When a treasure hunter hears the phrase “ancient coin hoard,” their ears tend to perk up. Yet, the same is true for archaeologists. Researchers are excited about the historical implications of a massive hoard of Ancient Roman copper coins that will be on display at the Yorkshire Museum for the next few months.
Other Hoards Found in York
The United Kingdom generally and York in particular are renowned for hiding some of the world’s greatest ancient artifacts beneath the soil. Perhaps most notably, in 2007, an unbelievable trove of Viking relics—including 67 silver objects and over 600 coins—were uncovered in a lead sheet in a field near York. Eventually valued at over £1 million ($1.3 million), the collection became known as the Vale of York Hoard. It has proven immeasurably useful to archaeologists and researchers who are studying the culture and history of the Vikings.
The more recent discovery in York is actually even larger, though it dates to Ancient Rome rather than the Vikings. This speaks to the diversity of bygone cultures that operated in the British Isles.
The Wold Newton Hoard, as it is being called, was uncovered in 2014 by an amateur treasure hunter named David Blakey, a member of the Dunelm Metal Detector Club. He hit the jackpot when he found a cache of almost 1,900 Ancient Roman copper coins—the largest and arguably most important such hoard ever found near York.
Mr. Blakey found the coins in a large ceramic vase, and had the wherewithal not to try and bust it open. He followed procedure and allowed the intact relic to be documented and inspected by the Finds Liaison Officer. It wasn’t until about a month ago that the discovery was disclosed to the public.
In total, the hoard contained 1,857 copper coins, known as nummus (plural: nummi).
Perhaps the most important thing about this hoard is the age of the coins: The “youngest” examples date to the early 4th century CE, around the time of the pivotal Roman emperor, Constantine the Great. In fact, Constantine ascended to the position of Augustus (emperor) in York. Therefore, these coins can potentially provide insight into a crucial turning point in history, when the crumbling Roman Empire moved its capital to Constantinople (previously Byzantium, later Istanbul) and Christianity was embraced as the preferred faith of the empire.
Dr. Christopher Kelly of Cambridge spoke about the significance of the hoard: “It contains coins minted in York from the time of [Constantine’s father] Constantius who died in the city and then the first to feature Constantine rising to power. This was a pivotal moment in York’s history, but also the history of the Western World.”
For some perspective, the hoard of copper nummi amounted to about one year’s salary for a Roman legionary; or three year’s pay for a carpenter; or six year’s salary for a farmhand. It was enough to purchase 2,000 fresh fish; or 700 chickens; or 11,000 pints of ale. Simply put, it was a sizable sum of money!
The Wold Newton Hoard will be displayed at the Yorkshire Museum until October 9th. In the meantime, if the museum wants to keep the coins permanently, it must raise £44,000.
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