Thursday, 26 September 2013

Frome hoard -- a working hypothesis 4. Messing about in boats

The Broighter gold boat  in the National Museum of Ireland
Ardfern -- Wikimedia image

The Wikipedia account of the Broighter, Co. Derry, gold hoard gives little clues to the truly bizarre circumstances of the find and the events which followed, but read it anyway so that I do not have to repeat the basics. My source for the further information about the hoard comes mainly from Barry Raftery, La Tène in Ireland: Problems of Origin and Chronology Marburg, 1984 (an expensive book, and often difficult to obtain). I have added extra details.

In Irish art in the early Christian period to A.D. 800 (1940), F. Henry says: "The so-called 'Broighter hoard', having been found inside an old umbrella lying in a ditch, is hardly likely to be a deposit of the Iron Age". The following year, calling it an "exploded myth", A. Mahr, Celtic art in ancient Ireland, said that everything but the collar was probably of Indian manufacture. He was coy about revealing the full facts. R. A. S. Macalister, Litt.D., LL.D., F.S.A. The Archaeology of Ireland, 2nd edition, 1949, p.239-41, had the following to say:

"That is all very well, but Science cannot tolerate such vague reticences about a story, whatever it may be, antiquated now by a generation and a half. The rumours that have come my way, filling in these bare outlines, for what they may be worth, are to the effect that the objects were the property of a local collector, gathered at various times and in various parts of the world; that his home was raided by burglars; and that the thieves for some reason, wrapped their loot in the cover of an old umbrella and buried it where the ploughmen happened to find it. The umbrella story is accepted by Mlle. Henry; but until convincing answers are given to the questions which arise automatically, I shall find a very serious difficulty in following her lead. Who was this mysterious collector in the background? Why did he not come forward to claim his property when the newspapers were full of the case?..."
He goes on to add seven other questions about the verity of the story and then analyzes the hoard itself, noting that it was divided into three alloy types: the boat and bowl of pale gold "much alloyed with silver"; the chains of "a somewhat dull hue; the collar and torques of bright pure metal."  He also adds information from the official report of the legal proceedings which revealed that two ploughs were involved: one made a 6-8 inch pass over the ground, and the other behind it ploughing to a depth of about 14½ inches. The earth was stiff and apparently undisturbed. It was being ploughed for the first time. There was no trace of any wood or cloth -- the umbrella story was a fiction. Macalister was also able to talk to a woman who had witnessed the proliferation of wild tales about the discovery at the time, and she also confirmed what the Court had discovered. Yet, misgivings about the official report continued for many years -- legend having greater currency than fact.

An analysis of the metal content of each item has finally put the matter to rest: they all contained platinum traces consistent with all Irish La Tène gold, and its route to Ireland could have been from nowhere but the River Rhine. British gold contains no such platinum traces, neither do continental Belgic Celtic coins, nor their Philip II prototypes. While the Rhine does contain placer gold with platinum traces, the gold staters of Alexander the Great are of the platinum inclusion type -- undoubtedly originating in Asia Minor, in the rivers of Lydia -- the Persians, too, took advantage of these deposits. There was a single exception in Celtic coins so analyzed: a coin of the Boii -- that well-traveled tribe who also had a large base in cosmopolitan northern Italy.

So let us now investigate the Menapii, the tribe to which Carausius belonged. First, we will look at the Irish branch. In an introduction to his book, The Menapia Quest: Two Thousand Years of the Menapii - Seafaring Gauls in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man, 216 BC-1990 AD Norman Mongan has the following to say:

"The Menapii are the only known Celtic tribe specifically named on Ptolemy’s 150 AD map of Ireland, where they located their first colony- Menapia – on the Leinster coast circa 216 BC. They later settled around Lough Erne, becoming known as the Fir Manach, and giving their name to Fermanagh and Monaghan. Mongan mac Fiachna, a 7th century King of Ulster, is the protagonist of several legends linking him with Manannan mac Lir. They spread across Ireland, evolving into historic Irish (also Scottish and Manx) clans whose descendants are found worldwide today."
You will recall, from the Wikipedia entry about the Broighter hoard, that "The boat suggests that the hoard was a votive deposit to the Celtic sea god Manannán mac Lir".

Now, we will turn to the Continental Belgic Menapii (Netherlands) -- Carausius' homeland. Caesar says in reference to the wanderings of the German tribes Usipetes and Tenctheri who had been driven from their homes by the Suebi:
"...After wandering for three years in many parts of Germany reached the Rhine in the territory of the Menapii, who had lands, farmhouses, and villages on both banks of the river. Terrified by the arrival of such a multitude, the Menapii abandoned their dwellings on the German bank and placed outposts on the Gallic bank to prevent the emigrants from crossing. The Germans tried every expedient; but not having boats with which to force a passage and being unable to cross by stealth because of the Menapian pickets, they pretended to return to their home country, and marched in that direction for three days. ..." IV, 4
Of course, they returned, and catching the Menapii unawares, they slaughtered them and took their boats. This was in 55 BC. We can imagine that the Menapii then increased their defenses on the Rhine, and they were the only tribe who never sent envoys to Caesar to sue for peace.

Two gold coins of the Menapii, BN. 8743 and 8744.
Both found in the Netherlands. ca. Gallic war period

Boats on Celtic coins are a rare occurrence, the only other examples being Scheers' Bateaux type and their British derivatives.

Galleys are fairly common on Roman coins, and the iconography they represent is, for the most part, well understood. An exception, however, is the following silver coin of Carausius:

 Image courtesy  of Classical Numismatic Group Inc.

Allectus, who was Carausius' treasurer and another Menapian, assassinated him and then issued a half denomination (quinarius) which also showed a galley. Allectus' coin bore the legend VIRTVS AVG -- The Virtue of the Emperor -- not a difficult slogan to interpret, but the galley motif is unexplained by this. However, the legend on the Carausius denarius means The happiness of the Emperor. Was this a reference to his pride about being a Menapian, who seem to place great importance on boats in their iconography and had a certain amount of control of the Rhine at its mouth, or was Carausius, like the Water Rat in the Wind in the Willows, most happiest when messing about in boats?

Tomorrow, the final episode.


  1. A very informative and interesting read! With the added bonus about the Roman galley coins, I found my first Allectus one last year.

  2. Glad you liked it and congratulations, they are not very common at all!