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Very rare Roman coins identified!

Two highly unusual coins of Carausius were unearthed during recent excavations in Suffolk by Pre-Construct Archaeology.

Carausius was a usurper who ruled in Britain and northern Gaul from 286 to 293. His coinage was remarkable – full of sophisticated propaganda that portrayed him as an equal to the official emperors (Diocletian and Maximian), and the upholder of good old-fashioned Roman values.

Unusually, the 2 new coins did not appear in any of the published catalogues of Carausian coinage and the combination of obverses and reverses didn’t make sense. Their obverses bear the emperor’s helmeted radiate bust facing left with spear and shield and the legend IMP CARAVSI-VS AVG (‘The Emperor Carausius Augustus’). The helmeted obverse bust was modelled on a type issued during the reign of Probus (276-282) and, although it is known for Carausius, it was not common.

The coins’ reverses are also derived from coins of Probus, but only from gold aurei struck at Rome and Siscia. It shows the emperor standing to the left holding a spear and addressing two supplicants on either side, two of whom are standing and two of whom are kneeling, within the legend PACAT ORBIS (loosely, ‘Peace-bringer to the world’). Even more unusual are the coins’ mint marks – both //oXXVL – which was not known for Carausius at all.

This type of Carausian radiate is not recorded in the relevant volume of Roman Imperial Coinage (published in 1933) and there is no mention of it in the Online Coins of the Roman Empire corpus either. However, it turns out that 2 other coins of this type (and mint mark) have been recorded since 1933 – 1 in a hoard published in 1940 and the 2nd in a sales catalogue from 2007. The 2 Suffolk coins will be included in the new edition of Roman Imperial Coinage Vol. V.5 when its published in the not-too-distant future!

What 2 of the 4 known coins of this type were doing at a rural settlement in eastern England among 596 other Roman coins remains something of a mystery … for the time being …

May 2024

Conference session

Thoroughly enjoyed chairing the ‘Roman Britain’ session at the Roman Archaeology Conference / Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference hosted by UCL.

8 fascinating presentations highlighting the significant contributions of commercial and independent archaeological organisations to the study of Britannia:

  • “Re-Investigating Richborough: Correcting the narrative”, by Philip Smither (The Portable Antiquities Scheme)
  • “Trouble Up North: Reassessing the evidence from Ambleside fort”, by John Reid (Trimontium Trust) and Manuel Fernández-Götz (The University of Edinburgh)
  • “Two richly furnished early 2nd-century cremation burials from Carlisle and their Continental parallels”, by Matthew Hobson (Wardell Armstrong)
  • “Challenging the ‘Received Wisdom’ at Caistor Roman Town”, by Natasha Harlow (Caistor Roman Project)
  • “Urbanism in Roman Wales: A new look at Roman Carmarthen”, by Sian Thomas (Archaeology Wales)
  • “The Roman Villa at Llanwern: New perspectives on the Gwent Levels”, by Andrew Pearson (Cotswold Archaeology)
  • “Dolaucothi – Applications of digital technology to investigate ancient technology”, by Edward Taylor (National Trust)
  • “The Teynham Triton: The sculpture and excavations of a mausoleum and cemetery”, by Richard Helm (Canterbury Archaeological Trust), Richard Hobbs (The British Museum) and Robert Masefield (RPS Consulting)

April 2024

New Publication

Report on the 131 excavated coins from the Iron Age and Romano-British rural settlement at the Wixams development in Bedfordshire. Includes stratigraphic discussion of coin loss as the settlement developed during the Roman period, and comparison with 4 other RB rural settlements in the Central Bedfordshire area. This analysis shows that The Wixams coin assemblage contains far fewer late-3rd century radiates and radiate copies than elsewhere and it appears that coins were not common objects at the settlement until the third decade of the 4th century. Even though all five settlements were situated in the same general area, their coins indicate that the occupation of this region of the Romano-British countryside was unexpectedly diverse and dynamic during the later Roman period.

‘Coins’, in: M. Luke and T. Guy, 2023. “Iron Age and Roman Settlement at The Wixams Northern Expansion Area, Bedfordshire”. Albion Archaeology Monograph 12. Bedford: Albion Archaeology, 40-42.

February 2024

New Publication

‘Feeding The Roman Army in Britain’ is in Antiquity!

Read / download the Open Access article at: https://doi.org/10.15184/aqy.2023.110.

August 2023

Community engagement

Fun few days taking the Roman Coin handling collection out and about this summer.

1st a lovely Saturday in Dunstable for the town’s Around the World and Festival of Archaeology event (organised by the Dunstable High Street Heritage Action Zone team).

Then 2 equally lovely days taking part in Archaeological Research Services Ltd’s Open Days at their Milton excavations near Cambridge. Great to be on site and brilliant to see so many people visiting an archaeological excavation (even during the epic rain showers!).

100s of people spent time at the Roman Coin & Money Workshop and the handling collection was extensively handled. We did lots of coin rubbings and coloured in lots of pictures of Roman coins that children could take away with them. The new Design Your Own Coin activity went very well indeed too. The designs were all brilliant but if I had to pick a favourite or 2, I’d go with the one of ‘My Mum’ and another celebrating the ‘Macaroni Penguin’ (which I’d never heard of so it was great to hear Astrid tell us about her love of animals).

August 2023

Excavation – research, training and engagement

Lovely to be back in Hinton St Mary with our commercial partners Albion Archaeology once again!

This is the 3rd and final excavation season of The British Museum’s research project to find out more about the famous Roman mosaic discovered here exactly 60 years ago, and the mysterious ‘villa’ to which it apparently belonged.

This is also a training excavation and we’re pleased to welcome undergraduate archaeologists from Cardiff University again, as well as several early-career archaeologists helping out as volunteers.

Pupils from Yewstock School in Sturminster Newton will also come and visit the dig to see what the archaeologists are up to and help us reveal Hinton’s Roman past.

We are holding 2 open events in the afternoons on Sunday 9 July and Sunday 16 July for people to visit the excavation – gate opens at 2pm (just down the road from The Forge on Marnhull Road, but please park in the village rather than on the main road!).

More info about the Hinton mosaic as well as previous work at the site can be found here.

June 2023

Excavation archive

The digital archive for the PRIORY FIELD excavation at CAERLEON is now available on the Archaeology Data Service website!

Called ‘Spreadsheet Data from the Caerleon Priory Field Project, 2008-2010’, the collection includes 6 spreadsheets containing the full stratigraphic sequence of the Roman legionary store building in Priory Field, as well as selected finds assemblages:

  • CPF Contexts & Phases
  • CPF Registered Artefacts
  • CPF Registered Artefacts – Artefact Categories
  • CPF Faunal Remains Summary
  • CPF Ceramic Building Materials
  • CPF Nails & Window Glass

The data is provided so that anyone, anywhere, can interrogate the excavated archive for themselves, exploring the site’s full stratigraphic record and the origins of finds recovered during the excavation.

The formal excavation report of the Priory Field project, including extensive analysis and discussion of the site’s stratigraphy and its very large finds assemblages, will be published later in 2023 as: Guest, P. and Gardner, A. Excavations in the Roman Legionary Fortress at Caerleon: The Priory Field Store Building. Oxford: Archaeopress.

May 2023

New publication

We are delighted to announce that Peter’s new book, ‘The Roman Frontiers in Wales’ is now published!

It tells the story of the conquest and subjugation of the native tribes by the Roman army, as well as their subsequent annexation and integration into the administrative structures and economic networks of Roman Britain. The book has 2 parts – it opens with a summary of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire by Prof. David Breeze, followed by the wide-ranging overview of the historical and archaeological evidence for the Roman army’s presence in Wales.

Themes covered include:

  • Nature of the Roman Frontiers in Wales
  • History of Research in Wales
  • The Roman Invasion of Britain
  • The Native Tribes of Prehistoric Wales
  • The Conquest and Pacification of Wales
  • The Roman Frontiers in Wales
  • Later History of Roman Wales
  • The Legacy of Rome

Roman Frontiers in Wales is published in the ‘Frontiers of the Roman Empire’ series (edited by Prof. Breeze), which now includes 20 multi-lingual books covering almost all of the 4,600 miles of the imperial frontiers.

Roman Frontiers in Wales is available from Archaeopress as a paperback (£14.99), or an Open Access eBook.

September 2022

Excavation – research, training and engagement

As the sun sets on this year’s excavation at Hinton St Mary, it’s worth taking a moment to look back on what has been an unbelievably successful season.

We excavated 3 trenches around the location of the famous mosaic discovered in 1963 (the 3rd trench was inside the corrugated cow shed in the photo on the right), and have shown that it cannot have belonged to a typical courtyard villa as has been proposed for the past 60 years. Instead, it appears that it decorated the floor of a building that possibly stood alone (to be confirmed!), but with other contemporary buildings around it. The largest of these was long and rectangular and divided into smaller rooms, one of which was also furnished with a tessellated floor (sadly heavily disturbed by later ploughing).

We trained 9 undergraduate archaeologists from Cardiff University / Prifysgol Caerdydd University and 11 other volunteers at the beginning of their archaeological careers. We invited 33 children with special educational needs from Yewstock School to work with us in the trenches and showed over 300 people around the site during our various open events too. We made lots of friends in the area and we’re very grateful to the Hinton St Mary Estate and the local community for making us so welcome during our time in the village.

This is a truly collaborative project and lots of people and organisations chipped in to help. Prof. Keith Wilkinson from the University of Winchester provided training in surveying as well as geophysical prospection and also undertook a new GPR survey of the site, while Porf. Mark Maltby of Bournemouth University explained the mysteries of zooarchaeology to help us understand the faunal remains we were collecting. The original mosaic was painted by Dr David Neal in 1963 and it was brilliant to see him back on site 59 years later helping us record the new mosaic!

Archaeology is about people – past and present – and special thanks to all the DHSM22 team for making this such a rewarding and enjoyable experience. Firstly, the inspirational staff from our commercial partners Albion Archaeology – Mike Luke, Kathy Pilkinton and Matevz Groselj – as well as Phineas Elmore, Chris and Steve Waite, and the legendary Archie Gillespie. Thanks also to the fantastic students and volunteers who were just – well, fantastic!

Finally, a special thank you to Drs Jill Cook and Richard Hobbs from The British Museum for making all of this possible.

More info about the Hinton mosaic as well as previous work at the site can be found at here, which will be updated soon with a summary of this season’s results.

July 2022

Excavation – research, training and engagement

Really great to be back at Hinton St Mary! We’re here on behalf of The British Museum with our commercial partners Albion Archaeology to find out more about the fabulous mosaic discovered here almost 60 years ago (currently in the BM), and the mysterious Romano-British ‘villa’ to which it apparently belonged.

This is also a training excavation and once again we’re pleased to welcome undergraduate archaeologists from Cardiff University / Prifysgol Caerdydd, as well as several volunteers from last year’s evaluation.

Hinton St Mary is the home of the Pitt Rivers family and the gates of the Manor carry the initials of one of modern archaeology’s most famous, and important, innovators – Augustus Henry Pitt Rivers. Many thanks to the Hinton St Mary Estate for making us so welcome and also to the lovely landowner and fine artist, Katie Scorgie, for allowing us to dig up her garden (again).

More information about the Hinton mosaic as well as previous work at the site can be found here.

June 2022

New publication

An article describing the hoard of 309 late Roman coins from Hengrove in Bristol has been published in the new volume of Numismatic Chronicle! The photo on the right shows some of the large number of Magnentian coins from this unique coin hoard.

Discovered during a watching brief carried out by Cotswold Archaeology in Sept. 2019, the 309 bronze coins were cleaned and conserved by Drakon Heritage and Conservation before arriving on my desk in late 2020 for identification and reporting.

So, just over 3 years after the hoard saw the light of day for the 1st time in something like 1,660 years, this collaborative project has ended with a research article in the prestigious Num Chron!

Thanks to my co-author Ed McSloy from CA, Pieta Greaves ACR from Drakon and the developer Bellway Homes for making this happen. If you don’t have your own copy of Numismatic Chronicle, you can find out more on Peter’s Academia page, or here.

Perhaps you have a hoard of Roman coins hanging around waiting for someone to take a look and reveal its secrets?

April 2022

New publication

We are very pleased to announce that the long-awaited article describing the history and architecture of the forum-basilica at Caerwent is published!

It’ll appear in the 2022 issue of the journal Britannia, but it’s now available as an Open Access article (with thanks to my old friends at Barbican Research Associates for making this happen).

Caerwent is the site of the Roman city of Venta Silurum (‘Market of the Silures’) and the forum-basilica was its main public building, the equivalent of a ‘town hall’ today. It was where the city’s administrative, judicial, commercial and religious functions were located, and the article describes the results of the important excavations carried out by the National Museum of Wales between 1987 and 1995.

It recounts the history of this public building, but it also tells the remarkable story of the fortunes of the British tribe known as the Silures following a 30-year war against the Roman invaders. After their final defeat in the later 70s, the Silures would suffer another 40 years or so of occupation by 1000s of Roman soldiers before the authorities decided that they should be granted the same rights and privileges as other tribes in the province of Britannia.

This led to the creation of the Civitas Silurum, an administrative area (civitas) similar to today’s county, when the tribe was allowed a limited degree of self-autonomy. Venta Silurum was founded as the ‘capital city’ of the new civitas and it was not just the ‘Market of the Silures’, but also the seat of local government for much of Roman south Wales.

March 2022

New page launched about the collaborative research and training project at Hinton St Mary! Evaluation excavations in 2021 explored the local context of the famous Hinton St Mary mosaic (which might, or might not, show Jesus Christ). Find out more about the mosaic, previous archaeological work at the site, as well as the surprsing results of the evaluation.

January 2022

New research project

We are delighted to announce a new 3-year archaeological science project funded by The Leverhulme Trust that will examine how the Roman army in Britain was provisioned. ‘Feeding the Roman Army in Britain‘ is the largest project of its kind to date and will use cutting-edge technology to find out where the animals consumed by Roman soldiers in their forts on Hadrian’s Wall, the Antonine Wall and in SE Wales were reared. This will lead to new insights about the impact of 1000s of Roman soldiers on the native populations in newly-conquered provinces, as well as how the Roman Empire functioned economically.

Archaeology is about discovery and adventure. Uncovering important new evidence about the past is core to what we do at Vianova, and we will continue to be ambitious, innovative, collaborative and focused on delivering excellence to each and every one of our clients.

Find out more about the project here.

July 2021

Book commission

We are very pleased to announce that we have been commissioned to write The Roman Frontier in Wales in the international Frontiers of the Roman Empire series. This book will describe the history and archaeology of the Roman army’s efforts to subdue and pacify the native tribes in Wales, from the initial pursuit of the fugitive British leader Caratacus, to the final campaigns of conquest 30 years later and the subsequent occupation of the country by some 25,000 soldiers. Roman Frontier in Wales will be an illustrated and up-to-date account of the Roman army’s conquest of Wales that will appeal to archaeologists, historians, students and the general public. The book will be published by Archaeopress in English and Welsh, and will be available in hard copy as well as a free ebook.

Prof. David Breeze and Dr Jon Berry from Cadw will be providing advice and guidance, and we are grateful to Richard Beleson and the Senhouse Museum Trust, Maryport for supporting the project.

The Frontiers of the Roman Empire series currently includes 12 books covering Hadrian’s Wall, the Antonine Wall, the Lower German limes, the Danube limes, North Africa and Egypt, as well as national books for Austria, Bulgaria, Germany (Bavaria), Hungary, Serbia and Slovakia. 2 new books will be published shortly, covering the Eastern frontier (Middle East) and the late Roman Saxon Shore. The existing books are all available here, where you can find other resources about the frontiers of the Roman Empire.

June 2021

101 years ago, an event took place that would change the study of Roman Britain forever. In 1920 R.E. Mortimer Wheeler submitted an application to the new post of ‘Keeper of the Archaeological Department & Lecturer in Archaeology’ at the National Museum of Wales. Mortimer Wheeler’s application was successful and his appointment in Cardiff began a remarkable career that would have an enormous impact on how archaeology was done in this country, as well as how Roman Britain was taught and presented to the public.

Wheeler is a controversial figure now, but he was an extraordinary man who led an extraordinary life. It was in Wales that he established his reputation as an innovative field archaeologist, developing the principles of methodological excavation and recording of archaeological stratigraphy (influenced by the work of earlier pioneers such as Augustus Pitt Rivers and Flinders Petrie). The ‘Wheeler Method’ (or ‘box and section’ method), was first put into practice on his excavations of the auxiliary forts at Segontium (Caernarfon) and Brecon Gaer, before he turned his attention to the remains of the legionary fortress at Caerleon. Wheeler’s excavation of the Amphitheatre in 1926 and 1927 (which, like his later excavations, was carried out and published with his first wife, Tessa Verney Wheeler), was a colossal undertaking that captured the British public’s imagination only a few years after Howard Carter’s discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun. Today the Amphitheatre is one of Roman Britain’s most iconic surviving monuments.

Archaeologists have returned time and again to Caerleon since the Wheelers’ excavations, and recent surveys, excavations and cutting-edge scientific projects are generating new information that is changing our understanding of Isca and the Second Augustan Legion (you can find out about these projects at https://vianovaarchaeology.com/roman-caerleon/). 101 years after Mortimer Wheeler’s arrival in Cardiff, Caerleon is still a key site for the study of the conquest of Wales and the assimilation of its native tribes into the political structures and economic networks of Roman Britannia.

May 2021

Putting the finishing touches to an article about a unique hoard of mid-4th century Roman coins from south Bristol. 309 coins in a pot, of which a significant number were struck by the usurpers Magnentius and Decentius who ruled the western provinces of the Roman Empire between 350 and 353.

The hoard includes Magnentius’s remarkable coinage with the legend SALVS DD NN AVG ET CAES (loosely translates as ‘safety or well-being of our lords and emperors’), around a striking design of a large Chi-Rho flanked by alpha and omega.

The SALVS type associated the health and prosperity of the Empire with Christianity, although the design of these coins also might have emphasised Magnentius’ devotion to Catholic orthodoxy (in contrast to the Arian form of Christianity favoured by Constantius II, the eastern emperor in Constantinople).

The board’s latest coin was struck 355-8, so it must have been collected and buried after the usurpers’ defeat and suicide in 353. The Bristol region produces a cluster of contemporary hoards – were they buried in the years immediately following the failed usurpation when the Roman authorities purged Britain of Magnentian supporters?

The hoard was excavated by Cotswold Archaeology and the article, which will be published in the next issue of Numismatic Chronicle, is co-authored with CA’s Ed McSloy.

April 2021

New pages about Roman Caerleon now available! Details of 4 innovative research projects, including the excavations at Priory Field and the Southern Canabae. Check them out here.

April 2021

15 March 2021

Excited to be launching the new website for Vianova Archaeology & Heritage Services!

It happens to be the Ides of March, but we’ve been to the Augures and they’ve comfrmed that today is an auspicious day. We certainly think so!