The Frome Hoard by R. Bland, A. Booth and S. Moorhead

Book Review by Guy

I have the privilege of reviewing this short but delightfully informative book, The Frome Hoard. The Frome coin hoard was found by detectorist Dave Crisp in a field near Frome in Somerset, England in April 2010.

Two days before finding the Frome Hoard, Crisp had discovered some scattered fourth century silver coins (silaquae) in the same field. Returning to the field two days later, Crisp received an unusual signal on his metal detector only 100 meters from the site of the earlier scattered hoard and he began digging. He got down to about 35 cm (14 in) when he found some pottery pieces and some coins. Realizing that this was probably a different intact coin hoard, he immediately covered the site and contacted the authorities.

This spectacular find, known as the Frome Hoard, has been the subject of great interest and research. The Frome Hoard is currently located at the British museum, London. Plans are in the works for the hoard to be on display at the new Museum of Somerset.

The book, The Frome Hoard, has been published by the British Museum Press and was written by three authors. This book is a short (48 pages), inexpensive ($10), but well-illustrated paperback. The book was originally written as part of the appeal towards purchase of the horde but with additional “50 [pence] from the sale of every book" going towards ongoing conservation and study of the horde.

Here’s the book description by Amazon.com:
On 9 April 2010, Dave Crisp found 21 coins while metal detecting on farmland near Frome. Two days later he returned to the site (the precise location and identity of the landowner are being kept secret), and discovered a huge pot filled with more coins. Archaeologists believe the hoard will rewrite the history books. One of the most important aspects of the hoard is that it contains a large group of coins of Carausius, who ruled Britain independently from AD286 to AD293, and was the first Roman emperor ever to strike coins in Britain. The hoard contains more than 760 of his coins, making it the largest group of his coins ever found. Among these coins are five rare examples of his silver denarii, the only coins of their type being struck anywhere in the Roman Empire at the time. The late third century AD was a time when Britain suffered barbarian invasions, economic crises and civil wars. Roman rule was finally stabilized when the emperor Diocletian formed a coalition with the Emperor Maximian, which lasted 20 years. This defeated the breakaway regime which Carausius had established in Britain.

Here is the background of the authors from Amazon.com:
Sam Moorhead is National Finds Adviser for Iron Age and Roman coins in the department of Portable Antiquities and Treasure at the British Museum. Anna Booth is Somerset County Council's Finds Liaison Officer, and worked on the excavation of the hoard. Roger Bland is Head of Portable Antiquities and Treasure at the British Museum. He is the co-author of The Staffordshire Hoard (British Museum Press).

After reading this book, one learns that the Frome Hoard is notable for several things:

First, it was extremely large, consisting of 52,503 coins found in a single large ceramic jar 60 cm (24 in) tall and 45 cm (18 in) in diameter. The coins weighed around 160 kg (more than 350 lbs). This is the second largest hoard ever found in Great Britain.

Second, it consisted of at least 766 rare coins from Carausius (ruled AD 286-293), a poorly documented usurper of the late third century. (Only 44,245 of the coins (84%) have been identified so far.) These coins span 40 years (AD 253-293), potentially giving researchers a unique perspective of life in Britain in late third century Rome. Interestingly, more than 50% of the coins were from the earlier Romano-Gallic Empire (AD 260-274), including coins from Postumus, Victorinus, Tetricus I, and Tetricus II.

No coin of Carausius’s assassin and successor, Allectus, was found. This possibly dates the hoard to before AD 293.

Third, Dave Crisp quickly contacted authorities after he found the hoard, allowing for a more comprehensive archaeological assessment of the site. The coins were systematically removed in layers. A large group of Carausius coins were found in a middle layer, for example. This gives some suggestion of how the coins were placed in the jar. Because the hoard was undisturbed before careful excavation, it was determined that the pot had been buried with some sort of plant material on the sides. This sort of analysis could only have been done since the hoard had been undisturbed since burial and was later carefully examined by professionals. Thanks to Crisp, archaeologists have a better opportunity to analyze the evidence from an intact hoard.

The size of the pottery jar and the orderly placement of coins in the jar have led researchers to some interesting theories. The book states, “We…suggest that it was most likely that the person or persons who buried this hoard put it in the ground without intending to come back and recover it. The hoard was found in an important agricultural area and is possible that it was a sacrifice made to bring a good harvest, a successful breeding season or even clement weather.”

According to the book, ritual burial and deposition of metal was common in the Bronze and Iron Age, prior to the Roman presence in Britain. The book suggests that this trend may have continued into the Roman period. The book states that Britain has more coin hoards in proportion to its area than anywhere else in the Roman Empire.

The book also briefly examines other coin hoards in Britain. According to the book, the Frome Hoard is the largest hoard found in a single pottery container. The largest hoard was the Cunetio Hoard found near Marlborough in Wiltshire in 1978. It contained 54,951 coins, slightly more than was found in the single jar of the Frome Hoard, but was found in two pots.

Finally, the book briefly touches on Dave Crisp’s initial discovery of scattered silver coins from a different hoard found two days earlier within 100 meters of the Frome Hoard. This hoard, deposited a century later than the Frome Hoard, consisted of 62 silver coins (siliquae) of the fourth century spread over an area of 30 to 40 meters. It included coins from Constantius II, Julian, Magnus Maximus, Valens and Gratian. The latest dated coin from this hoard is of the Emperor Eugenius (AD 392-4). The book states that "the discovery of two hoards, deposited a hundred years apart, in close proximity to each other is unusual, but not unprecedented."

Although the book is small, it is filled with many interesting facts and observations. Here is one of the remarkable facts from the book: “According to one estimate, it is possible that under Victorinus and Tetricus, the [Romano-Gallic] Empire was making around five to six million coins a week.” Although this number seems high, Roger Bland has supported this number (in private correspondence) with very compelling soon-to-be-published research based on coin studies.

In summary, the book is a nice introduction to the Frome Hoard. It is relatively inexpensive ($10) and 50 pence of every book sold goes to the research project. The illustrations in the book are informative with 50 high-quality color photographs. I would recommend The Frome Hoard to anyone with a basic interest in Romano-British history, Roman numismatics, or ancient archaeology. Hopefully, a more scholarly and complete study of Frome Hoard will be planned for the future. (I want to thank Doug Smith, Chris Freeman, and others from the excellent numismatic site cointalk.com for their sharing their knowledge about Roman numismatics and their help in writing this review.)

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