Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Frome hoard -- a working hypothesis 2. The lands formerly Dobunnic

Gold coin of the Dobunni issued by "ANTED",
circa 10 BC - 10 AD. The king's name is actually
Antethirig, which is Celtic for "Fit to rule" 
The Dobunni occupied a large territory in western England. It had been free from conflict since Antethirig unified the northern and southern parts of the tribe's territory. Best known for their metalwork in the early Celtic art styles, they were close to sources of argentiferous copper, tin and lead and they attracted a number of Continental artists `who set up workshops there to supply more warlike neighbours with weaponry, and other equipment. One of the earliest arrivals was the artist who made the finial found in Oxfordshire. It seems fairly likely that he was a member of the Boii who gave their name to Bohemia. His arrival in the 3rd century BC strongly influenced the direction of early Celtic art in Britain.

Unlike other British tribes, the arrival of the Romans gave them little concern. In about 75 AD, a small group of them moved to Ireland -- presumably to follow a more warrior-like lifestyle as I explain here, but for the most part, they saw the Romans as a welcome source of income. A number of wealthy Romans built villas in their territory. Much of the land was very fertile and the weather was pleasant -- especially attractive for retiring Roman officers who had been serving on the northern frontiers.

In the vicinity of the Frome hoard, however, there was little Roman activity. It was farmland and it seems that, apart from the Frome hoard and another hoard of  Roman silver siliquae found not far away, stray coin finds of any sort were far from plentiful. Dave Crisp, the finder of the Frome hoard, explains the circumstances of the find in this video.

Now, if this agricultural community with no Roman town or temple nearby managed to offer some 52,000 Roman coins "to the gods",  one might expect to find more than a few similar coins in the general vicinity. We must also ask ourselves what in earth were they doing with so many coins in the first place? In ancient times, of course, coins were not used as much as they are today. If you were to visit a modern farming community and were to ask the inhabitants to gather 52,000 coins... . Something is very wrong here. Another problem with this hoard is the time span of the coins within it: only 52 years. If a hoard consists of coins that were gathered together by the community for safekeeping because of the threat of some attack, one usually finds a far greater time span -- there are almost always at least a few really old worn coins that were in circulation, and the numbers of coins of each time period gradually increases with a large peak at the time of the deposit. With the Frome hoard we only have the peak, and nothing earlier. This tells us that the coins originated in some place that was actively using an enormous amount of money. The only explanation is that these coins were paid to people working for an army. In a military situation, you do not have the old worn out coins that you find around settlements. It is obvious to me that this was an army under the control of Carausius.

So now we have to ask ourselves why an agricultural community would be in possession of so much military pay. It is more than unlikely that the community had become Roman soldiers, but an army needs more than just fighting men -- an army marches on its stomach, as Napoleon later said. Also, a Roman army had to take care of its horses, build camps, construct defenses and so on.

The Frome hoard was coinage that had been paid to that farming community for the services that they could provide. This could have been directly paid for grain and livestock, or it could have been for the hire of non-military labor. Perhaps it was a combination of the two. But this presents another problem: we know that this local area did not use much, if any, money. There are no reported stray finds; Dave Crisp was not finding other Roman coins apart from the hoards; there were no shops to spend any money and the money was not being recycled for local metalworking. Why then, were the locals so eager to exchange their goods or labor for money that was of no use to them and was simply buried in a large pot? We have already eliminated the possibility of "an offering to the gods".

I do have a solution to this puzzle, but you will have to wait until tomorrow ...

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