Monday, 23 September 2013

Frome hoard -- a working hypothesis 1. Getting our feet wet

Rather than wasting time with another account of the hoard, and because there is a lot to cover here, I direct the reader to the Wikipedia entry for the background information.

As there has been no interdisciplinary hypothesis presented for this find, and because its nature really calls for one, I present this working hypothesis to rectify the situation. A working hypothesis is a "bare bones" preliminary to a scientific hypothesis that lacks further, targeted, investigation to pursue the matter. Being an interdisciplinary approach, I have to cover a number of topics that are not common knowledge, as well as providing considerable historical information so that the cultural environment might be better understood. My point of departure is the suggestion that the hoard is an "offering to the gods". This working hypothesis has two parts (in order): what the hoard is not, and what the hoard is.

First of all, it has not been established that this deposit is even a hoard, so we have to start from that point. I am retaining the word as it is now commonly used, but the correct term is deposit. It is self-evident that these coins were placed in the ground but a hoard is, by definition, something that is intended to be recovered later for some purpose. Over many decades, the hoard definition has been allowed to degenerate from its original definition as defined by the old Treasure Trove laws (Now replaced by the Treasure Act). However, this is not the place to discuss such a thing.

The commonest type of hoard is one that is deposited during some period of strife so that it might not be discovered and captured as a result of such strife. However, there are a number of other types of hoards -- a founders hoard, for example, is metal that is buried for safekeeping from theft and is intended to either be used by the person(s) who deposited it for safekeeping until some, or all, of the metal was used to make objects, or to recycle the metal for such use by others. The Jersey hoards of Celtic coins are essentially scrap metal buried some time after they were issued and were destined to be recycled by the Durotriges at Hengistbury in England as I describe in my book. Opinions of the date of these deposits vary: Colin Haselgrove places them sometime in the 3rd quarter of the 1st century BC, while I place them ca. 10-15 AD. We both have valid reasons for our dating which are focused on the Le Catillon hoard.

So let's get out feet wet right away and look at "an offering to the gods". I know of no such type of deposit in Britain or on the Continent: Roman religious offerings are always aimed at a specific deity, or set of deities, and are made, for the most part, at temples dedicated to such deities. In Britain, there is sometimes evidence (often very slight) of  previous offerings, perhaps at a Celtic shrine at the same site. The construction of the temple usually hindering any clear evidence for a prior shrine so that we might have a number of Celtic coins or other objects that seem focused to that exact location without the clear evidence of  the construction of a previous shrine. Wherever actually found, these shrines are usually rather small rectangular structures.

We also have to keep in mind that this is a Roman, and not a Celtic deposit. At this late date, there can be no doubt of that fact. Augustus set up a hierarchical system of deities and these were worshiped at temples dedicated to them. At the top of the list came Vesta, then below that the deities that were shared with the Greeks -- Apollo, for example. Finally, came the foreign cults that had smaller followings. The temple lands, defined by the augurs, were divided into two categories: land that was used for the temple and its priesthood, and land that was leased to farmers in order to provide income for "staff salaries" and the upkeep of the temple. Augustus  also added other "perks" to encourage more interest in the gods that he best approved of, and these could include regular tickets to the games etc.

In Britain and Europe, this had an immediate effect on the local priesthoods. It should be understood that these priests were not Celtic Druids, but part of indigenous and local priesthoods that had persisted in those areas at least since the Neolithic. The Druids acted in more "supervisory" capacity, and it might be seriously questioned if they had their own gods at all. Through syncretism, however, these local deities were all likely "Celticized" to some degree over time. For anyone with an interest in just how far back these local deities went you can see a brief discussion I had with Euan MacKie following one of his posts on the Britarch discussion list.

The local priests, as might be guessed, were very eager to associate their deity with the Roman gods that promised them the greatest rewards, so we have vast numbers of local deities that were then given Roman names with a Celtic appellation -- Apollo Belenus, for example. This practice was prevalent in the earlier Roman Empire, but over time, the Celtic appellations were dropped and such a temple would be dedicated only to "Apollo" as the priests, essentially, Romanized themselves and thus contributed to the Romanization of the local population. In  my opinion, Augustus was one of the cleverest leaders in antiquity!

The temples, of course, would celebrate the feast days of the deity as well as having regular "services" for the population. Isolated elaborate, expensive, and often dramatic rites were held under the auspices of the Druids in Britain following, and as a reaction to, the Roman invasions and eventual conquest. These could even include human sacrifice if the situation seemed that desperate. They were restricted to other members of the Druid, and perhaps Knight classes, and were not part of regular, indigenous, religious practices.

From all of the above, it is clear that the Frome hoard was neither a Roman nor a native "offering to the gods" -- There was no likelihood of any emergency situation (as we will see in the next part), and there was no Roman temple at the site -- which is what you would expect, even long before the date of these coins.

Next episode: The lands formerly Dobunnic.

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