On the 13 and 14th of June 2014, York Museums Trust, in association with the University of York and the Yorkshire Numismatic Society, hosted a free two-day conference which examined the history and archaeology of Roman and Early Medieval York and Yorkshire through discussion of its coinage. Prominent archaeologists, historians and numismatists spoke about how coinage can aid our understanding of the Roman and Early Medieval periods. Abstracts of each of the talks will become available here over the next few weeks – here are the first three.
Coinage and the Roman Conquest
Dr Julia Farley (University of Leicester)
This paper examined the impact of regional differences in Iron Age coinage on the uptake of Roman coinage after the conquest. First, the process of coin production was considered. I argue that the minting process itself, demonstrating access to raw materials and specific technological expertise, as well as local labour and resources, may have been just as important as the finished product. In regions such as the East Midlands, where there was not a single unified coinage before the conquest, issuing batches of coinage may have been one way in which individuals and communities could compete to establish their own power and authority. In other regions, such as the North Thames area, where a client kingdom may have been in place well before the Roman conquest, coinage was centrally issued by dynastic mints. Here, coinage may not have played the same role in negotiating power and authority. The significance of local patterns of Iron Age coin production and use is supported by the hoard evidence. In the North Thames region, the patterns of coin hoarding seen before and after the conquest are similar, with Roman coins apparently taking on some of the same functions as Iron Age coins. In the East Midlands, there is a peak in hoard evidence around the time of the conquest, followed by a notable absence of coin hoard evidence in the immediate post-conquest period. This suggests that here imported Roman coinage was not used in the same way as Iron Age coins, perhaps because it was not locally produced.
Revenge of the Styca: Liz Pirie’s Coinage of the Kingdom of Northumbria revisited
The post-Roman restoration of coinage in England commenced in the final quarter of the sixth century with the use of gold tremisses imported from the Continent. Such pieces often found a secondary use for conspicuous display. Around 670, the tremissis was replaced as the medium of exchange by the silver denier often inscribed with the name of the mint and moneyer. By this time the York gold shilling was in circulation in Northumbria and when Aldfrith issued his silver ‘sceat’ he became the first monarch to inscribe his name on this coinage. He stabilised Northumbria after the defeat of Ecgfrith at Nechtansmere in 685 but failed to leave a competent heir. The northern coinage lapsed for a third of a century and coinage imported from the south and abroad filled the void. Eadberht re-established the sceatta coinage which continued for half a century after Offa has introduced the board penny to Mercia. Nechtansmere and the catastrophe of Lindisfarne in 793, frame the northern silver coinage. Trading confidence – and along with it the coinage – collapsed. A further third of a century was to pass before Eanred re-introduced the small flan styca, modelled on the sceat but with a radically reduced silver content, which itself was soon replaced by base metal.
Liz Pirie dedicated enormous effort into compiling her impressive corpus of stycas in York and Leeds. It was rejected by the Sylloge committee due to her classification criteria, which for example resulted in the emissions of the moneyer Monne being distributed over 40 locations in the Coinage of the Kingdom of Northumbrian, eventually published privately by Galata Print in 1996. At this time, when the significance of this previously denigrated coinage was being recognised, further research was stymied.
Fortunately, the catalogue has now been converted into a database which has been enhanced by the addition of material on EMC, SCBI and PAS, constituting a total of 7,600 coins, which even after the elimination of hoard material, blundered specimens and sceats, leaves over 2,500 stycas described in minute detail. This facilitates a rich variety of interrogations and analysis: issuer/moneyer distribution, average weight, standard deviation, die axes, motifs usage, metallurgy, metrology and findspots
Sceattas from Anglo-Saxon graves: chronology and culture
Anglo-Saxon silver pennies of the 7th and early 8th centuries (sceattas) are rare as grave goods but their provision is a regular element of burial practice in a small minority of late furnished inhumations. Although the number both of coins and burials is very small, they do show patterns of deposition and treatment that have both a cultural and a broader chronological significance. Most importantly, although the sample is tiny this is the only window we have on social and symbolic attitudes to the coinages as elements of contemporary material culture.
We can place the inception of the later Transitional Phase issues and the earliest Primary Phase issues within the period of the last phase of formal furnished inhumation, and we can in turn say that this burial practice was abandoned during the period of the Primary Phase of the sceatta coinage. The differential treatment of Transitional and Primary Phase issues in female graves suggests a change in attitude that would be consistent with the Primary Phase coinages embodying a new degree of monetization.