance his legitimacy and make him look more successful.
On the Frome coins Carausius is depicted, sceptre in hand and cloak billowing, arriving in the capital city on his horse. Another image shows him greeting Britannia, and an inscription establishes a link with Roman history by featuring a quotation from Virgil. Mr Moorhead said: “Carausius’s propaganda campaign seems to be so successful that other Roman emperors later copy him.”
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