About the research project

Photo of open pot with gold coins spilling out

Iron Age coins are still poorly understood: they combine aspects of money as they have standardized weight and metal composition; they exhibit complex and localized iconography; they are deposited in a careful ways, probably as part of a broad ‘sacrificial’ economy. This project examines this last aspect, focusing on hoards deposited in a time of major cultural change, the late Iron Age (“Celtic”) to Roman transition in Britain.

The Iron Age in Britain is a period of social change, as clearly evidenced in alterations in technologies and material culture. This is also the period in which the first coins appear, imported from Gallic neighbours across the Channel, and later minted locally across southern Britain. Coins form a major source of information on late Iron Age society, trade, religious beliefs, and continental contacts. Unfortunately, the coins have often been neglected in other studies of Iron Age material culture. The Roman period brought significant, and in some cases rapid, change. The two periods are generally studied by different specialists, obscuring continuities and the process of change. This project seeks to bridge these subject divisions to shed new light on the transition from Iron Age to Roman through a study of hoarding. Hoards of coins are found in Britain in quantity from the later 2nd century BC onwards. The main focus will be on the period from c. 80 BC to AD 100, but earlier hoards will be considered as a background to hoarding/deposition in Iron Age Britain prior to Roman influence.

Research aims

The project will address major historical questions. These include the extent to which hoarding can illuminate:

  • The nature of the sacrificial economy in Iron Age societies and its implications for human and cosmological power
  • How Roman secular activity, including military activity, supply routes, and bases, roads, and the creation of “civitas capitals” (towns), but also new religious structures in shrines and temples, influenced deposition
  • Roman coins operated within a market and monetary economy, probably different to that of the late Iron Age. Are there continuities of practice in coin hoards, as well as differences?
  • The extent to which regional preferences persisted throughout the transition
  • How hoarding relates to the landscape and archaeological context of single coins, both archaeological and metal detector finds
  • The similarities and differences in how Britain and Gaul responded to Roman conquest
  • How people now reacted to centralized monetary change within the Roman Empire

The Coin Hoards of the Roman Empire Project will provide an online vehicle for gathering and analysing hoard data, and the Celtic Coin Index, for which a new digital platform is being created, will provide a linked-open-data classification for the coinage to facilitate analysis and data on single finds for comparison. Data will also be drawn from the online database of the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

CDP Student

Anni Byard, University of Leicester

CDP Supervisors

Professor Chris Howgego, Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

Professor Chris Gosden, School of Archaeology, University of Oxford

Professor Colin Haselgrove, University of Leicester

Professor David Mattingly, University of Leicester