Coinage

There have been detectorist finds recorded through Treasure Trove and the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) of usually single gold staters, silver issues and bronze potins, mostly of Corieltauvi manufacture from further south, including a gold stater from Bawtry – interesting given the possible Romano-British shrine site nearby (see below). Overall, however, Iron Age coin finds from South Yorkshire are relatively rare in comparison to other regions, and no large hoards have been recorded.

Roman coinage was a little more common according to Treasure Trove and PAS data, as scattered detectorist finds of individual coins but also as coin hoards (but note the caveat about distributions above). Roman coinage seems to have been comparatively scarce in northern England away from urban centres such as Doncaster and York, vici and military bases. The use of coins was probably uncommon on many small-scale rural settlements until at least the 4th century (Allen et al. 2016; Walton 2012). This pattern challenges the long-assumed notion of a gradual ‘evolutionist’ trend in coin supply and use whereby monetisation occurred as part of a wider process of acculturation or ‘Romanisation’ (Walton and Moorhead 2016: 836). One stimulus to coin supply in northern England was the military presence immediately prior to and following the Roman invasion of the north – this may well explain the finds of Republican and early Imperial coins at Rossington Bridge (O’Connor 2001: 91). Another might have come in AD 208 with the campaigns in northern Britain and the movement of the Severan Imperial household to York (Creighton 2014: 19, 26). The larger quantities of coinage on some rural sites in the early 4th century AD could also have reflected changes in how the Roman administration organised and controlled agricultural output (Walton 2012, 2014).

The extent to which South Yorkshire and other areas of northern England, Wales and south-west England were incorporated within a monetary economy is debateable. Outside of Templeborough and Doncaster, few excavated sites in South Yorkshire have produced Roman coins. At Enclosure E1, Redhouse Farm, Adwick-le-Street, three copper-alloy coins were found, including a 1st or 2nd century AD coin and an unstratified 4th century issue (Upson-Smith 2002: 23). There were three copper-alloy coins at Holme Hall Quarry (Jones et al. 2007: 66), one of 1st century date and two from the 3rd century. Six coins were found at Billingley Drive, Thurnscoe, all antoniniani radiates or radiate copies (Brickstock 2004: 51), and two at Armthorpe, of 1st and 3rd century date (Cool 2008a: 47). There was a single 1st century coin at Rossington Grange Farm (Sitch 20: 26). Coin loss or discard is not the same as coin use, but nevertheless this evidence does not appear to indicate a monetised Roman rural economy. Barter and exchange may have remained important.

Most Roman coin hoards in South Yorkshire are older finds that have been poorly recorded, and a fuller account of their distribution will be published elsewhere (Bland et al. forthcoming), but several hoards have interesting and noteworthy depositional contexts. These include some of the Roman coin hoards found within Edlington Wood. Two were associated with the stone-walled enclosures (Corder 1951: 66-69; Dolby 1973: 5-6; Ramm 1973: 28-31). One consisted of 80 silver denarii and one antoninianus of the 3rd century, and a small piece of lead-tin alloy, lying in and around sherds of a small Castor ware ceramic beaker. Within one or two metres were fragments of a calcite-gritted, handmade ‘native style’ pot associated with 356 denarii and 172 antoniniani. It is not known if the pots were buried in small pits, postholes or stone-lined cists; but they had clearly been disturbed. Robertson (1935) believed that the two groups of coins were parts of a single hoard which overflowed from the small beaker into the larger pot. This seems rather dubious from a taphonomic perspective. It may be that although the two groups of coins were originally separate, they were deposited as part of the same event, or at least within a very short while of one other. Their proximity indicates knowledge of the previous coins by the person who undertook the subsequent deposition. Corder’s 1951 plan shows the location of the two pottery vessels and the coins.

Recent analyses of other Roman coin hoard find spots around England and Wales suggest that natural features in the landscape influenced the place and nature of deposition (Bland et al. forthcoming; Chadwick 2014). In Edlington Wood, another hoard found in 1935 was only 85m north-east of the two hoards above; and it featured 59 3rd century antoniniani, possibly within a ‘native-style’ calcite-gritted jar, sherds of which were found in the same area (Corder and Percy Hedley 1945). The hoard was below the rocky limestone outcrop of Edlington Crags. Several other coin groups subsequently found above and below the crags may be separate deposits but are more likely addenda to the original disturbed hoard. Many of the rock formations have an unusual protean quality to them, and although is impossible to know how vegetated the area would have been in the past, the find spot may have commanded views north-east and eastwards across the valley of Warmsworth Beck and St Catherine’s Well, a spring site. There used to be another water source at Alverley Spring, c. 200m to the east, which is now a pond. The coins were close to a Romano-British enclosure, however, and thus part of a prosaic landscape; though such modern distinctions may be far too simplistic.

Creighton (2014: 25) notes that although four of the radiate hoards from Edlington Wood date to around the AD 260s, a fifth was earlier and had a closing date of AD 225, along with a structure like coin hoards a decade earlier. He therefore suggests that hoards were being deposited at this locale over at least 50 years, and this depositional activity resembles the multiple deposits more commonly associated with Iron Age coin hoards at shrine sites. There is growing acceptance that the large quantities of coins recovered from Romano-British temple sites and from ‘votive’ deposits represent a significant accepted ‘function’ of Roman coinage at the time, as social and economic transactions with deities (Walton and Moorhead 2016: 841).

At Low Hall Wood north of Sheffield, a hoard of 738 3rd century antoniniani radiates was discovered and although only a six-figure grid reference was recorded, this places the presumed find spot on a north-east facing slope, probably with a stream within 50-100m, and also within c. 50-100m of a spring (Bland et al. forthcoming). Nineteen Roman coins along with an inlaid brooch were found in the Roman Rig linear earthwork during railway construction in 1891, at the base of a slope near Wincobank hillfort. The artefacts were underneath a flat stone inserted into either the linear earthwork bank or the ditch – there are conflicting accounts (Addy 1893: 249; Sheffield and Rotherham Independent 24th August 1891). Several other coin hoards were located close to the line of the Roman Rig, which may indicate its continued social and mnemonic significance over time (Chadwick 2016a).

There is an interesting recorded cluster of eight Roman coin hoards along the south and south-east facing bank of the River Don Gorge, near the villages of Cadeby and Sprotbrough. This would be a notable concentration anywhere (Bland et al. forthcoming); but is especially so for South Yorkshire. There were many differences between these hoards, however, so it is unlikely that all were related. One hoard discovered by a detectorist in 1980 led to a small excavation. The combined finds included 313 struck 3rd century barbarous radiates and minim copies, many hammered blanks of bronze, numerous sections of bronze rod and tubing, and copper-alloy strips, wire and sheeting. Some of these items were corroded together (Mattingly and Dolby 1982). Roman pottery was recovered from the same soil layer, forming over half of a calcite-gritted, Dales ware jar of early 3rd to mid-4th century date that was probably the hoard container. The finds suggested counterfeiting, and this was supported by the large number of die-linked coins, two groups alone accounting for more than half the total hoard. This locale would have commanded quite extensive views across the River Don gorge and floodplain towards the high rocky point of Levitt Hagg. If there was forgery taking place, it may have been useful to be in a place where anyone approaching could be seen from a long distance.

The counterfeiter’s hoard was probably hidden for pragmatic reasons, but this may not have been the case for some of the other Don Gorge hoards. Another hoard was found in 1978, in woodland on the north-eastern side of the former Dearne Railway cutting. Some coins were seen lying on the surface beside a large flat limestone slab, probably disturbed through animal burrowing, and the hoard was then traced under the stone. At least 1638 3rd century antoniniani were associated with a wheel-made, coarseware Romano-British greyware jar, though some coins were situated beneath the vessel (Manby and Burnett 1981). The stone slab was partly resting on a rock outcrop and the hoard was under the centre of the slab, in the angle between it and the natural earthfast stone. The base and part of the main body of the vessel apparently remained in situ; with its side touching the face of the underlying outcrop, and the underside of the slab. Unfortunately, the site was thoroughly disturbed when earth-moving equipment was used to move the slab. The find spot was on a steep, south-facing slope of the Don Gorge, opposite Conisbrough on the southern side of the river, overlooking where Kearsley Brook meets the River Don.

The most notable coin hoard from the Don Gorge, and from South Yorkshire as a whole, is undoubtedly the so-called Cadeby Hoard, found in Pot Ridings Wood in 1981. The hoard consisted of 103 silver denarii and 9 antoniniani dating to AD 194–251, within a globular ‘poppy’ or pedestal ceramic beaker that had ‘spalled’ in several places, perhaps from the action of freeze-thaw within the limestone fissure, and/or also because the vessel was already quite old and a curated item by the time the coins were deposited within it. There were also four silver bracelets. One pair of the bracelets was set with roughly cut cornelians, whilst the other pair consisted of so-called ‘snake’ bracelets (Buckland 1986: 41; Cool 2000a: 30). The beaker and the bracelets were deposited within a natural fissure in the limestone rock that had been capped with a limestone slab to form a small cist. The find spot was located on quite a steep south-east facing slope, overlooking the floodplain and the River Don.

The Cadeby Hoard was acquired by Doncaster Museum in 1982, but the hoard has never been fully described, and only one set of drawings of the carnelian bracelets has been published (Buckland 1986: 41). Despite minor differences, the silver bracelets with carnelians appear to be part of a pair, perhaps made by the same craftsperson in Lincoln or York between 250 and 280 AD. The carnelians might have come from modern Cornwall, or possibly further afield in India or Afghanistan. No detailed mineralogical sourcing has been undertaken. In an interesting postscript, a third silver and carnelian bracelet was identified on the antiquities market in 2010, and XRF analysis of the surface of the bracelet indicated that it was broadly similar in silver content to the original four bracelets (SWYOR-B51685). The ‘new’ bracelet has been ruled by a coroner to be part of the same hoard. Its provenance is unclear, but it could certainly have been made by the same artisan.

In contrast, the silver snake bracelets display differences in wear and decoration, and one may have possible graffito, or a symbol scratched on the inner surface (P. Robinson pers. comm.), though no detailed microscopic study has been carried out. It appears to have been snapped or broken in antiquity. The second snake bracelet is simpler in execution, and could be a copy of the other, made by a different individual. It is less worn and scratched on the inner surface than the first bracelet, but is extremely worn on its external surface, as if it was regularly rubbed or polished. The two bracelets thus had very different biographies. Cool (2000a) discussed Romano-British hoards containing snake jewellery, including mid-2nd century AD examples at Snettisham in Norfolk, Backworth in Northumberland and Castlethorpe in Buckinghamshire. The Lightwood hoard from Longton, Stoke-on-Trent probably has a similar mid to late 3rd century provenance to the Cadeby artefacts (Mattingley 1963; Mountford 1963). The Lightwood and Cadeby hoards were deposited at a time when such bracelets were uncommon, and Cool thought it unlikely that they were deposited for safekeeping, or as bullion or ‘scrap metal’ (Cool 2000a: 38).

The symbolism of snakes and snake bracelets include associations with Mercury, Asclepios a god of healing, Glycon the hunter god, and/or with mother goddesses (Cool 2000a: 34-5). It is possible the bracelets were used or worn by religious specialists in ceremonies; or had amuletic or apotropaic properties. This might account for the wear or rubbing on the one snake bracelet. If this was the social context for the Cadeby hoard, then its deposition on a steep slope overlooking a river gorge might well have had ritualised significance. Such evidence suggests that there was something out of the ordinary occurring at Edlington Wood and along the Don Gorge in terms of Romano-British social practice, and the natural landscape may well have been an important influencing factor. Although no doubt targeted by metal detectorists, only one Roman coin hoard has been recorded from the south side of the Don Gorge around Conisbrough and Warmsworth, and quarrying and agricultural activities have yielded such finds either. This distribution may thus genuinely reflect past depositional practices. The River Don may have been a social boundary during the Iron Age between the Corieltauvi to the south and east, and the Brigantes to the north. It is possible that some of these differences were carried through as late as the 3rd century AD within the civitas administrative system. More likely, however, there was something numinous about the south and south-east facing slopes of the Don Gorge on the northern side that attracted coin hoarding activity.

The prevalence of coin hoards from the 3rd century matches a well-known national pattern. In the past this has been taken as evidence for a supposed ‘troubled’ period in Roman Britain, with military movements, possible uprisings as well as political and economic instability caused by various usurpers such as Gallienus. More coin hoards might thus have been buried for safekeeping during the period. It is likely that this has been considerably over-stressed however (Bland et al. forthcoming; Walton 2012; Walton and Moorhead 2016). The debasement of the coinage and subsequent inflation, coupled with the problems of owning coinage with images of a discredited emperor or usurper, meant that some people would have been left with large numbers of coins with low value. These coins would have been difficult to dispose of through financial transactions, particularly in a more rural context; and using them as ritualised offerings might have been a pragmatic response.