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«MISCELLANEA ON A F I N D O F E A R L Y B R I T I S H T I N COINS A T SUNBURY-ON-THAMES digging on a housing site at Sunbury-on-Thames on 4 April ...»

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digging on a housing site at Sunbury-on-Thames on 4 April


1950 two workmen unearthed some portions of pottery and a number

of coins. T h e y were found in a pocket of clay which was itself situated

in a terrace-like formation of rock believed to have been formed as a

result of the Ice Age.

The find was made some 30 inches below the surface of the present ground level, and the Surveyor to the Sunbury Council is of the opinion that the ground at this point has not been disturbed below plough depth since historical time.

The fragments of pottery contained a total of 317 whole coins and the pieces of 56 others, and the coins were believed, when discovered, to be Anglo-Saxon pennies. For this reason an inquest upon the find was ordered, and was subsequently held. Closer inspection, however, revealed the coins to be Early British, of the type shown on plate H of Sir John Evans's Ancient British Coins and generally referred to as tin, since this metal predominates in the alloy of which they are made.

Members who are familiar with this series will know that these coins are crude in design, and are cast in a mould, which forms several pieces together, the coins being subsequently divided into separate specimens b y being broken apart.

The coins in this find were in a very corroded condition, which gave rise to the mistaken idea as to their period and metal. W e are very much indebted to Mr. Carson for his kindness in cleaning up the specimens and dividing them into their basic types.

The general design of the coins, as Members will know, is crude in the extreme, the device on the obverse being a roughly formed head, facing either left or right, and that on the reverse being a series of lines which are taken to represent a bull, again facing either to left or right. A n ornament consisting of either a pellet, a circle, or a pellet within a circle appears on the coins, in the centre of the head.

The find has been divided b y Mr. Carson into the following fourteen

main groups:

Head to right, ornamental pellet in circle, bull to right. 18 speci- mens.

Head to left or right, ornament uncertain. 64 specimens. All these 64 pieces are too badly corroded for it to be certain which w a y either the head or the bull face.

Head to right, ornament a circle, position of bull uncertain. 5 specimens.

Head to right, ornament a circle, bull to left. 13 specimens.

Head to right, ornament a pellet in a circle, position of bull un- certain. 28 specimens.

Head to left, ornament uncertain, bull uncertain. 10 specimens.

Miscellanea 340 Head to left, ornament a pellet in a circle, bull uncertain. 3 specimens.

Head to left, ornament a pellet in a circle, bull to right. 26 specimens.

Head to left, ornament a circle, bull uncertain. 13 specimens.

Head to left, ornament a circle, bull to left. 25 specimens.

Head to right, ornament a circle, bull to right. 7 specimens.

Head to right, ornament uncertain, bull uncertain. 33 specimens.

Head to right, ornament a pellet in a circle, bull to left. 71 specimens.

Lastly, the most interesting specimen. Head to left, an ornament consisting of three pellets arranged in triangular formation, bull to left. 1 specimen.

Total 317 coins.

Through the kindness of the Sunbury Council and of their Surveyor, Mr. Buttress, who now owns the coins, I was able to exhibit at the Society's meeting the find and the pieces of p o t t e ^, believed to belong to the Iron Age, in which the coins were found. The formation of the pieces of pottery shows that the pieces originally formed part of at least three vessels.

Finds of these tin coins occur mainly in the south-eastern district of England, specimens having been discovered at St. James's Park, Lenham Heath, the Isle of Thanet, Weycock (Berkshire), Hod Hill (near Blandford), Lilly Hoo (near Luton, Bedfordshire), Snettisham, and Maidstone. It is of interest to note that the specimen found at Hod Hill has the three-pellets-in-a-triangle ornament, instead of the ring or pellet in the centre of the head, and is the only one of this type mentioned by Evans.

The Sunbury find is now on permanent loan to the London Museum.



IN a recent paper to the British Numismatic Society 1 I described the possible course of coinage in Britain between the end of the Roman period and the consolidation of the English conquests a century and a half to two centuries later. In it I adhered to the mid sixth-century dating for the cessation of Romano-British coinage—a theory which is shared by several students of the period, although others go to the opposite extreme and will not hear of the existence or manufacture of coins after the second quarter of the fifth century. While still not accepting this latter view, I have recently modified my opinions and am now inclined to place the end of Romano-British coinage to a date somewhere between the two.

For leading me to reconsider the extremely scanty evidence at our disposal I am indebted to my friend, Mr. E. J. W. Hildyard, F.S.A., Published in Brit. Num. Journ., 1949, PP- 1-27.

1 426 Miscellanea who has the advantage over many of us of being an archaeologist as well as a numismatist! Having read my Dark Age paper he immediately put forward some valuable and constructive criticisms.

"Theoretic arguments", he wrote, "seem to me insufficient by themselves. B y these I mean inferences based on literary, economic and stylistic arguments. The great weakness is that isolated hoards really don't help much. Y o u cannot argue from coins in a vacuum. Y o u must link them up with other types of objects if you are to associate them with a ' culture' of a particular date." He further observed that what was really needed to prove the production of coins b y the Britons in the sixth century was either (a) coins of an entirely distinctive style, so distinctive that they cannot possibly be classed as mere copies, or (6) existing coins found in definite Dark Age archaeological association or, ideally, of course, both together. He considered it possible that we have the beginnings of (a) in our sceatta-like imitations, while evidence of (b) may yet turn up by excavating bombed city-sites. However, if, as seems likely, the sceatta-like imitations were produced by the English and not by the Britons, 1 they lie outside our present considerations and, as regards (b), no unquestionably Dark Age material has so far been recognized, and objects found in association with possible Dark Age hoards were not datable.

(There is, however, the possibility, pointed out to me b y Mr. Hildyard, that much of what has hitherto been regarded as fourth-century material may, in fact, belong to the fifth.) Conclusive evidence for a mid sixth-century date, however, is sadly lacking, and it remains to be seen if an earlier date admits of easier proof. What pointers are available ? Only three: (i) the historical background into which the coins can be placed; (ii) the economic background ; and (iii) the literary evidence of Gildas, for what it is worth.

Before following these three lines of thought, however, it should be pointed out that this note is composed on the assumption that coins survived the Roman Occupation—and even the " E a r l y School" admits the existence of coins a generation after the end of the Roman period (to c. A.D. 440).

i. The history of the period shows us first a gradual decline of the British fortunes until c. 450; then a sharp fall when, within the next few years, the invaders overran the country from east to west. A partial restoration of fortune followed the martial efficiency of Vortimer, Ambrosius, and Arthur, but the British position was still insecure until the early years of the sixth century, when Arthur's victory at "Mount B a d o n " (traditionally assigned to 516) drove the invaders back to the east of the island (and even, probably, overseas to Frisia and northern Gaul) and won for the Britons of the south and west a respite of some forty years. This period of comparative peace ended about the middle of the sixth century, after which the invaders made a supreme effort to conquer the country and all but succeeded, so that, See N.N.M. l x x x, pp. 1 1 1 - 1 7, especially pp. 1 1 2 - 1 3, and Num. Chron., 1948, pp. 1 4 2 Miscellanea 342 with the exception of a few " h e d g e h o g s " of British resistance, the whole of the island south of the W a l l — a p a r t from Strathclyde, Wales, and Damnonia—fell into their hands.

ii. A n important economic factor of the post-Roman era was the metal scarcity, which had made itself felt as early as the fourth century and which grew steadily more acute throughout the fifth and sixth centuries. Moreover, the monetary situation had become almost impossible soon after 410 b y reason of the stoppage of official coin from the continental mints.

iii. Gildas (De Excidio Britanniae, § 21) hints at a great increase of material prosperity after the failure of the appeal to Aetius in 456, when the Britons, left to their own resources, defeated " t h e e n e m y " (presumably at this time the Picts and the Scots). Later (§ 26) he talks about " t h i s present prosperity", which his fellow countrymen appear to be enjoying at the time when he was writing—i.e. in the mid sixth century. The late Professor Collingwood 1 has suggested that it was the able but unscrupulous rule of Vortigern which ushered in the period of prosperity of the fifth century, and we m a y not be far wrong in assuming that Gildas's "present prosperity" of the sixth was one of the results of Mount Badon. There was certainly no commercial intercourse with Europe until it was resumed b y the English towards the close of the sixth century: whatever prosperity m a y have been in the British parts of the island during the first half of that century must have been of a strictly rural and localized nature.

If our interpretation of Gildas is correct, that there was a considerable revival of prosperity after Mount Badon, it is likely—though not necessarily certain—that, had coins then existed, this prosperity would have been reflected in individual coins and hoards. This is b y no means the case. A p a r t from the sceatta-like imitations there is no evidence of a return to a large module for the coins and there is no doubt that the latest hoards are those which consist entirely of minimissimi. The date of Mount Badon is highly controversial, but we m a y not be far out if we place it early in the sixth century. Since the circulation of coins had apparently ended before that event, we cannot expect to find evidence of their production after c. 500. It must not be imagined, however, that Romano-British coinage came to a sudden halt. On the contrary, it must have petered out, probably during the second half of the fifth century, when the British position was becoming more serious. The same conclusion is reached b y a study of the economic situation. B y the second half of the fifth century the metal scarcity must have reached alarming proportions: hence the minimissimi and fragmentary coins which give to these hoards their impoverished appearance. Moreover, the metal in which the majority of minimissimi were struck contains a large percentage of lead: 2 Roman Britain and the English Settlements (Oxford, 1945), p. 315.


–  –  –

hoard, w h i c h contained no minimissimi, w a s deposited: see the a n a l y t i c a l note b y Mr.

M a t t i n g l y in Num. Chron., 1947, p. 91.

343 Miscellanea occasionally they were struck entirely in lead—further evidence of the great scarcity of copper.

A practical result of this modification of m y former opinion is that the probable burial dates of late hoards (c. 470, c. 500, and c. 550) in the lists of hoards appended to m y various papers should be put back some years (say, to c. 450, c. 470, and c. 500 respectively). These remarks do not apply to the Richborough Radiate hoard (" Richborough I V " ) and must be modified in the case of the Bermondsey hoard, which should be put back from c. 500 to c. 450.

–  –  –

W U L F R E D was Archbishop of Canterbury from 805 to 832 and as was the custom in those days he had an issue of coins struck at the Canterbury mint in his name.

This particular coin of his (Fig. above) is of a hitherto unpublished type and until recently was thought to be the only one in existence, but there was another in the R y a n sale (lot 595, bought b y the British Museum) differing slightly in minor details (PL. A, 1).

Both coins are unfortunately chipped. The type was unknown to Ruding and Hawkins.

The obverse bears a facing tonsured bust of the archbishop within an inner circle with the legend W L F R. E D I [ A R ] C H I E P I * C 0 P I.

This is a similar obverse to that which Brooke classifies in English Coins as Group 3, no. 4, presumed to have been issued from 825 to 832;

in other words towards the end of Wulfred's term of office. This is probably correct as the reverse of the Brooke Group 3, no. 4 coin, a cross-crosslet, is similar to the reverse of coins of Beornwulf of Mercia and his successor, struck perhaps at Canterbury after 824.

The reverse of this coin, however, has the alpha and omega monogram instead of the cross-crosslet within an inner circle, the legend being D O R. O V E R [ N I ] A E L I F I T A T I *. There is no moneyer's name, but it is probably the work of either Saeberht or Swefheard, both of whom struck for Archbishop Wulfred at Canterbury during his later years.

The interesting point about this coin is, of course, the alpha-omega monogram and what it stands for. It is obviously of religious significance. One has only to read the Revelations, where " I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the e n d " is referred to more than once. One can therefore more or less understand the device being used b y an archbishop. But w h y so good a reverse Miscellanea 344 t y p e was not used b y other archbishops when it was used b y various kings both before and after Wulfred's time one cannot say.

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