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Title: Late Roman coins
Item Name: Currency

Description:

Three copper alloy Roman coins, dating to the reign of Valentinian I (364-375AD). From excavations at Bessingby Hill estate, Bridlington, Romano-British village site in 1947, carried out by the Augustinian Society.


Year: 364-375AD
Culture: Romano-British
Materials: copper alloy
ID_Number: ERYMS : 1993.806

Related Exhibitions

Roman coinage in East Yorkshire
Roman coinage in East Yorkshire

The Roman coinage system underwent many changes in the period during which Britain was part of the Empire (from 43AD to the early 5th century). Denominations came and went, but broadly speaking, there were gold, silver and copper alloy coins, in decreasing levels of value. Within the coinage system, certain tendencies can be observed. Roman coins of the later empire are generally smaller (often much smaller) than early Roman coins and therefore lighter. Less metal equals less expenditure by the state, which would have been a particular issue in respect of the precious metal coins. The other tendency was for coins to be downgraded with regard to their precious metal content. This is particularly true of silver coins. The classic Roman silver denarius of the early empire, the coin with which the troops were paid, was over 95% pure silver. But by the mid-3rd century AD (when the empire was in a deep financial, political and military crisis) the silver coins were mainly of copper alloy, with a silvery surface.

Originally under the Roman republic all coins were minted in Rome. Under the empire, there were a large number of provincial mints to serve the needs of the army / bureaucracy in that particular area. Paying the army / officials and collecting taxes were probably the main uses for coinage the Roman state was not necessarily much concerned with promoting trade or industry in the way that modern governments are. Much of the Roman coinage in Britain was minted in Gaul (modern France) at the mints of Arles, Lyons and Trier. However coinage from more distant places such as Antioch in Syria, or Alexandria in Egypt did sometimes find its way to Britain, either by trade or due to movements of troops or official. Mints can often be identified by a mark on the reverse of the coins. In addition to the official issues of coins, unofficial local copying / forging of coins occurred. This was particularly true in the late 3rd and early 4th centuries when the Roman economy was in crisis. In part this copying was probably caused by local shortages of official coins, though personal profit for the forgers must have been a cause of it too. The harsh legal punishments for forging coins generally execution - do not seem to have much of a deterrent. Copies can generally be recognised by their poor lettering (or absence of any lettering at all), poor artistic quality and smaller size compared to the genuine coins of the same type.

It is difficult to say how far Roman coinage penetrated the East Riding. There were few forts in the region and no large towns. Whilst trade must have gone on at local markets and smaller towns / villages in our region, much of this may have continued to be by exchange of goods as in the preceding Iron Age period. Roman coins are certainly found on rural sites in the East Riding, but generally not in large numbers. East Riding Museum Service's collection of Roman coins contains no gold coins at all, though there are a couple of interesting hoards of both early and later silver coins. Most of our examples though are from the lower denominations, coins made of copper alloy probably the Roman equivalent of the 1p and 2p pieces! These would have been the sorts of coins that most ordinary people in Roman Britain would have handled.

Further reading & other sources of information

There are a huge variety of books available on Roman coins, ranging from specialist catalogues to more generally accessible works. Some good starting points are:-

Roman Coinage in Britain by P.J. Casey (Shire Publications Ltd., 1980)
Identifying Roman coins by Richard Reece & Simon James (Seaby Ltd., 1986)
Roman Coins and their values edited by David R. Sear (2000-present) is a multi-volume guide, very useful for more detailed identifications.
See also the Portable Antiquities Scheme website at finds.org.uk for a searchable database of coins and other finds, including finds from the East Riding.
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