The Sandridge Hoard

Article | Roman gold coin hoard found in St Albans is ‘nationally significant’

Published by BBC News, Tuesday 16th October 2012

A “nationally significant” hoard of Roman gold coins has been found by a metal detectorist in Hertfordshire.

The stash – found on private land north of St Albans – is believed to be one of the largest Roman gold coin hoards discovered in the UK.

The 159 coins date to the end of the 4th Century during the final years of Roman rule in Britain. After AD 408 no more coin supplies reached the country.

-Taken from Article

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The Sandridge Hoard was initially found with a Garrett Ace 150 and then finished off with the XP Deus.

The Sandridge Hoard

A nationally significant discovery of Late Roman gold coins dating to the end of the fourth and start of the fifth century.

159 coins dating to the very end of Roman Rule in Britain have been recovered, making this one of the largest Roman gold coin hoards found in the UK.

The coins are in very good condition and were scattered across a fairly wide area. Evidence suggests they were part of a hoard which has been disturbed in the last couple of hundred years due to plough action. No roman pottery was recovered with the find so it is presumed that the container, if there was one, was organic, such as a leather or cloth bag.

The coins – called solidus (plural – solidi) date to the closing years of the fourth century and were issued under the Emperors Valentinian II, Theodosius, Arcadius, Honorius and Gratian and were made in the western mints of the Empire, mostly in the Italian cities of Milan, Rome & Ravenna

This is a very late hoard, dating to the very end of Roman rule in Britain; after AD 408 no further coin supplies reached Britain.

Gold solidi were extremely valuable and were not traded or exchanged on a regular basis; they would have been used for large transactions – buying land, goods by the shipload or similar. Most people would not have had regular access to them – typically, the wealthy roman elite, merchants or soldiers receiving bulk pay were the recipients.

What the coins say

At this time the inscription on the obverse (heads) side of the solidus was standardised, reading:

D N [emperor’s name] P F AVG

Dominus (our) Noster (Lord) [Emperor] Pius (dutiful) Felix (happy) Augustus (Authority, usually read as Emperor today)

So a coin of Honorius would read in English as:

Our Lord Honorius, the Happy and Dutiful Emperor

The Reverses (tails) are slightly more varied. Most of them read:

VICTORIA AVGGG, or Victory of the Emperors. On Roman coins plurals are displayed by repeating the last letter of the object that is plural. So

AVG = 1 emperor

AVGG = 2 emperors

AVGGG = 3 emperors

Why are there so many Emperors?

The Empire was too large for any single ruler; usually it was split into an eastern and western section. The two rulers were often, but not always brothers; Arcadius and Honorius ruled in this way. Their father, Theodosius ruled before them and eventually shared power with them. This is why AVG reads AVGGG, as each letter g represents one Emperor.

A few of the coins read CONCORDIA AVGGG, or Harmony of the Emperors; they were suggesting that the Emperors were ruling together in harmony.

What is the image on the reverse of the coins?

Most of the coins show the Emperor in military uniform and carrying a standard; this would probably have the Chi-Rho, a symbol of Christ displayed on it, as the Empire and its rulers were Christian by this point. At the Emperor’s feet sits a defeated barbarian foe, and the Emperor holds a globe, representing the world. Atop the globe is a small Victory figure, which awards the Emperor a laurel wreath, symbol of Victory in battle. The coin is a piece of propaganda showing the Emperor as a successful military leader with God on his side. Neither Arcadius nor Honorius were in fact military minded and left much of the running of the Empire to their generals.

Some of the coins show two Emperors seated, facing the viewer. They hold between them a globe of the world, and a winged Victory figure floats above and behind them.

Why does Victory Appear?

Although the population of the Empire was by now nominally Christian and other Gods were no longer portrayed on the roman coinage, Victory, as a symbol of success was still an important part of the iconography and propaganda of the coinage system. Fortunately her winged appearance meant that she assumed the Christian role of an angel, while maintaining her usual attributes.

Where were the coins made?

Coins were issued throughout the Roman Empire at a number of cities, but by the end of the fourth century, Gold coins were mostly issued from the city that the Emperor was based in. At this time this was usually Milan or Ravenna, although Rome, Trier and a single example from the eastern mint of Sirmium (modern Sremska Mitrovica in Serbia) are also represented.

What was the Hoard Worth?

The Romans operated a three metal coinage system, which our own coinage is based on. Low value coins for everyday use were made of Bronze; higher value coins that might represent months of pay were made of silver. Gold coins were most valuable of all and were not used in everyday transactions, This is why they do not show much evidence of wear and tear – they have not been in people’s wallets or purses, but stored securely in a fixed location for most of their existence. This hoard represents many years’ wages for a soldier or someone similar, but would be a relatively low value amount for the wealthier elite.

Why was the Hoard Buried?

During the period of the Roman occupation of Britain, coins were usually buried as a religious sacrifice to the Gods, or as a secure store of wealth, buried with the aim of later recovery. A threat of war or raids might lead to burial, as may the prospect of a long journey, or any other risky activity, or the hoard could simply have been a convenient and safe place to keep one’s wealth and may have been emptied and replenished as necessary.

Why was the Hoard not recovered?

The person who buried the hoard was unable to return; while this is often assumed to be because the individual had died it is also possible that the person had moved away and couldn’t return or could not recognise the spot where the hoard was buried!

The Emperors represented on the coins

Gratian (Emperor AD 367-383)

Son of Valentinian, the previous Emperor of the western provinces, Gratian was raised to the rank of Emperor while only seven, co-ruling with his father until the latter’s death in AD 375 when Gratian was fifteen. After his Uncle Valens’ death in AD378, Gratian gave the role of Emperor in the east to Theodosius, son of the Count who had defended Britain during his father’s reign.

Valentinian II (Emperor AD 375-392)

Valentinian’s younger son, Valentinian II was raised to the position of co-emperor in the west by his brother Gratian, who remained the senior ruler. In 383 Gratian was killed by troops loyal to the rebel General Magnus Maximus. Valentinian II fled to the court of Theodosius in the east and in 388 Maximus was defeated by the eastern armies. Valentinian II was restored to the throne but assassinated seven years later.

Theodosius (AD 379-395)

Son of Count Theodosius who rescued Britain from Barbarians in the reign of Valentinian I, Theodosius inherited all of his father’s military skills; he was able to restore the eastern empire from the Goths who had killed his predecessor Valens, and restore Valentinian II to the throne in the west by defeating the rebel general Magnus Maximus’ forces. Upon the death of Valentinian II, Theodosius then defeated the forces of the usurper Eugenius to become sole Emperor of the Roman world.

Arcadius (AD 383-408)

Son of Theodosius I, Arcadius became co-ruler in the east with his father at the age of six. Lacking his father’s military skills, Arcadius left the running of the Empire to a series of prefects and court officials.

Honorius (AD 393-423)

Honorius was raised to the position of Emperor in 393 aged nine and after the death of his father Theodosius, became sole ruler in the west at the age of eleven He ruled with the aid of the successful general Stilicho, but later executed him, fearing he intended to seize the throne for his son. This left the Western Empire at the mercy of the Goths. Rome was sacked in AD 410, two years after Honorius abandoned Britain in AD 408. His coins are the last official Roman issues to reach the country in any number.

Emperors represented in number of coins

Honorius – 95

Arcadius – 42

Valentinian II – 11

Theodosius – 7

Gratian – 1

Unknown – 3 (require further cleaning)

Mints represented

Milan – 117

Ravenna – 11

Trier –  11

Rome – 7

Constantinopolis – 3

Thessalonica – 3

Lyons – 2

Sirmium – 1

Unknown – 4 (require further cleaning)


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