Wednesday 2 December 2009

Coins from Binchester

Post-excavation work on the project is continuing apace. We've now had our first comments on the coins from the site written for us by our coin specialist Philippa Walton (Institute of Archaeology, London). She writes

Preliminary report on the coins recovered from the Binchester excavations 2009

Philippa Walton


A total of 218 coins were recovered the excavations undertaken by the University of Durham, Durham County Council, Stanford University and the Archaeological and Architectural Society of Durham and Northumberland at Binchester (County Durham) in 2009. 216 of these coins date to the Roman period. The remaining two coins comprise a medieval silver long cross penny (SF ??) and a copper alloy seventeenth century rose farthing (SF 11).

The majority of coins recorded were recovered from unstratified or post Roman contexts and therefore the coins are not suitable for stratigraphic dating purposes. However, following the Applied Numismatic principles pioneered by Richard Reece and John Casey, they are useful for obtaining a better understanding of the broad chronology of the site and periods of intense activity.

The chronological distribution of coins

133 of the Roman coins were identifiable to the extent that they could be assigned to Reece periods as summarised by Table 1. A further 83 coins were recognisable in date but were either too corroded or dirty to assign to a particular Reece period. However, it was possible to assign them to a century or range of centuries by size and composition as summarized in Table 2.

As with other sites in Britain, the coin loss at Binchester evidenced by the 2009 excavations is strongest in the late third and fourth centuries AD (see Figure 1). However, when compared with Reece’s British Mean (compiled from 140 coin assemblages from Britain), it is obvious that the 2009 assemblage demonstrates far greater coin loss than average for Periods 14 (AD 275-285) and 17 (AD 330-348). It is not possible at present to account for the peak in Period 14 coin loss. However, the peak in Period 17 is also present in the assemblage recovered from previous excavations at Binchester (Reece 1991). It may indicate significant activity at the site during this period. A brief survey of other published coin assemblages from the North East (South Shields, Piercebridge, Chester-le-Street, Greta Bridge, Corbridge, Carrawburgh, Housesteads) demonstrates that a period 17 peak is not characteristic of the region although Corbridge (Reece 1991) does possess similar per mill (coins per 1000) values for the period AD 260 to 348 (Periods 13-17). The latest coins from the site are two copper alloy nummi of the House of Theodosius. Only one possesses a legible reverse and is a VICTORIA AVGG issue dating to AD 388-395. This issue is among the latest copper alloy coins to be supplied to Britain and attests to the continued use of money at Binchester even in the very late fourth century AD.

Issues of numismatic interest

The assemblage on the whole comprises common coinage of the periods represented. All radiates recorded are barbarous issues, some of idiosyncratic style and GLORIA EXERCITVS and VRBS ROMA issues are predominant amongst the Period 17 coins. However, there are 4 individual issues of numismatic interest amongst the assemblage. These are:

a) A denarius of Otho dating to AD 69 (SF ??) This is a variant on an aureus type (RIC 20 var) and is only the third example known, the others being a example from France (BN III, 25) and a PAS record BH-F5BD67.
b) Two cut down issues of Magnentius or Decentius (AD 350-353) (u/s; 16 & 92) attesting to the recycling of coinage in the period following the downfall of the usurpers.
c) A possible cast copy of a nummus of the House of Theodosius (AD 388-402). Cast copies of this date are unusual as site finds in Britain.

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