Highlights of the British Collection:

Chalgrove Roman Coin Hoard

The hoard was discovered in 2003 by Brian Malin while metal detecting on farmland near Chalgrove, less than ten miles from Oxford. He found it only 100 feet away from another hoard, which he and other members of his family had unearthed fourteen years earlier. The jar in the ground held 4957 Roman coins ranging in date from AD 251 to 279. Most of the coins look bronze, but they contain some silver. But this hoard also held a surprise. Fused within the mass of coins lay hidden an important coin revealing the ‘lost emperor’, Domitianus.

The finder brought the coins to the Ashmolean still fused together in the jar. They were then taken to the British Museum for cleaning. The conservators carefully removed the coins from the pot by hand, using warm water and alcohol to loosen the soil. They cleaned off the green and red copper corrosion using ultrasound and chemical solvents. Finally, the coins were dried and stabilized before being coated with lacquer to protect them for the future.

Most of the coins are relatively common. It was only after they had been carefully separated and cleaned by the British Museum that the wholly unexpected coin of Domitianus was discovered.

This is a remarkable coin of a previously unknown Roman emperor named Domitianus. It was found in the Chalgrove Hoard behind it. A second, identical, coin was said to have been found in France a hundred years earlier. Some scholars rejected it as a hoax because there was no other evidence of an emperor called Domitianus at this time.  The new coin, coming straight from the ground, proves that the earlier one was genuine and that Domitianus really did claim to be emperor. The extreme rarity of the coin suggests that Domitianus’ bid for power lasted only a few days. Between AD 200 and 300 the Roman Empire was in crisis and central control was sometimes lost. Emperors might control only part of the empire, with other emperors controlling other parts.

The majority of coins in the hoard were from what we call the Gallic Empire, which lasted from AD 260 to AD 274. The rest of the coins were struck in the Central Empire, centred on Rome itself. The Gallic emperors look very alike with their rays-of-the-sun crowns, longish hair and flowing beards. Only the young Tetricus II is unbearded.

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Domitianus Coin (Click to enlarge)

Rare coin of the Emperor Domitianus found in the Chalgrove hoard.

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Chalgrove Hoard

Coins of Roman coins and pottery container found at Chalgrove, Oxfordshire.

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22 May 2012