Hoard of Roman Republic denarii on display

A hoard of 175 silver denarii from the Roman Republic has gone on display for the first time a year and a half after it was discovered near Livorno, Tuscany. The coins, all but one struck by the mint in Rome, date to between 157 and 82 B.C. Except for two that are fragmented, they are intact and in excellent condition. The terracotta pot they were buried in was also found, making this an extremely rare complete Republican-era coin hoard that was archaeologically excavated upon discovery.

The coins were first discovered in November 2021 by Alberto Cecio while hiking the Tenuta Bellavista Insuese, an organic farm, agritourism destination and natural preserve a few miles north of Livorno. Cecio was looking for mushrooms in a forested area where the underbrush had recently been cleared and a few trees felled when he spotted a two potsherds each containing a small round clod. He brushed off some of the soil and realized the rounds were coins. As a member of the volunteer cultural organization the Paleontological Archaeological Group of Livorno, he understood they might be of archaeological significance so he immediately notified the local Superintendency of Archaeology and waited for six hours for their archaeologists to arrive. (His selflessness continued after the hoard was recovered and assessed. Cecio chose to forgo the discovery prize of 25% of the value of the find, about €6,250 in this case.)

The subsequent excavation found the rest of the coins and the ceramic vessel in which they were buried in the 1st century B.C. The discovery was kept secret while archaeologists catalogued, conserved and researched the treasure. The dates, quantity and consistency of denomination suggest it may have been the nest egg of a Roman legionary. Soldiers were paid in silver denarii, and 175 of them would have been a legionary’s pay for a year and a half.

The dates of the most recent coins suggest the hoard was buried in the turbulent era of the Social War (91-88 B.C.), when Rome’s former Italian allies revolted against it, and the subsequent civil war between the forces of Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla (83-82 B.C.). It was Gaius Marius who in 107 B.C. first pushed through the enlistment of the capite censi (the head count), the lowest class of Roman citizens who owned no property, in the army. A landless soldier who saved his pay may well have returned to the country with his nest egg planning to buy land or do business, only to bury it for safekeeping when things got hairy.

The hoard and pot are on display in a new exhibition at the Museum of Natural History of the Mediterranean in Livorno through July 2nd.

Viking hacksilver, coins found in Jutland cornfield

Two hoards of Viking hacksilver and coins dating to the late 10th century have been unearthed under a cornfield near Bramslev in northern Jutland. The two treasures were discovered less than 165 feet apart and are very similar in content. They were originally even closer, but later agricultural activity disturbed the deposits, intermingling the coins and other silver objects.

The first pieces were discovered last fall by Jane Foged-Mønster, a member of a local metal detecting association, Nordjysk Detektorforening, during a rally on a farmed field. She spotted a piece of silver which turned out to be a clipped Arabic dirham coin, then another fragment, this time a decorated silver ball from a ring buckle. The group, which works closely with museum archaeologists, recognized this was a treasure find and alerted experts from the North Jutland Museum.

Archaeologists followed up quickly with a rescue excavation of the site. Because it was actively in use for agriculture, anything else that might have been part of the hoard remaining in the plow layer was at imminent risk of being scattered or even destroyed. Jane Foged-Mønster and two of her co-discoverers from the metal detecting group aided in the excavation.

The archaeological team and volunteers spent a week digging at the site. They unearthed 300 finds, from small clippings of silver to jewelry and coins. The decorated ball terminal on a silver rod that Jane Foged-Mønster found has a pair. They both weigh about 70 grams (2.5 oz) and originally were part of the same piece of jewelry, likely a very large ring brooch. This type of jewel was worn by high-status men of Viking Ireland. Something this large and heavy and ornately decorated would have belonged to someone at the highest echelons of society like a bishop or even a king. It was likely looted by Danes in a raid and cut up for its silver weight.

Among the 300 finds are 50 coins, most of them Danish, but also German and Arabic. Some of the Danish coins are extremely rare cross coins struck in the reign of Harald “Bluetooth” Blåtand in the 970s and 980s. The crosses on the coins are believed to be connected to his King Harald’s conversion to Christianity and his aim of Christianizing the Danes. The ring fort of Fyrkat, built by King Harald Bluetooth around the same time the coins were struck, is just five miles away from the hoard site.

Fyrkat, together with Harald Blåtand’s other ring castles, were only in use for a very short time around the year 980. It is unknown why the ring castles were closed down, but at Trelleborg on Zealand, traces of battles have been found.

“Perhaps the castles were not given up entirely voluntarily, and perhaps it happened in connection with the final showdown between Harald Blåtand and his son Svend Tveskæg. The Bramslev treasures were apparently buried around the same time or shortly after the castles were abandoned, and if there have been disturbances at Fyrkat, it makes good sense that the local magnate here at Bramslev has chosen to hide his valuables out of the way, ” says [North Jutland Museums archaeologist] Torben Trier Christiansen.

The site is still harboring archaeological treasure. The excavation found signs of habitation beneath the plow layer. North Jutland Museums has received a grant to return to the site and investigate those structures this fall. The hoard will be exhibited to the public in North Jutland this summer and then transferred to the National Museum in Copenhagen.

Viking pseudo-dinar found in Norfolk

A gold disc struck with a fake inscription in imitation of an Islamic dinar found in Norfolk was probably made by a Viking. The pseudo-coin pendant was discovered in April 2021 near Morston, Norfolk, by a metal detectorist and has now been declared treasure.

Each side of the fake coin is decorated with a beaded border that surrounds an “inscription” that consists of vertical strokes on the obverse and horizontal strokes on the reverse. The lines end in raised dots and the horizontal lines alternate with rows of dots. This is so abstract an imitation of Arabic script that it was likely a copy of a copy of a dinar, far enough removed from the original inscription that the maker never laid eyes on it.

Islamic numismatics experts have dated the coin that inspired the copy to the Abbasid dynasty (770-820 A.D.). That doesn’t automatically mean the copy dates to the same period, especially since there were probably several generations of copies between the original and this imitation. The estimated date range is from the late 8th century to the mid 10th century, with the most likely window between 780 and 850 AD.

The pseudo-coin was pierced so it could be worn as a pendant, a common practice in the Scandinavian Viking Age (c. 800–1140 A.D.). Hundreds of coins reused as ornaments have been found in Viking-era graves and hoards, most of them silver and bronze. It was an easy way for people to make their own jewelry, since it required no specialized expertise or equipment to pierce a coin (a nail and a hammer would make short shrift of the job) or mount a loop to it. Converted gold coins are more rare and functioned as status symbols for their owners.

The practice also extended to coin-like discs struck in imitation of the real thing. As far as the makers were concerned, the coin didn’t have to be a genuine dinar or denarius or any official authorized currency to hold the same value and importance. They weren’t intended to be circulated forgeries, but as pieces of expensive jewelry with the coin aspect acting as a recognizable brand. Often the imitations were high quality, as in the example of the gold-plated faux dinar fibula recently discovered in the Hedeby hoard which copies an Almohad dynasty (1147-1269) gold dinar.

Prof Naismith, from Cambridge University, said some gold dinars from the Anglo-Saxon period have been found in England, probably arriving via Italy. […]

Contact between the Viking and Muslim worlds has been long-established by historical accounts and many dinars have been found in Scandinavian graves.

“So to my mind there is a very plausible connection” that the coin was a Viking imitation, said Prof Naismith.

However, with no evidence that Arabic traders came to England at this time, he believes the coin was struck in Scandinavia before being lost in Norfolk.

The county was part of the wider area of England ruled under Scandinavian law and customs, known as the Danelaw, which was established following Anglo-Saxon king Alfred the Great’s AD878 defeat of the Viking Great Army.

The Vikings had made Thetford in Norfolk one of its winter camps.

Roman gilded fragment baffles experts

A small late Roman (ca. 350-450 A.D.) fragment of gilded silver with stamped decoration has experts stymied. The chip-carved style with rows of geometric shapes stamped or punched on the surface suggests it dates to the late Roman period, but there are no direct parallels on the archaeological record and nobody can figure out what kind of object it originally adorned.

The fragment was discovered last year by a metal detectorist in Norfolk. It is one inch long and half an inch wide and weighs a grand total of two grams. It is flat and a rough rectangle with one broken edge; the rest are cut. The gilding covers all the decorated part of the fragment; a strip along the bottom is ungilded.

There are three rows of decorative shapes parallel to the long edge of the fragment: punched triangles with pointed bases, four-sided pyramids alternating with pointed oval stamps above and below, another row of punched triangles with apexes pointed down alternating with apexes pointing up.

There are a few examples of similar shapes and designs found in hoards of late Antiquity, including a silver-gilt scabbard mount in the Hoxne hoard, but they are not the same and are much more finely executed. The stamping on the fragment is uneven in spacing; the lines are uneven, sometimes curved, too.

The cut edges indicate that the fragment was cut off of its original mount, whatever that may have been, for use as hack-silver. The date indicates this may have been late Roman hack-silver rather than the products of much later Viking raids. Hack-silver was used during the waning days of Roman occupation as payments to soldiers, but it is usually found in a hoard context today. It’s rare to find a single deracinated element like this.

Dr Helen Geake, Norfolk’s county finds liaison officer, said: “The most basic question of all is, ‘what was this?’ … it’s a bit frustrating.” […]

Dr Geake said: “It is at the high end of silver-smithing in the Roman world and part of the sort of thing that would have been produced and used across the whole of Roman Empire, from Egypt to Hadrian’s Wall, from Morocco to Hungary.

“But what is it? If we can’t find a parallel already in a collection, we can’t say what it was or what it was part of.” […]

“I hope someone gets in touch with the answer,” Dr Geake added.

The last time she appealed for help with a mysterious object she was contacted on Twitter by someone who had the solution.

Medieval gold jewelry, silver coin hoard on display

The Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (the National Museum of Antiquities) just announced the discovery of a unique hoard of medieval gold jewelry and silver coins. The hoard consists of four gold earrings, two strips of gold leaf and 39 silver coins. The coins date to between 1200 and 1248, which indicates the hoard was buried around the middle of the 13th century. The jewelry, however, was already 200 years old when it was buried with the coins, a much prized heirloom collection.

The hoard was discovered in 2021 in Hoogwoud, North Holland, by Dutch historian and metal detectorist Lorenzo Ruijter. He reported the find to regional heritage authorities. He had to keep his discovery a secret for two years while experts at the National Museum of Antiquities cleaned, conserved and investigated the hoard before announcing the sensational find.

Gold jewelry from the High Middle Ages are extremely rare finds in the Netherlands, so the four 11th century earrings are the most significant pieces in the hoard. They are large, about two inches wide, and crescent shaped. Two of the four pendants have intricate filigree decoration. The other two are engraved with decorative scenes. One of them was damaged (probably by agricultural activity) and is incised with a floral motif. The other pendant is engraved with the image of a man’s head surrounded by radiating lines. This represents a portrait of Christ as Sol Invictus. Only three gold earrings similar to this have been found before in the Netherlands.

Only one side of the earrings is decorated and the suspension loops are so delicate compared to the weight of the jewelry that archaeologists believe they were not worn through pierced ear lobes, but rather worn on a head scarf, hood or head band. This type of adornment is seen in German illustrations from the period.

The two strips of gold leaf fit together, so they were likely part of the same decoration. Small textile fibers still attached to the leaf suggest the strips bordered a garment, likely a seam or a waistband.

The 39 silver coins are small pennies from Holland, Guelders and Cleves, the Diocese of Utrecht and from the German Empire. Traces of textiles found with the coins indicate they were originally buried in a bag or wrapped in cloth. The most recent of the coins were struck in 1247-8 by William II of Holland when he was elected King of Germany after Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II was excommunicated by Pope Innocent IV. William died in 1256 in Hoogwoud where the hoard was found. He was in the area engaged in one of several of his wars against the West Frisians when he and his horse fell through weak ice into a frozen lake. His West Frisian enemies killed him before the cold lake could finish what it had started, and buried him under the floorboards of a local house. That gives the hoard enormous archaeological significance in the history of Holland as a region and of the Netherlands.

The hoard is on display at the museum until mid-June of this year. It will go back on display in October as part of The Year 1000 exhibition. These are temporary loans, however. The hoard itself is still property of the finder.