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Coin Find is Another Small Clue to Roman Activity Around Guildford

Published on: 12 Nov, 2015
Updated on: 12 Nov, 2015

An emperor’s head with a radiating crown is still clearly visible on this well worn Roman coin. Click on image to enlarge in new window.

When Karen Stevens was asked by detectorists if they could search in her garden near Blackwell Farm, on the northern slopes of the Hog’s Back, she was happy to agree but before the detector had even been taken out of the car boot and assembled the detectorist had spotted something with his Mk 1 eyeball.

His eyes were good. He reached to the ground and picked up a tiny Roman coin which must have been lost over 1,700 years ago.

The Roman period is a rather mysterious black hole in our town’s history, but recent archaeology has shown that there was considerable Roman activity to the west of town. Perhaps whatever Roman buildings there were in today’s town area simply remain undiscovered, beneath an inaccessible site like the railway station?

Dr Mary Alexander

Dr Mary Alexander.

Luckily, The Guildford Dragon NEWS was able to turn to someone knowledgeable, Dr Mary Alexander, former collections officer at Guildford Museum, who very kindly agreed to write the following report about the coin which now belongs to Karen Stevens’ son. Dr Alexander writes…

This is a type of coin called a ‘barbarous radiate’ or ‘radiate copy’. These coins copy genuine Roman coins on which the emperor is shown wearing a ‘radiate’ crown, which is actually the rays of the sun.

They are called ‘barbarous’ because they are so badly made. They are much cruder than the official coins, but they seem to have circulated along with official coins, as they are found together in hoards. This means that they must have been used in the same way as genuine coins.

Blackwell Roman coin 5

Small change certainly, very small change, as can be seen when the coin is placed next to a modern five pence piece. Click on image to enlarge in new window.

They may have been made locally when there was a shortage of small change, when the official mints were not producing enough coins. So they are not really forgeries, and no-one would mistake them for real coinage.

Coins at that period should have been worth the metal they were made from: these were not, but it must have been convenient to treat them as if they were.

They were made during the 250s to 270s AD at a period when there were many short-lived emperors, some only recognised in one part of the western empire.

Most are copies of coins of Tetricus I, AD 270-273 or his son Tetricus II, who ruled as his caesar or deputy emperor; Claudius II, 268-270, or Victorinus 268-270.  The Tetrici ruled in Gaul (roughly modern France and Belgium) Claudius in Italy and Victorinus in Gaul before Tetricus I.

Other emperors whose coins were sometimes copied were Gallienus, Probus and Postumus.  They seem to have been made while the genuine ones were in circulation.

The portrait of the emperor is usually a reasonable copy, but the designs on the reverse are muddled versions of genuine coins. They should show a personification: a human figure representing something such as Hope, Peace or Happiness but they are not used in the same way as on genuine coins.

This coin may be a copy of one of Tetricus I. The lettering around the edge which would give the emperor’s name and titles is missing.  The reverse is very worn.  It seems to show a person with two legs visible and therefore a man, not a woman – which would be more usual.

It is impossible to guess what it was meant to be. The lettering which would tell us has also gone.

These coins are common finds in England. It was found west of Guildford, in an area where a lot of Roman settlement has been discovered over the last twenty or thirty years.

This was unexpected, because the land is clay and difficult to farm. However, the Roman temple at Wanborough, a villa at Broad Street, occasional cremations and finds suggesting settlement show that there was a lot going on here.

A single coin does not tell us much, except that in the late third century someone was walking near Guildford and lost some small change. It would be annoying, but probably not a disaster.

Were they going to make an offering at the temple?  Were they visiting the villa at Compton? Were they herding pigs in the woodland that probably covered the clay?  Who knows?

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Responses to Coin Find is Another Small Clue to Roman Activity Around Guildford

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    November 15, 2015 at 9:25 am

    Does this find perhaps explain why GBC is so keen to kill off the Surrey Archaeological Society? Is it in case further finds interfere with their plans to concrete over the green belt?

  2. Jim Allen Reply

    November 15, 2015 at 4:47 pm

    That’s already happened. Take the Aldi archaeological dig fiasco: first they move the trenches away from the pub building, then they dig a trench in the building and fill it with concrete in less than three hours, then claim a 1890’s cellar is 1920’s. Still when they knock down Aldi perhaps then will find the 15th century finds below the cellar floor.

    The way our heritage is being destroyed by ‘incomers’ to the community is enough to make you want to weep.

  3. Valerie Thompson Reply

    November 16, 2015 at 8:56 am

    Finds in the fields south of the A246, one of which was named as ‘Temple Field’ on old maps, between Clandon and West Horsley have also been of Roman origin. Coins and fibulae have been uncovered by detectorists, so Roman activity extended to the East of Guildford as well.

    It is believed that the area of Wix Farm was a Roman or Romano-British settlement – a ‘vicus’ – a place where one bought victuals. From here a Roman road led east across the present village street.

    If building takes place in this area, archaeological digs should also be done.

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