A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 1. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1939.
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(i) Miscellaneous Finds
It is possible to compile a representative list of some 2,500 Roman coins found within the county boundaries. Many of these, and notably a fine series of well over 1,100 from Wood Eaton, (fn. 1) are in the Ashmolean Museum. Among other places, Alchester, Asthall, Dorchester, Swalcliffe, and Tackley have all produced numerous coins in continuous chronological series; (fn. 2) and the evidence supplied by these sites is confirmed or supplemented by the great numbers of stray finds discovered elsewhere.
Roman Oxfordshire, lying centrally in the south midlands, a field for steady and easy development, has already been described. Analysis of the coinfinds clearly reflects the general characteristics of the area. The number of 1stcentury coins—some 4 per cent. of the total finds—is not large in itself, but by analogy with other areas the figure indicates a steady penetration of Roman currency where it was formerly unknown. Only about a dozen sites (and these, indeed, stand in close relation to the early stages of the occupation) have produced coins of the Claudian period, but some allowance must be made for a modified 'time-lag' in the diffusion of coinage in Roman Britain. (fn. 3) A noticeable increase comes with the Flavian issues. The 2nd-century coins account for 6 per cent. of the total finds, and their peak occurs with Antoninus Pius, whose coinage is represented at certainly one-third of the relevant sites. In the first half of the 3rd century the Oxfordshire area experienced the sudden decrease in currency volume which affected all Britain and most of the Roman Empire: the percentage of coins of this period drops to 3½. It is probable that diminution in the amount of coinage actually issued, together with the substitution of the new and unpopular antoninianus in place of the denarius, was partly responsible for the decline, which is noticeable at all the more prolific Oxfordshire sites, and even affects the chronological distribution of hoards.
From about a.d. 260 onwards the currency-volume in Oxfordshire for some fifteen years or more reached hitherto unparalleled heights, with a percentage of 18½. The coins consist chiefly of the debased bronze antoninianus issued by the Gallic emperors, and not scorned by the central government; and they testify to the general bankruptcy of the empire. By contrast, a mere handful of coins represents the period from Aurelian to Numerian; and this is due to the 'reformed' (and suspect) coinages issued during these years, which theoretically demonetized the previous base bronze issues, yet failed to displace them. Some 4 per cent. of the total finds cover the years c. a.d. 285–310, including the transitory British Empire: it may be noted that Carausius's coinage is about two-and-a-half times commoner than that of Allectus, and that their joint issues were profuse enough to supply the province adequately until about a.d. 310. Then, with Constantine in power and a mint established in London, the currency reaches the highest level of all, 45 per cent., and is found at three-quarters of the relevant Oxfordshire sites. (fn. 4) Although the number of sites represented by coins of Valentinian's dynasty drops by half, there are still 13½ per cent. of coins to cover these years, with Valens predominating.
The figures for the last years of the occupation are necessarily incomplete, owing to careless recording and to the worn state of the coins themselves. Thus the 4 per cent. of coins attributed to the Theodosian period is probably an understatement which future years will correct. Nevertheless, volume was declining sharply: coins were being hoarded rather than being released in general currency; and such coins as remained in currency continued to circulate until they were often smooth and illegible. Yet it should be noted that nearly one-quarter of the tabulated Oxfordshire sites have produced Theodosian coins; and there can be little doubt that at places such as Alchester, Dorchester, Swalcliffe, and Wood Eaton (to say nothing of smaller centres of life like the Ditchley villa) communal existence continued with comparatively little change for a considerable number of years after the evacuation.
Few signs of sub-Roman currency have been found in Oxfordshire. Stray radiate minims, undoubtedly late, occur here and there, as at Wheatley, Wood Eaton, and Wootton, but such examples are rare: Wood Eaton has produced also a few diademed minims. A good deal of worn and indecipherable bronze of Theodosian size is met with—notably around Chipping Norton, where the high ground may have attracted many who feared the greater insecurity of the river-valleys. There is, however, no true coinage-series in the 5th century and onwards in the Oxfordshire area. Even finds of sceattas (fn. 5) are uncommon by comparison with those of some other southern counties.
The following list includes thirteen hoards of which more or less full details are known, together with the bare and unhelpful particulars which have been recorded of ten others. It will be observed that bronze hoards predominate in the 1st century, and that silver comes in only in the 2nd. The 3rd-century period of economic crisis is not represented; but thereafter the deposits extend certainly down to the time of the evacuation, and probably later.
(i) Minster Lovell:—On 12 February 1881, close to the Priory and to the Windrush, were found 24 sestertii of Claudius I, in fine condition; they included only two reverse-types, one being 'Ob Cives Servatos'. [Information from the late Mr. F. Ellis, formerly resident in Witney; cf. Manning MSS. in the Ashmolean.] For comment see below, under (ii).
(ii) Wilcote:—Among the coins submitted to the late Mr. Ellis for examination were 25 sestertii of Claudius from Wilcote. [Source of information as above.] These coins can scarcely have formed anything else than a hoard.
The rarity of this type of deposit in Britain is clear from the fact that the similar hoard found at Richborough (fn. 6) appears to be the only parallel. All other hoards which consist entirely of bronze coins of Claudius are composed of dupondii or asses, (fn. 7) with one doubtful exception. (fn. 8) The evidence derived from imitations of the coins of Claudius suggests that the sestertii, though by no means rare, were nevertheless far less common than the lower denominations. (fn. 9) The fresh condition of the Minster Lovell coins suggests a date, for this hoard at least, not long after a.d. 43. Every one of the nine recorded hoards closing with Claudius's coins was found south of the Fosse Way, and therefore these were not improbably concealed while Roman operations centred in that area, i.e. about a.d. 43–7. It should be remembered that Minster Lovell is scarcely more than a mile from the Akeman Street, and that Wilcote lies directly upon it.
(iii) Roustage Barrow (Wychwood Forest):—The Ashmolean Museum has recently received from the British Museum the small find of 5 coins which formed the subject of a note in the Numismatic Chronicle, 1863, p. 145. During the excavation, in March 1858, of the barrow in Roustage Green, some 2½ miles NE. of Asthall village, there were found (at some distance from each other) the following coins:
1 British AR of 'Antedrigus' (cf. Evans, Coins of the Ancient Britons, p. 389).
1 Roman Æ 2, — a semi-barbarous hybrid (obv., 'Divus Augustus Pater'; rev., Neptune, &c., as on the series struck in commemoration of M. Agrippa).
1 Nero Æ 2.
2 Vespasian Æ 2.
Possibly this small find should not be regarded as a hoard in the usual sense, although, as the structure of barrows was always liable to disturbance by marauders and others, the coins may perhaps have been scattered beyond their original limits. In any case, the construction of the 'hoard' is closely paralleled from other finds; the Bitterne hoard (fn. 10) contained British AR with Æ of Claudius and Nero: the Honley hoard (fn. 11) included British and Roman Republican AR with Æ up to Vespasian, while British AR was accompanied by Æ up to Domitian in the Timsbury (= Romsey) hoard, (fn. 12) and by Æ up to Hadrian in the South Hants hoard. (fn. 13)
Clearly, such deposits are chiefly characteristic of southern England; this area, being quickly subdued, absorbed the new Roman Æ coinage easily and grafted it on to the existing system of British AR, which was not finally supplanted by Roman AR until Hadrian's reign. (fn. 14)
(iv) Goring (River Thames):—Reading Museum contains 6 coins which, as they were dredged up (with two Roman brooches and some Roman pottery) from the Thames at Goring, (fn. 15) may fairly be considered in connexion with Oxfordshire hoards. The coins are all Æ 2, but only one can be certainly identified—a Vespasian; the other 5 are probably of late 1st-century or of 2nd-century date. Possibly the coins are only a part of the original number found. Of the brooches, the larger is of a 2nd-century type, with central acanthus moulding. [Information from Mr. W. A. Smallcombe, partly corrective of Peake, Archaeology of Berkshire, p. 104 f.; cf. Manning MSS. in the Ashmolean.] From the evidence available it is not possible to estimate the range or date of this hoard. Deposits of bronze coins closing in the 2nd century are not common: examples are for the most part confined to the south of England, such as the Croydon, (fn. 16) London (Nicholas Lane), (fn. 17) Castle Thorpe, (fn. 18) and Woolmer Pond (fn. 19) hoards; see also below, (v).
(v) Whitchurch (River Thames):—During the dredging of Whitchurch Weir Pool, in June 1911, 34 Roman coins were found, 8 ft. deep, at a point 20 ft. away from the nearest bank. The coins, which are now in Reading Museum, are as follows:
Æ1 (1): Hadrian.
Æ2 (33): 1 Antonia, 1 Galba (?), 2 Vespasian (?), 1 Titus or Vespasian, 2 Domitian (+2 ?),
1 Trajan (+2 ?), 2 Hadrian (+3 ?), 2 Antoninus Pius (with 'Britannia' rev.), 2 Faustina I,
2 M. Aurelius, 10 uncertain of the 1st or 2nd century.
[Information from Mr. W. A. Smallcombe; cf. Arch. lxxi, p. 264.]
For comment see above, under (iv). A certain interest attaches to the 'Britannia' issues of Antoninus Pius. Coins bearing this type are commonly of rough and inferior fabric, (fn. 20) and it has been surmised that they were struck in Britain from dies sent from Rome. Their frequency in circulation (fn. 21) suggests at least that they were specially intended for currency in Britain.
(vi) Hanwell:—In October 1828 the discovery was made, in a field at Hanwell, of a Roman pot containing more than 70 denarii of the following reigns: Nero, Vespasian, Titus, Domitian, Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Pius, Faustina I, M. Aurelius, Faustina II, Verus, and Lucilla. The coins were in fine condition: some of them were incorporated into the Ashmolean collection, but these cannot now be distinguished. [Beesley, Banbury, p. 45, and plate vi, nos. 2-4 thereto; cf. Arch. lxxi, 244, and Manning MSS. in the Ashmolean.]
Hoards of denarii buried in the third quarter of the 2nd century a.d. are common all over Britain; the effect of the steady influx of great quantities of silver in the preceding fifty or seventy-five years is apparent. Very occasionally, such hoards include denarii prior to Nero's reform; less rarely, there are found examples of the base denarii of M. Antonius. The range of the present hoard is paralleled by those found at Ashwell, (fn. 22) Hinxworth, (fn. 23) Benacre, (fn. 24) and Horseheath. (fn. 25)
(vii) Ewelme (Harcourt Hill):—In 1722 a fairly large hoard of 3rd-century coins was discovered in a pot at Harcourt Hill, Ewelme. At some date within the two following years 337 of the coins were entrusted to John Pointer, then Chaplain of Merton College, for description; of this number, Pointer catalogued somewhat less than one-third in his Britannia Romana (1724), pp. 1230. His list opens with a single Æ 2 of Domitian. This was clearly a straggler and, as such, is not unparalleled; see under (ix), below. The catalogue of the remaining coins (all Æ 3) then runs as follows:—34 Gallienus, 6 Salonina, 2 Valerian II, 6 Postumus, 8 Victorinus, 2 Marius, 1 Laelian, 9 Tetricus I, 3 Tetricus II, 21 Claudius II, 2 Quintillus, 1 Aurelian, 1 Tacitus, 4 Carausius. Pointer includes also an 'Urbs Roma' issue of Constantine I, but this can scarcely be correct, and the coin must have been an intruder. [For additional references, based chiefly though not always accurately upon Pointer, see Arch. lxxi, 242.]
Hoards concealed during the reign of Carausius fall into two sharply divided classes, (a) those buried before anything more than a sprinkling of Carausius's or Diocletian's coinage had begun to circulate, and (b) those consisting in great or major part of Carausius's issues. The Ewelme hoard, belonging to class (a), has parallels in such hoards as those found at Bredicot (fn. 26) and Wentwood. (fn. 27) It illustrates, moreover, a striking feature common to all hoards of the period. Coins struck during the Gallic empire, whether at the Gallic mints or at mints controlled by the central government, are common. After the Tetrici (a.d. 270–3) there comes a period of 14 years (or rather 17, if we allow for the three years during which Aurelian overlapped the Tetrici) which is represented by only 2 coins. Site-finds everywhere confirm the scarcity of coins from circa a.d. 273–87; and it is probably correct to say that the reformed coinage introduced by Aurelian and continued by his successors was unpopular at a time when any monetary reform implied the demonetization of large stocks of currency already in circulation or private possession.
(viii) Shotover:—In May 1842 a pot was found on the estate of Mr. G. V. Drury in Thornhill Lane, between the Oxford-Wheatley road and Shotover Lodge. The pot contained about 560 coins, and perhaps some beads. The coins were of the following reigns, and were presumably all Æ 3, save in the first case, where we should probably take Æ 1 or Æ 2 of Pius for granted, unless the reference is to the billon coinage of Severus's dynasty:—Antoninus, Gallienus, Salonina, Postumus, Victorinus, Claudius II, Tetricus, Aurelian, Tacitus, Florian, Probus, 'Maximilianus' (? i.e. Maximianus Herculius), and Carausius. The list ends with the name of Gratian, which either must be a mistake or must stand for a chance intruder. [Num. Chron. 1844, p. 43; Arch. Journ. iii (1846), p. 125; cf. Manning MSS. in the Ashmolean.] Lack of further information prevents any detailed analysis of this hoard, but in its main outlines it is probably comparable to (vii), above.
(ix) Eynsham:—In 1935 the Ashmolean Museum acquired a small hoard of 33 coins, found recently by a labourer in a field at Eynsham; the pot in which they were contained was smashed. The coins are as follows:—
Æ 2: 1 Nerva.
Æ 3: 1 Probus, 1 Licinius, 11 Constantine I, 3 Crispus, 15 Constantine II (Caesar), 1 Constantius II (Caesar).
[Ashmolean Museum; for details see Num. Chron. 1936, pp. 251 ff.]
The inclusion of 1st-century Æ 2 in a 4th-century hoard is interesting, though not without some kind of parallel; (fn. 28) and the rare survival of a coin of Probus is worth notice. This hoard was buried circa a.d. 330–3, and it belongs to a period when currency was very profuse, and hoarding consequently widespread, throughout Britain.
(x) Wood Eaton (1):—The Wyndham Hughes hoard from Wood Eaton, now deposited on loan in the Ashmolean Museum, contains the following Æ 3 coins: 2 Tetricus, 3 radiate imitations, 2 Licinius I, 1 Licinius II, 197 Constantine I, 303 Constantine II, 1 Crispus, 183 Constantius II, 40 Constans, 5 Delmatius, 10 uncertain Constantinian, 60 Helena, 63 Theodora, 351 'Urbs Roma', 322 'Constantinopolis', 5 hybrids, and 3 unidentifiable fragments; total 1,551. [J.R.S. xxi (1931), pp. 104, 108–9.]
This deposit was buried circa a.d. 340. Its interest lies mainly in the imitated coins which it includes. Apart from the 3 radiate copies, the occurrence of which at this time is normal enough, there are 13 copies of the Constantinian 'Gloria Exercitus' type which are clearly unofficial, though they are most of them careful enough productions to pass with the orthodox issues. One of these 13 copies is from the same dies as another example from Wood Eaton—this time a stray find; each of the two coins is in fresh condition, and they may well have been produced at or near Wood Eaton. The hoard therefore suggests that, even in a period when bronze coinage was remarkably profuse, the local production of copies of contemporary types, begun in earnest some eighty years earlier, was still continuing.
(xi) Wood Eaton (2):—Many years ago Sir Arthur Evans obtained from an Abingdon dealer a number of coins said to have been found together near Islip. On examination the coins proved to be of Magnentius or his son Decentius. [Num. Chron. 1875, Proceedings, p. 7; B.B.O.J. iv, 3; O.A. and H.S. Proc., N.S., iii, 223; cf. Manning MSS. in the Ashmolean.] Those in the possession of Sir Arthur Evans in 1937 numbered 28; they clearly form an homogeneous group, and their patination, which is uniform, is also indistinguishable from the peculiar and characteristic Wood Eaton patina. As Wood Eaton has itself produced a quite remarkable number of coins of Magnentius and Decentius, of the same types as the coins in question, there is little doubt that the latter did in fact constitute a hoard at Wood Eaton; probably a remittance of Magnentius's currency was put on the market at Wood Eaton, and the hoard and the stray finds are derived from the same original source.
The coins are all Æ 2; 21 are of Magnentius, and 7 of Decentius. The Trier mint claims 15 coins (8 Of. I, 7 Of. II) and Lyons 8 (5 Of. I, 3 Of. II), while 5 were struck at Amiens. This hoard is one of a rare class and, as it stands, is unique in Britain. Magnentius, after his successful usurpation in Gaul (a.d. 350), revived the Æ 2 series which, previously issued by Diocletian, Constantine I, Constans, and Constantius II, had in each instance soon sunk in weight and size to Æ 3. Magnentius's new pieces would be welcome in Britain, as the evidence indeed suggests: between a.d. 351 and 354 they were hoarded at Croydon, (fn. 29) Cobham Park (Kent), (fn. 30) Wood Eaton, and even Balgreggan in Wigtownshire. (fn. 31) Only in the Wood Eaton hoard, however, is Magnentius's coinage unmixed with earlier issues. (fn. 32)
(xii) South Lawn Barrow (Wychwood Forest):—The excavation by Rolleston of barrows at South Lawn, some 3 miles north of Asthall, in June 1872, resulted in the discovery of a number of late Roman Æ 3 coins. It is difficult, from the extant records, to piece together the history of these coins. There are in the Ashmolean Museum 22 coins described as having been found at South Lawn (1 Constantine II, 11 Constans, 2 Constantius II, 2 Valentinian I, 2 Valens, 2 uncertain Theodosian, 2 of uncertain reign): and there were 22 when Mr. E. T. Leeds examined the South Lawn material in November 1923. The Rolleston MSS., however, speak of only 19. But the 3 additional coins may be either previous finds amalgamated with Rolleston's, (fn. 33) or finds made later. In any case, the bulk of the coins seems to have come from the main South Lawn barrow. [Rolleston letters and Manning MSS. in the Ashmolean.]
It is possible that these coins do not constitute a hoard in the usually accepted sense (see above, under (iii)). Yet this is a hoard in a strictly numismatic sense, for the coins form a compact series and were buried within a limited area. Moreover, the group has an unmistakably homogeneous appearance—the more so if we segregate the two worn Theodosian issues as two, perhaps, of the three intruders. The long duration in currency of the Constantinian issues is archaeologically important. They occur in some numbers even in hoards of the Theodosian period, and due allowance for this fact must be made in considering their occurrence as stray finds.
(xiii) Kiddington:—During the excavation, in 1935, of the Roman villa at Ditchley, (fn. 34) it became known that a hoard of bronze coins, found some time previously at a point not half a mile from the villa, between Box Wood and Out Wood, Kiddington, was in the possession of Mr. H. M. Gaskell, of Kiddington Hall. Mr. Gaskell kindly presented the hoard to the Ashmolean Museum, and it was found to consist of 1, 176 Æ 3 and Æ 4 coins, as follows: 1 Claudius II, 9 radiate imitations, 12 Constantine I, 5 Constantine II, 2 Constantius II, 7 Constans, 13 Constantius II or Constans, 14 House of Constantine I, 3 Julian, 4 Valens, 6 Gratian, 12 House of Valentinian I, 12 Magnus Maximus, 3 Victor, 1 Magnus Maximus or Victor, 7 Eugenius, 67 Valentinian II, 88 Theodosius I, 218 Arcadius, 73 Honorius, 453 House of Theodosius I, 4 copies of Theodosian issues, 10 blanks, 140 illegible (mostly Theodosian), and 12 fragments. Of the whole number of coins, 844 fall between a.d. 388 and 395. [Num. Chron. 1936, pp. 82 ff.; Oxoniensia, i, 70 ff.]
This hoard, which is paralleled by nearly 70 others of similar date throughout Britain, (fn. 35) belongs to the end of the period of the occupation, if not later. The little group of blanks strongly suggests a period when the obsolescence of currency was beginning; and the hoard may well have been concealed 10 or even 20 years after Honorius's rescript.
Of the following hoards only the barest details have survived, and they are therefore recorded alphabetically:
(xiv) Brightwell Baldwin:—Pot containing about 1,500 Roman coins; the examination of 1,200 showed these to be of some twenty different emperors and empresses. [Jackson's Oxford Journal, 23.vi.1759.] Perhaps a 3rd-or 4th-century hoard.
(xv) Combe:—Hoard of small Æ containing coins of Constantine I and II, and of Crispus. [Hearne's Collections, iii (O.H.S. xiii ), p. 332 (15 April 1712).]
(xvi) Drayton, near Banbury:—A great number of Æ 2 and Æ 3 coins 'from Maximinus to Julian' are reported to have been found at Drayton. [Beesley, Banbury, p. 44, and plate vi, nos. 6,9.]
(xvii) Fawler:—About 1830 a hoard of coins, mostly silver, was found, and certain of these were said to have passed into the possession of the Duke of Marlborough. [B.B.O.J. iv, 17.] Mr. L. G. B. Sacré, Land Agent to the present duke, has very kindly sought for these coins at Blenheim, without success; and he reports (fn. 36) that he has never heard of the existence of any collection of Roman coins at the Palace.
(xviii) Kiddington (1):—'At the beginning of the seventies one of my brothers picked up more than eighty Roman silver coins, and part of a Roman broach [sic] and a bit of silver about 4 or 5 in. long. He found parts of an earthen vessel in which it may have been buried. It seems it had been turned up and broken by the plough-shares: it was woodland just brought into cultivation; plowmen had not noticed it. My brother, walking over, had his attention drawn to it. This was on the Assarts Farm adjoining Hill Wood.' [Letter from George Busby, of Kiddington, to Percy Manning, 4.iv.1899; Manning MSS. in the Ashmolean.] This reference is not to be identified with the mention, on the 6-in. O.S. map of Oxfordshire, of 'Roman Coins Found' at Out Wood, near Kiddington. It is not even certain that the O.S. reference denotes a hoard. Inquiries have brought no further details of this Kiddington silver hoard to light.
(xix) Kiddington (2):—In the Bodleian Library copy of Warton's Kiddington, ed. 2, 1783 (shelfmark, Oxon. 4°. 455), there is a MS. note in the author's hand recording 'Roman Coins, several of silver, of Honorius', found in apparent association with an unidentified structure 'abutting on the Turnpike road' (presumably the Oxford-Enstone road) 'opposite a lane going to Ditchley'. The note adds: 'No urn appeared for the workmen confounded everything.—Lady Mostyn has some few of the coins.' This hoard was probably of the same general date as the analogous Æ hoard found at Kiddington, no. (xiii), above.
(xx) Shirburn:—No details preserved beyond the bare mention of a hoard in Stukeley, Itin. Cur. (1776) i, 44.
(xxi) Stanton St. John:—This hoard, found in 1647, may have been of the period of the Constantinian dynasty, if it is true that it included at least one 'Urbs Roma' issue. [Clark, Wood's Life and Times (O.H.S. xix ), i, 266.]
(xxii) Swalcliffe:—In the early 17th century 'a pott of money' was found (see p. 309), which gave the name 'Money Acre' to the field whence it came. This was possibly, though by no means certainly, a Roman hoard. [Stukeley's Letters and Diaries (Surtees Society, 1832), iii, 156 f.]
(xxiii) Great Tew:—In 1817 a pot-hoard was found about 200 yards NE. of the villa (p. 311). [Beesley, Banbury, 41.]