Wednesday, 3 February 2010

The Oldest Roman Coin in Britain

by Kathryn Hadley

Leicestershire County Council announced, at the end of last week, the recent discovery of the oldest Roman coin ever found in Britain in the collection of the Harborough Museum. The silver denarius, which is believed to date to 211BC, was discovered by metal detectorist Ken Wallace, in 2000, amongst over 5,000 other coins at a Late Iron Age shrine of the Corieltavi tribe near the village of Hallaton, Leicestershire.

According to archaeologists, the site was a type of open air shrine, which was used from around 50BC through to the Roman invasion in AD43. The gold and silver coins and other treasures discovered at the site, including an elaborately decorated Roman cavalry helmet and the remains of over 300 pigs, are believed to have been buried as gifts to the gods.

The front of the denarius features a depiction of the goddess Roma; the reverse, is engraved with an image of the mythical twins Castor and Pollux sitting astride galloping horses. Denarii were first struck in Rome in 211BC, making the Hallaton coin a very early version. How the coin came into the possession of the Creiltavi tribe remains a mystery. Whilst it may have arrived in the purse of an invading Roman soldier after the conquest in 43AD, some archaeologists believe that Roman Republican coins found their way into Britain before the conquest through trade or diplomacy.

The previous oldest known Roman coin in Britain, discovered by metal detectorist Malcolm Langford in Berkshire, is believed to date to 207BC. It was recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme last year.

A Leicestershire Council Officer explained:

‘we knew we had a coin dating to 211BC amongst the coins from the Hallaton
Treasure but only realised its full significance after a coin dating to 207BC
was publicised as the oldest Roman coin found in Britain’.

The coin is currently on display at Harborough Museum in the specially designed Hallaton treasure gallery which opened in September 2009.

Harborough Museum
Council Offices
Adam & Eve Street
Market Harborough LE16 7AG
Telephone: 01858 821 085

For further information on Roman Britain, visit our Ancient Rome focus page.

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