600kg of Roman coins found in amphorae

by Björn Schöpe
translated by Annika Backe

May 12, 2016 – On April 27, 2016 a huge coin hoard was discovered in Tomares in southern Spain: construction workers found almost 600kg of Roman coins. They reported their find to the relevant authorities. The work has been suspended.

19 smaller amphorae were discovered, filled to the brim with coins. Photograph: © Consejería de Cultura / Junta de Andalucía.

The coins were stored inside 19 amphorae, of which ten were broken during the work, according to media reports.

They consist of folles that date back to the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D. Photograph: © Consejería de Cultura / Junta de Andalucía.

Dating back to the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D., the coins are reportedly folles of which some still exhibit the complete silver sweating.

There have as yet been no identification and analysis. Photograph: © Consejería de Cultura / Junta de Andalucía.

Ana Navarro, archaeologist in charge and head of Seville’s Archaeology Museum, emphasized that the economic value may amount to several millions whereas it would be impossible to estimate the historical value. She called the find unique for Spain, and only very few similar discoveries were made in the entire Roman Empire so far.
This might be a bit over the top – perfectly understandable considering the excitement about the discovery. Several finds have provided us with much information about the exact dates and the mint structure used to produce late Roman coins. However, perhaps hitherto unknown variants might enrich the already complete picture with new facets.
Depending on date and condition, the material value of folles of the usual type ranges between 20 and 200 euros. With an average weight of 8g, each kilo most likely consists of 125 folles, adding up to 75,000 folles in the entire hoard. The total economic value of the hoard, therefore, might well be about 750,000 euros.

Apparently, the newly-minted coins were packed right away, to be used to pay larger sums of money, perhaps to soldiers. Photograph: © Consejería de Cultura / Junta de Andalucía.

The coins are said to be in a very good condition since they appear to have been packed immediately after being minted. Archaeologists believe that the coins were intended to be used to pay levies to the army or for administrative purposes.

The find is currently kept in Seville’s Archaeological Museum where the coins will be inventoried, cleaned and catalogued. Photograph: © Consejería de Cultura / Junta de Andalucía.

The find was brought to the Archaeological Museum of Sevilla where the coins will be inventoried, cleaned and catalogued. In a second step, numismatists and historians can interpret the material and put it into their historical context. According to the Ministry of Culture of the Regional Government of Andalusia, the material will be presented to the general public once further results could have been established. In the meantime, an archaeological investigation will be conducted on the site.

Please find the Archaeological Museum of Sevilla here.

Hoards: the hidden history of ancient Britain

April 14, 2016 – Until 22 May 2016 the British Museum shows a coins and medals display in Room 69a, Hoards: the hidden history of ancient Britain, supported by Stephen and Julie Fitzgerald.

The Westerham hoard, a hoard of gold Iron Age coins found inside a hollow flint in 1927. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Buried treasure excites the imagination, especially the idea of discovering a pot of gold or silver, but these discoveries are also of vital importance. This exhibition explores the stories behind the headlines focusing on prehistoric and Romano-British hoards from across the United Kingdom.

The Oxborough hoard, 5th century AD. Gold Visigothic coin pendants and a reused Roman denarius found in Oxborough, Norfolk. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Tracing the story of hoarding from Bronze weapons discovered in the river Thames and the first Iron Age coin hoards, through to the Hoxne and Oxborough hoards, buried after the collapse of Roman rule in Britain. It will showcase recent discoveries of hoards reported by finders and archaeologists through the Treasure Act and studied at the British Museum.

Bronze Age socketed axes from the Salisbury hoard. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Under the Treasure Act 1996 there is a legal obligation for finders to report Treasure. Since the advent of the Act the number of finds reported has increased fivefold from 201 cases in 1998 (the first full year of the Act), and 1008 in 2014.

Hoard of Bronze Age weapons found in the River Thames at Broadness in Kent © The Trustees of the British Museum.

The exhibition explores the reasons why ancient people have placed precious objects in the ground or in water since the Bronze Age. They may have been accidentally lost or stolen, discarded as worthless, saved for recycling, hidden for safekeeping, or offered up to the gods.

A hoard of Iron Age and Roman coins found in Owermoigne, Dorset, in 2010. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Prehistoric communities deposited hoards as part of rituals to honour gods or ancestors, and to demonstrate power and wealth.

A Roman ceramic money box, silver coins and spoon found by a boy digging in his back garden in Muswell Hill in 1928. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

The large number of coin hoards dating to the later Roman period could suggest that this period was one of political instability and economic insecurity. However, the archaeological evidence may point to different explanations for the burial of these hoards.

British Museum conservator Kathleen Magill placing the lid of the Frome hoard onto the Frome hoard pot. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

The centerpiece of the exhibition will be the enormous Frome hoard pot, which held a discovery of 52,503 Roman coins, the largest to be found in a single container.

Silver denarius of the usurper emperor Carausius (AD 286-293) from the Frome hoard. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

This hoard was discovered in 2010, and raised many questions that initiated an Art and Humanities Research Council funded research project, Crisis or continuity? Hoarding in Iron Age and Roman Britain, jointly run by the British Museum and Leicester University. The project is investigating how and why hoards were buried.
Aspects of the Frome hoard’s burial suggest that the coins were never intended to be retrieved. The extremely fragile pot was lowered into the ground and then filled with coins, so lifting the delicate vessel would have caused it to collapse under its own weight. It could therefore be a ritual offering made by the community.

Coins from the Hoxne hoard found in 1992 by Eric Lawes will also be on display. The finder made this significant discovery while searching for a hammer, but reported the find immediately.

Silver coins from the Beau Street hoard, 3rd century AD. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Also featured is a replica of a money bag from the Beau Street hoard. The original hoard of around 17,500 coins was discovered by archaeologists in the centre of Bath. During the conservation process, one cluster of coins was scanned, and the data used to create a 3D computer model, which was 3D printed to form a replica of the original coin bag. Conservators at National Museums Liverpool painted the plaster cast made from the print to form a virtually identical copy of the original coin cluster.

Roman Urn with Coins found in Charnwood Forest, drawn and etched by George Cruikshank (1792-1878). Frontispiece to the Journal of the British Archaeological Association VII, 1852. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

This small exhibition celebrates the discovery of hidden objects in Britain and the research that followed these finds, which is helping to re-write history.

For more information on the exhibition please go to the British Museum website.

To learn more about hoard finds in Britain visit the Portable Antiquities Scheme website.

Roman Currency



Roman currency for most of Roman history consisted of gold, silver, bronze, platinum and copper coinage. From its introduction to the Republic, during the third century BC, well into Imperial times, Roman currency saw many changes in form, denomination, and composition. A persistent feature was the inflationary debasement and replacement of coins over the centuries. Notable examples of this followed the reforms of Diocletian. This trend continued into Byzantine times.

Authority to mint coins

The manufacture of coins in the Roman Empire, dating from about the 4th century BC, significantly influenced later development of coin minting in Europe. The origin of the word “mint” is ascribed to the manufacture of silver coin at Rome in 269 BC at the temple of Juno Moneta. This goddess became the personification of money, and her name was applied both to money and to its place of manufacture. Roman mints were spread widely across the Empire, and were sometimes used for propaganda purposes. The populace often learned of a new Roman Emperor when coins appeared with the new Emperor’s portrait. Some of the emperors who ruled only for a short time made sure that a coin bore their image; Quietus, for example, ruled only part of the Roman Empire from 260 to 261 AD, and yet he issued two coins bearing his image. The Romans cast their larger copper coins in clay moulds carrying distinctive markings, not because they knew nothing of striking, but because it was not suitable for such large masses of metal.

Roman Republic 500-27 BC

Roman adoption of metallic commodity money was a late development in monetary history. Bullion bars and ingots were used as money in Mesopotamia since the 7th millennium BC; and Greeks in Asia Minor had pioneered the use of coinage (which they employed in addition to other more primitive, monetary mediums of exchange) as early as the 7th century BC.[1] Coinage proper was only introduced by the Roman Republican government c. 300 BC. The greatest city of southern Italy (Magna Graecia) and several other Italian cities already had a long tradition of using coinage by this time and produced them in large quantities during the 4th century BC to pay for their wars against the inland Italian groups encroaching on their territory. For these reasons, the Romans would have certainly known about coinage systems long before their government actually introduced them. By the time that they introduced a system of coinage, the Roman state had become a dominant force in the western Mediterranean, having defeated Carthage during the Second Punic War of 218–201 BC.[2]

The reason behind Rome’s adoption of coinage was likely cultural. The Romans had no pressing economic need, but they wanted to emulate Greek culture; and they considered the institution of minted money a significant feature of that culture. However, Roman coinage initially saw very limited use.[3]

The type of money introduced by Rome was unlike that found elsewhere in the ancient Mediterranean. It combined a number of uncommon elements. One example is the large bronze bullion, the aes signatum (Latin for struck bronze). It measured about 160 by 90 millimetres (6.3 by 3.5 in) and weighed around 1,500 to 1,600 grams (53 to 56 oz), being made out of a highly leaded tin bronze. Although similar metal currency bars had been produced in Italy and northern Etruscan areas, these had been made of Aes grave, an unrefined metal with a high iron content.[4]

Along with the aes signatum, the Roman state also issued a series of bronze and silver coins that emulated the styles of those produced in Greek cities.[5] Produced using the manner of manufacture then utilised in Greek Naples, the designs of these early coins were also heavily influenced by Hellenic designs.[6]

The designs on the coinage of the Republican period displayed a “solid conservatism”, usually illustrating mythical scenes or personifications of various gods and goddesses.[7]

Roman Empire 27 BC – 476 AD

In 27 BC, the Roman Republic came to an end as Augustus (63 BC – 14 AD) ascended to the throne as the first emperor. Taking autocratic power, it soon became recognized that there was a link between the emperor’s sovereignty and the production of coinage.[8]

The imagery on coins took an important step when Julius Caesar issued coins bearing his own portrait. While moneyers had earlier issued coins with portraits of ancestors, Caesar’s was the first Roman coinage to feature the portrait of a living individual. The tradition continued following Caesar’s assassination, although the imperators from time to time also produced coins featuring the traditional deities and personifications found on earlier coins. The image of the Roman emperor took on a special importance in the centuries that followed, because during the empire, the emperor embodied the state and its policies. The names of moneyers continued to appear on the coins until the middle of Augustus‘ reign. Although the duty of moneyers during the Empire is not known, since the position was not abolished, it is believed that they still had some influence over the imagery of the coins.

The main focus of the imagery during the empire was on the portrait of the emperor. Coins were an important means of disseminating this image throughout the empire. Coins often attempted to make the emperor appear god-like through associating the emperor with attributes normally seen in divinities, or emphasizing the special relationship between the emperor and a particular deity by producing a preponderance of coins depicting that deity. During his campaign against Pompey, Caesar issued a variety of types that featured images of either Venus or Aeneas, attempting to associate himself with his divine ancestors. An example of an emperor who went to an extreme in proclaiming divine status was Commodus. In 192, he issued a series of coins depicting his bust clad in a lion-skin (the usual depiction of Hercules) on the obverse, and an inscription proclaiming that he was the Roman incarnation of Hercules on the reverse. Although Commodus was excessive in his depiction of his image, this extreme case is indicative of the objective of many emperors in the exploitation of their portraits. While the emperor is by far the most frequent portrait on the obverse of coins, heirs apparent, predecessors, and other family members, such as empresses, were also featured. To aid in succession, the legitimacy of an heir was affirmed by producing coins for that successor.

This was done from the time of Augustus till the end of the empire.

Featuring the portrait of an individual on a coin, which became legal in 44 BC, caused the coin to embody the attributes of the individual portrayed. Dio wrote that following the death of Caligula the Senate demonetized his coinage, and ordered that they be melted. Regardless of whether or not this actually occurred, it demonstrates the importance and meaning that was attached to the imagery on a coin. The philosopher Epictetus jokingly wrote: “Whose image does this sestertius carry? Trajan’s? Give it to me. Nero’s? Throw it away, it is unacceptable, it is rotten.” Although the writer did not seriously expect people to get rid of their coins, this quotation demonstrates that the Romans attached a moral value to the images on their coins. Unlike the obverse, which during the imperial period almost always featured a portrait, the reverse was far more varied in its depiction. During the late Republic there were often political messages to the imagery, especially during the periods of civil war. However, by the middle of the Empire, although there were types that made important statements, and some that were overtly political or propagandistic in nature, the majority of the types were stock images of personifications or deities. While some images can be related to the policy or actions of a particular emperor, many of the choices seem arbitrary and the personifications and deities were so prosaic that their names were often omitted, as they were readily recognisable by their appearance and attributes alone.

It can be argued that within this backdrop of mostly indistinguishable types, exceptions would be far more pronounced. Atypical reverses are usually seen during and after periods of war, at which time emperors make various claims of liberation, subjugation, and pacification. Some of these reverse images can clearly be classified as propaganda. An example struck by emperor Philip in 244 features a legend proclaiming the establishment of peace with Persia; in truth, Rome had been forced to pay large sums in tribute to the Persians.

Although it is difficult to make accurate generalizations about reverse imagery, as this was something that varied by emperor, some trends do exist. An example is reverse types of the military emperors during the second half of the third century, where virtually all of the types were the common and standard personifications and deities. A possible explanation for the lack of originality is that these emperors were attempting to present conservative images to establish their legitimacy, something that many of these emperors lacked. Although these emperors relied on traditional reverse types, their portraits often emphasized their authority through stern gazes[citation needed], and even featured the bust of the emperor clad in armor.



The type of coins issued changed under the coinage reform of Diocletian, the heavily debased antoninianus (double denarius) was replaced with a variety of new denominations, and a new range of imagery was introduced that attempted to convey different ideas. The new government set up by Diocletian was a tetrarchy, or rule by four, with each emperor receiving a separate territory to rule.

The new imagery includes a large, stern portrait that is representative of the emperor. This image was not meant to show the actual portrait of a particular emperor, but was instead a character that embodied the power that the emperor possessed. The reverse type was equally universal, featuring the spirit (or genius) of the Romans. The introduction of a new type of government and a new system of coinage represents an attempt by Diocletian to return peace and security to Rome, after the previous century of constant warfare and uncertainty.

Diocletian characterizes the emperor as an interchangeable authority figure by depicting him with a generalized image. He tries to emphasize unity amongst the Romans by featuring the spirit of Romans (Sutherland 254). The reverse types of coins of the late Empire emphasized general themes, and discontinued the more specific personifications depicted previously. The reverse types featured legends that proclaimed the glory of Rome, the glory of the army, victory against the “barbarians”, the restoration of happy times, and the greatness of the emperor.

These general types persisted even after the adoption of Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire. Muted Christian imagery, such as standards that featured Christograms (the chi-rho monogram for Jesus Christ’s name in Greek) were introduced, but with a few rare exceptions, there were no explicitly Christian themes. From the time of Constantine until the “end” of the Roman Empire, coins featured indistinguishable, idealized portraits and general proclamations of greatness.

Although the denarius remained the backbone of the Roman economy from its introduction in 211 BC until it ceased to be normally minted in the middle of the third century, the purity and weight of the coin slowly, but inexorably, decreased. The problem of debasement in the Roman economy appears to be pervasive, although the severity of the debasement often paralleled the strength or weakness of the Empire. While it is not clear why debasement was such a common occurrence for the Romans, it’s believed that it was caused by several factors, including a lack of precious metals and inadequacies in state finances. When introduced, the denarius contained nearly pure silver at a theoretical weight of approximately 4.5 grams.

The theoretical standard, although not usually met in practice, remained fairly stable throughout the Republic, with the notable exception of times of war. The large number of coins required to raise an army and pay for supplies often necessitated the debasement of the coinage. An example of this is the denarii that were struck by Mark Antony to pay his army during his battles against Octavian. These coins, slightly smaller in diameter than a normal denarius, were made of noticeably debased silver. The obverse features a galley and the name Antony, while the reverse features the name of the particular legion that each issue was intended for (it is interesting to note that hoard evidence shows that these coins remained in circulation over 200 years after they were minted, due to their lower silver content). The coinage of the Julio-Claudians remained stable at 4 grams of silver, until the debasement of Nero in 64, when the silver content was reduced to 3.8 grams, perhaps due to the cost of rebuilding the city after fire consumed a considerable portion of Rome.

The denarius continued to decline slowly in purity, with a notable reduction instituted by Septimius Severus. This was followed by the introduction of a double denarius piece, differentiated from the denarius by the radiate crownworn by the emperor. The coin is commonly called the antoninianus by numismatists after the emperor Caracalla, who introduced the coin in early in 215. Although nominally valued at two denarii, the antoninianus never contained more than 1.6 times the amount of silver of the denarius. The profit of minting a coin valued at two denarii, but weighing only about one and a half times as much is obvious; the reaction to these coins by the public is unknown. As the number of antoniniani minted increased, the number of denarii minted decreased, until the denarius ceased to be minted in significant quantities by the middle of the third century. Again, coinage saw its greatest debasement during times of war and uncertainty. The second half of the third century was rife with this war and uncertainty, and the silver content of the antonianus fell to only 2%, losing almost an appearance of being silver. During this time the aureus remained slightly more stable, before it too became smaller and more base before Diocletian’s reform.

The decline in the silver content to the point where coins contained virtually no silver at all was countered by the monetary reform of Aurelian in 274. The standard for silver in the antonianus was set at twenty parts copper to one part silver, and the coins were noticeably marked as containing that amount (XXI in Latin or KA in Greek). Despite the reform of Aurelian, silver content continued to decline, until the monetary reform of Diocletian. In addition to establishing the tetrarchy, Diocletian devised the following system of denominations: an aureus struck at the standard of 60 to the pound, a new silver coin struck at the old Neronian standard known as the argenteus, and a new large bronze coin that contained two percent silver.

Diocletian issued an Edict on Maximum Prices in 301, which attempted to establish the legal maximum prices that could be charged for goods and services. The attempt to establish maximum prices was an exercise in futility as maximum prices were impossible to enforce. The Edict was reckoned in terms of denarii, although no such coin had been struck for over 50 years (it is believed that the bronze follis was valued at 12.5 denarii). Like earlier reforms, this too eroded and was replaced by an uncertain coinage consisting mostly of gold and bronze. The exact relationship and denomination of the bronze issues of a variety of sizes is not known, and is believed to have fluctuated heavily on the market.

The exact reason that Roman coinage sustained constant debasement is not known, but the most common theories involve inflation, trade with India, which drained silver from the Mediterranean world, and inadequacies in state finances. It is clear from papyri that the pay of the Roman soldier increased from 900 sestertii a year under Augustus to 2000 sestertii a year under Septimius Severus and the price of grain more than tripled indicating that fall in real wages and a moderate inflation occurred during this time.[10]

Another reason for debasement was lack of raw metal with which to produce coins. Italy itself contains no large or reliable mines for precious metals; therefore the precious metals for coinage had to be obtained elsewhere. The majority of the precious metals that Rome obtained during its period of expansion arrived in the form of war booty from defeated territories, and subsequent tribute and taxes by new-conquered lands. When Rome ceased to expand, the precious metals for coinage then came from newly mined silver, such as from Greece and Spain, and from melting older coins.

Without a constant influx of precious metals from an outside source, and with the expense of continual wars, it would seem reasonable that coins might be debased to increase the amount that the government could spend. A simpler possible explanation for the debasement of coinage is that it allowed the state to spend more than it had. By decreasing the amount of silver in its coins, Rome could produce more coins and “stretch” its budget. As time progressed, the trade deficit of the west, because of its buying of grain and other commodities, led to a currency drainage in Rome.

A Brief History of the Roman Empire

RomanEmpire 117AD

The history of the Roman Empire covers the history of Ancient Rome from the fall of the Roman Republic in 27 BC until the abdication of the last Emperor in 476 AD. Rome had begun expanding shortly after the founding of the Republic in the 6th century BC, though didn’t expand outside of Italy until the 3rd century BC.[6] Civil war engulfed the Roman state in the mid 1st century BC, first between Julius Caesar and Pompey, and finally between Octavian and Mark Antony. Antony was defeated at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC. In 27 BC the Senate and People of Rome made Octavian imperator (“commander”) thus beginning the Principate (the first epoch of Roman imperial history, usually dated from 27 BC to 284 AD), and gave him the name Augustus (“the venerated”). The success of Augustus in establishing principles of dynastic succession was limited by his outliving a number of talented potential heirs: the Julio-Claudian dynasty lasted for four more emperors—Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero—before it yielded in 69 AD to the strife-tornYear of Four Emperors, from which Vespasian emerged as victor. Vespasian became the founder of the brief Flavian dynasty, to be followed by the Nerva–Antonine dynasty which produced the “Five Good Emperors“: Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and the philosophically inclined Marcus Aurelius. In the view of the Greek historian Dio Cassius, a contemporary observer, the accession of the emperor Commodus in 180 AD marked the descent “from a kingdom of gold to one of rust and iron”[7]—a famous comment which has led some historians, notably Edward Gibbon, to take Commodus’ reign as the beginning of the decline of the Roman Empire.

In 212, during the reign of Caracalla, Roman citizenship was granted to all freeborn inhabitants of the Empire. But despite this gesture of universality, the Severan dynasty was tumultuous—an emperor’s reign was ended routinely by his murder or execution—and following its collapse, the Roman Empire was engulfed by the Crisis of the Third Century, a period of invasions, civil strife, economic disorder, and plague.[8] In defining historical epochs, this crisis is sometimes viewed as marking the transition from Classical Antiquity to Late Antiquity. Diocletian (reigned 284–305) brought the Empire back from the brink, but declined the role of princeps and became the first emperor to be addressed regularly asdomine, “master” or “lord”.[9] This marked the end of the Principate, and the beginning of the Dominate. Diocletian’s reign also brought the Empire’s most concerted effort against the perceived threat of Christianity, the “Great Persecution”. The state of absolute monarchy that began with Diocletian endured until the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476.

Diocletian divided the empire into four regions, each ruled by a separate Emperor (the Tetrarchy).[10] Confident that he fixed the disorders that were plaguing Rome, he abdicated along with his co-emperor, and the Tetrarchy soon collapsed. Order was eventually restored by Constantine, who became the first emperor to convert to Christianity, and who established Constantinople as the new capital of the eastern empire. During the decades of the Constantinian and Valentinian dynasties, the Empire was divided along an east–west axis, with dual power centers in Constantinople and Rome. The reign of Julian, who attempted to restore Classical Roman and Hellenistic religion, only briefly interrupted the succession of Christian emperors. Theodosius I, the last emperor to rule over both East and West, died in 395 AD after making Christianity the official religion of the Empire.[11]

The Roman Empire began to disintegrate in the early 5th century as Germanic migrations and invasions overwhelmed the capacity of the Empire to assimilate the migrants and fight off the invaders. The Romans were successful in fighting off all invaders, most famously Attila the Hun, though the Empire had assimilated so many Germanic peoples of dubious loyalty to Rome that the Empire started to dismember itself. Most chronologies place the end of the Western Roman empire in 476, when Romulus Augustulus was forced to abdicate to the Germanic warlord Odoacer.[12] By placing himself under the rule of the Eastern Emperor, rather than naming himself Emperor (as other Germanic chiefs had done after deposing past Emperors), Odoacer ended the Western Empire by ending the line of Western Emperors. The eastern Empire exercised diminishing control over the west over the course of the next century. The empire in the East—known today as the Byzantine Empire, but referred to in its time as the “Roman Empire” or by various other names—ended in 1453 with the death of Constantine XI and the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks.[13]