Roger Bland, Adrian Chadwick, Eleanor Ghey, Colin Haselgrove, and David J Mattingly
Oxbow Books, £65
Review Philippa Walton
In April 2010, a metal-detectorist found a pot containing 52,503 Roman coins near Frome in Somerset. As one of the largest hoards ever found in Britain, its discovery rekindled an age-old debate regarding why Roman coin hoards were buried: were they stashed savings which were never retrieved, valuables hidden in turbulent times, or offerings to the gods? Using a dataset of more than 3,260 hoards from throughout Britain, this volume attempts to resolve this debate, adding a much-needed archaeological perspective in a field frequently dominated by numismatists with patterns of coin circulation on their minds.
The study begins with a critical examination of various theories of hoarding and deposition, before examining national and regional patterns in the landscape setting and archaeological context of coin hoards. The analysis presented in these chapters is particularly interesting, indicating that many hoards were buried away from settlements but in visible locations, which has clear implications for how we interpret them. Further chapters are devoted to a chronological study of the numismatic data and an exploration of the containers in which hoards have been discovered. Finally, a case study explores why so many coin hoards dating to the 3rd century AD have been found in Britain, while the conclusion brings together many of the themes discussed in the previous chapters and introduces some interprovincial analyses.
Filled with maps, graphs, and images of both spectacular and not-so-spectacular hoards, this is clearly an ambitious piece of work and should be considered essential reading for anyone interested in the phenomenon. However, it is certainly not a coffee-table book. The analytical detail and discussion are quite dense, and on occasion this makes it a struggle to tease out key points. The volume does repay careful and repeated reading, and the Leicester University and British Museum team have definitely succeeded in illustrating the value of an archaeological approach to the study of hoarding. Only by combining numismatic study with contextual and landscape analysis can we hope to understand the varied motives for the phenomenon in Roman Britain and beyond.