Ancient Coin Hoards
The Frome Hoard of over 50,000 Roman coins
Courtesy of Dave Crisp and the British Museum
As an amateur metal detectorist, you find yourself in the heart of Europe, drawn to a faint and obscure signal that seems to come from deep within the earth. Fueled by excitement, you eagerly start digging, unaware of the discovery that lies beneath. With each scoop, the true magnitude of your find gradually becomes apparent. You soon realize it’s an extraordinary treasure trove of ancient coins. Signals continue to abound in the surrounding area, driving you to take your excavation further, unearthing an astonishing hoard of over thirty-thousand Athenian Owls, the staple and most iconic currency from ancient Greece. The realization of the immense historical significance of your find hits you with full force, and you attempt to conceal your remarkable discovery by allegedly smuggling your hoard out of Europe. This incredible story is undoubtedly true.
The most notable hoards of ancient coins provide the best insight of the environment and society of when it was buried. Either found by complete accident, or part of an archaeological discovery, coin hoards are found all across the world and in various quantities. From a numismatic point of view, a lot of these coins found in various hoards make their way to the hands of the collector. In recent times, governments have cracked down on the exportation of historical artifacts and ancient coins. The majority of coins found in smaller hoards are undocumented and sent to the US for auction. A lot of the larger finds make their way to museums or European private collectors.
To maintain the value of coins and avoid market saturation, some companies and dealers may choose to hold onto coins and gradually release them into the market. This approach helps to prevent a sudden influx of coins, which could otherwise lead to decreased value and demand. For instance, in the past, the discovery of hoards of Alexander the Great gold Staters resulted in a significant drop in prices by thousands of dollars. Currently, in a similar scenario, there are reports of hoards of Athenian Owls being privately stored to maintain high prices. Owls, already being a common coin, would decrease significantly if these hoards were ever put on the market. Coins that are scarce are typically kept in limited quantities to ensure stability in the market for that specific issue. Additionally, rare coins that are only auctioned off every few years also contribute to maintaining a stable market. Coins that are well known but common, like Julius Caesar Denarii, often command strong premiums regardless of their availability in the market. The prices of coins are influenced by various factors, including rarity and demand, which can result in price fluctuations over time.
Coins were buried in the ground for many reasons. Single pieces were often lost change or discarded pieces. Large hoards were purposeful, and were usually buried to preserve wealth in order to dig up at a later time. Often, hoards are buried with separate types of soil so the owner can easily find the place in which his belongings lie. During great military campaigns, troops would bury their wealth before battle in case of death or enslavement. It was better to die empty handed then have your enemy inherit your wealth—and if the battle was won the treasures were dug up once again. The Romans were famous for looting and ransacking the treasuries of their enemies during the earliest campaigns of the Republic and early Imperial age.
Over five thousand individual hoards of ancient coins have been uncovered and documented. While controversial, many coins found in such hoards are conserved professionally and sold to collectors. Whilst others, mainly of historical importance, find their way into museums and research centers. The process of documenting a hoard is quite complex, and archaeologists and researchers need to analyze the ground of where it was uncovered in order to date it. Many coins, including archaic and electrum issues, are very hard to date. In this, researchers use the density and depth of the material the groups are found in order to date the coins. Combined with the area they are found in, a system of deductive reasoning is used to pinpoint how long the coins were in the ground and what civilizations occupied that area during that time. Many coins circulated far out of their home, as with the controversial Tarsos “city wall Staters”, they are cataloged as issues from an unknown region due to uncertain evidence of their origin.
The Hoxne Hoard, named after the village it was uncovered, is a hoard of 14,865 Roman Imperial coins and is the largest single hoard of gold and silver issues found in Britain. It was uncovered by a metal detectorist in 1992, and consists of about four million dollars in collectible currency. The hoard was buried in a small oak chest and tucked away in perhaps 400 AD or after.
The Hoxne Hoard
Courtesy of the British Museum
Seven Hills Hoard
The Seven Hills Hoard derives its name from the seven hills in the city of Rome. Although it is not a heavily documented ancient coin hoard, as it was found during a construction project. Though it is estimated that more than 7000 silver coins were uncovered dating from the early Imperial Age. Many of the coins were sent to NGC for certification and sold to American collectors.
Many Coins from the Seven Hills Hoard were sold without proper provenance
A small hoard of just over 2000 Roman Denarii, the earliest dating to Nero and the latest to Gordian III, was found in the early 2000s outside the Roman forum. To gain recognition for the discovery, the discoverers sent them for certification and sold many to collectors. The name “Colosseum Hoard” was created to attract attention to potential buyers.
Denarius of the Colosseum Hoard
Courtesy of the Classical Numismatic Group
The Kabul treasure, which was uncovered in 1933 west of Kabul, Afghanistan, is regarded as one of the most important Greek currency discoveries ever made. It is well known for its outstanding documentation, which offers insightful knowledge into ancient numismatics and the dating of Greek coins. Over 1000 Achaemenid coins and imitations of the Athenian Owl can be found in the trove, which is thought to have been hidden away since 380 BC. The development of the Athenian Owl dating technique is one of the Kabul hoard's most significant contributions to numismatic studies. The treasure assisted in proving that the famous "Owl" coins, which were originally thought to only be struck at Athens, were in use before 380 BC. In order to establish a timeframe for the changeover from archaic to classic coins in Greek antiquity, this discovery was essential.
Murba'at Cave Hoard
Thousands of coins uncovered in a cave in Israel provide crucial evidence for a Jewish rebellion. A rebellion that predates the New Testament Bible, in a period of silence for Jewish prophets, it is among the “first evidence in the Judean Desert for the Maccabean revolt against the Greek Seleucid Kingdom” (NBC News).
The Murba'at Cave Hoard
Courtesy of NBC News
In Britain, the Lincolnshire Hoard, which contains more than 3000 late Roman bronze coins, is an important archaeological find. It is regarded as the nation's biggest single stockpile of its sort. In order to preserve the integrity of the site, the precise location of the hoard's discovery in Lincolnshire, England, has been kept a secret. The majority of the coins in the hoard were struck in the fourth century AD, and they all originate from the late Roman era. The coins, which feature numerous Roman emperors' likenesses, including Constantine the Great and his sons, are a priceless historical resource for learning about the political and economic climate of the time.
Although the Lincolnshire Hoard's burial's precise purpose is unknown, theory suggests that it may have been buried for ceremonial or ritualistic reasons. Some experts believe that the hoard may have been buried as an offering to the gods, as was a common practice in ancient Roman culture. Others speculate that it could have been buried for safekeeping during a time of political upheaval or instability.
The Lincolnshire Site
Courtesy of BBC
Originally a Gallic settlement, Brescello, a tiny town in northern Italy close to Modena, was Romanized after it was taken over by the Roman republic. One of the most amazing numismatic discoveries ever made took place in Brescello in 1714 when a farmer unintentionally discovered a container containing over 80,000 republican aurei, or 650kg of pure gold. The treasure was made up of 32 different types that were created between 46 and 38 BC, and it is thought that it was buried in either 38 or 37 BC. The trove, which had an estimated nominal worth of 2,000,000 Denarii, or the annual salary of 8,000 legionaries, was most likely the treasure box of a warlord from the time of the civil wars. Around $80,000,000 is the treasure's estimated current value.
Article By. Colby Abele