Roman Coins Unearthed In Farmer’s Field

CC Image courtesy of AJoStone on Flickr

Claire Cavanagh is a writer for The Royal Mint in the UK. Recently, she submitted this article and has graciously allowed us to share. Who among us hasn’t dreamt of discovering treasure hidden for hundreds or even thousands of years? It’s easier said than done over here in the States, but the long numismatic history of Western Europe affords the metal detectorist far more opportunity. Claire provides us with this exciting example!

Trudging around in muddy fields come rain or shine may not be everybody’s idea of a good time, but everybody in the coin collecting community owes a lot to those with a passion for metal detecting. Without them, we wouldn’t have half of the amazing ancient coin discoveries that we all love to hear about. The latest great finding comes from the English county of Yorkshire, where Edward Bailey made the sort of finding that every metal detecting enthusiast dreams of.

In a farmer’s field in Sheffield, Yorkshire, Edward unearthed five silver coins from the Roman era. After handing the coins over to the British Museum, they have been identified as silver denarii from the Roman republic. Experts state that the oldest of the coins dates from somewhere between 211BC and 120BC, and are thought to have been lost or perhaps hidden in the field at some point after 74AD. This means that the coins have been in the ground for a staggering 1,939 years.

Denarii were the main coins of the Roman Empire during the republic. The word for a singular coin, denarius comes from the Latin dēnī, which means ‘containing ten’. This is because the denarius had a value equal to ten asses (the lesser value coins of the Roman era, made first from bronze and later from copper). Allegedly, the need for a silver coin came following Roman contact with the Ancient Greeks, and the denarius was styled in a similar way to the Greek coins of the time. Early versions of the coins, struck around 269BC, weighed around 6.8 grams and were not commonly used in Rome. Following an overhaul of the coin system in 211BC however, the new denarii became the most important coins of the empire. The coins struck during this period had their silver content and weight gradually lowered, but on average weighed around 4.5 grams. The coins found in the farmer’s field are thought to be from this post-211BC period.

To put the value of the five coins into contemporary perspective, historians claim that one denarius would be the average daily wage for an unskilled worker or a soldier in the first century AD. The five coins discovered therefore were not a great fortune at the time when they settled into the ground; yet their value today is a very different story. In February of this year, the coins were officially declared treasure by the British Museum. Under the Treasure Act of 1996, which outlines what is to be done to any treasure discovered in Britain, the coins are now the property of the Crown. The Act also states that the finder of the treasure, as well as the owner of the land on which said treasure is found are both entitled to a reward. In compliance with this, a financial reward has been awarded both to Edward Bailey and the farmer, Raymond Woolley.

The coins’ discovery, in June of last year, came just months after another exciting excavation in the UK. In March 2012, over 30,000 silver coins were unearthed by archaeologists in the historic city of Bath. The hoard, discovered on the site of a new hotel, was the largest found from a Roman settlement in Britain – and was the fifth largest ever found in the country. However, these coins were dated from the third century AD and so were not quite as impressive in terms of age as those found in Sheffield. 


This article was written by Claire Cavanagh on behalf of The Royal Mint.

Twitter: ClaireCavanagh



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