Friday, 17 April 2015

The Iceni hypothesis — part one

Main Iceni silver types
There are three types of Iceni silver coins which exist in great numbers and with many varieties: Boar/Horse; Pattern/Horse; Head/Horse. There are also three Iron Age hillforts in Norfolk but nothing is known about the identity of their inhabitants. Nor can we associate any of these coins with any of the forts. Metallurgically, these three types present a jumbled picture: on average, there appears to be more tin in the Face/Horse type, but you can find examples which have less tin than examples of the other two types (Northover, British Archaeological Reports (BAR) 222, 1992). With three major types in a region we could be seeing three issuers with a regional focus or consecutive issues of a single issuer, or a combination of the two. To the best of my knowledge, the main focus of trying to understand these series is still through the large hoards, but these hoards show no regional focus to any of these types and include them all.

The first extensive study of Iceni coins and their hoards was by Derek F. Allen and it was the first paper in the first volume of the journal Britannia in 1970. He concluded that the Iceni silver coin hoards were buried at the time of the Boudiccan Revolt from the presence of Roman coins in some of them. Other papers on the Iceni coinage and hoards also appear in BAR 222. The homogeneity of the main Iceni silver hoards does not help at all in trying to better define these issues and opinions vary. A Norfolk government archaeologist told me some years ago that someone is working on the Iceni coinage, but I do not know if this is still ongoing. Since the late Tony Gregory became the "liaison par excellence" between detectorists and archaeologists, finds of Iceni coins have increased, vastly, since Derek Allen got the ball rolling. One of the papers in BAR 222 on Iceni coins is by Tony Gregory and it also includes his obituary (he died in 1991). Yet sorting out these issues continues to be one of the biggest problems in British Celtic coin studies. It appears that the types had circulated widely and this has effectively occluded any original distribution patterns.

Or has it? I have devised a method which might make sense of it all, but I can offer it only as a hypothesis because putting this method into practice would be a huge research project available only to a dedicated amateur. It could take many years to complete, and there is no guarantee that the expected answers will be found. Like most of my methods, it requires very large numbers of coins to fall within its parameters. We have large numbers of Iceni coins, but how many will fall within these parameters I cannot guess. Perhaps there are not enough right now, but it could work in other century or so. I have no idea.

Apart from these doubts, though, the method could also be used for other sorts of objects of more than this single culture and time, and the raw data might be more obliging for some of that. It is based on an observation of some coins and a knowledge of Celtic social practices and we will dive into it on Monday. Have a great weekend.

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