11,000 pints of beer: Museum launches appeal to save thousands of coins from political upheaval of 4th century

By Culture24 Reporter | 25 July 2016

A hoard from a time of power politics in Roman Yorkshire would have been enough to buy 2,000 fish or pay a labourer for six years

A photo of a man holding up an ancient Roman coin at the Yorkshire Museum in York
Finder David Blakey with the some of the coins from the Wold Newton Hoard© Anthony Chappel-Ross
An appeal which needs to raise more than £44,000 in four months has been launched by the Yorkshire Museum, aimed at saving a hoard of 1,857 Roman coins on the 1,710th anniversary of the death of Constantius, the Roman Emperor who is depicted on them alongside Constantine, the son he visualised as his successor in his dying wish.

Metal detectorist David Blakey discovered the largest hoard of its kind ever found in the north of England near the East Yorkshire village of Wold Newton in 2014. Insect remains are stuck to some of the coins, which were immediately reported and filmed by Blakey, whose decision not to empty the hoard allowed archaeologists to excavate the vessel in different layers.

A photo of a man holding up an ancient Roman coin at the Yorkshire Museum in York
Blakey and curator of numismatics Andrew Woods with a section of the hoard© Anthony Chappel-Ross
Dating from 307 – a period of turbulence and uncertainty locally and in the Roman Empire – the hoard has “huge potential” for understanding the motives behind its burial, according to Andrew Woods, the curator of numismatics at the museum.

"This is an absolutely stunning find with a strong connection to one of the most significant periods in York's Roman history,” he says. “No hoard of this size from this period has ever been discovered in the north of England before.

A photo of a man holding up an ancient Roman coin at the Yorkshire Museum in York
© Anthony Chappel-Ross
“It contains coins from the time of Constantius, who died in the city, and then the first to feature Constantine, rising to power.

“This was a pivotal moment in York’s history but also the history of the western world.

A photo of a man holding up an ancient Roman coin at the Yorkshire Museum in York
© Anthony Chappel-Ross
“It was also a time of great uncertainty in the empire, as different Roman powers looked to challenge Constantine's claim as emperor.

"We hope to now save the hoard to make sure it stays in Yorkshire for the public to enjoy, but also so we can learn more about this fascinating period as well as why it was buried and to whom it might have belonged."

A photo of a man holding up an ancient Roman coin at the Yorkshire Museum in York
© Anthony Chappel-Ross
The hoard was worth a legionary’s annual salary when it was buried. It would have paid a carpenter for three years or a farm labourer for six, and was enough to buy 700 chickens, 2,000 of the finest fish or 11,000 pints of beer.

Each nummi coin is around 3cm in size. The only larger hoard ever found in the UK is the Fyfield Hoard, uncovered in 1944 and now kept at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

A photo of a man holding up an ancient Roman coin at the Yorkshire Museum in York
© Anthony Chappel-Ross
“The coins illustrate several co-emperors all jockeying for ultimate power,” says Richard Abdy, the British Museum’s Curator of Roman Coins.

“The Wold Newton hoard represents an evocative illustration of the power politics at the time York was an imperial capital of the Roman World.

“York’s local team consisted of father and son Constantius I and Constantine I the Great. Constantius was based in the city while dealing with the unruly Picts north of Hadrian’s Wall, whereupon his death Constantine was declared emperor by the army of Britain.

“AD 306 was a turning point in world history as Constantine was to become the first Christian emperor.”

  • A major part of the hoard and the ceramic vessel is on public display at the Yorkshire Museum until October 9 2016. Donations can be made in person or through PayPal to the email address accounts@ymt.org.uk.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Three places in Yorkshire to discover the Romans

The focal point of the museum’s Roman galleries is a recreation of the centre of the Roman settlement of Petuaria (Brough). Innovative displays of pottery, glass, oil lamps and brooches are mounted in shop windows around the town square, and visitors can also inspect a tax-collector’s office and mosaic-maker’s workshop.

, Redcar
Archaeological excavations to the north of Loftus between 1979 and 2004 present a wealth of evidence of how people lived in East Cleveland over the last 5,000 years. The results of the excavations are presented in the exhibition Street House before the Saxons, running until November 1 2016.

See ceramics, coins, jewellery and tools found by archaeologists around Thirsk - many from Roman, Anglo-Saxon and Mediaeval times. Among the exhibits are the remains of the “Saxon Giant”, recovered from an ancient burial ground near the museum.
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They'll end up going back to the British Museum, where they'll be lost amongst all their other spectacular finds. If it were kept in the north, it would be a fantastic addition to the North's cultural heritage.
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