Don Foster MP

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Bath treasure at British Museum

May 23, 2023 by Don Foster MP in Don in Bath, News

Don Foster on Monday visited the British Museum to see the work being done to conserve a stash of Roman coins known as the ‘Bath Hoard’.

In November 2007, during a routine archaeological excavation in advance of building work in Bath’s Beau Street (a stone’s throw from the famous Roman Baths themselves), archaeologists came upon what was clearly a large number of coins contained within a cist (a stone-lined box).

Upon further excavation, they quickly came to realise they were looking at one of the largest coin hoards found in the UK (approximately 30,000 with a value of approximately £400,000), representing quite a tumultuous time in Roman Britain – about AD 270.

The coins are currently being held together by soil and metallic corrosion. Interestingly, within this copper corrosion is actually a layer of silver that was plated over the copper during the manufacture of the coins.

Within this large hoard appears to be a collection of six individual smaller hoards. It is believed at this stage that each hoard was separated within a bag, made of a material that has not survived, and are being individually excavated according to this layout which has been revealed via an x-ray machine.

The coins have been cleaned using chemicals such as formic acid with some incredible results. The project is expected to take eighteen months to complete.

Coins identified thus far have shown a real mix of the many Roman emperors of the third century AD: Septimus Severus (AD 193-211), Gordian III (AD 238-249), Philip I (AD 244-249), Decius (AD 249-251), Trebonianus Gallus (AD 251-253), Aemilian (AD 253), Valerian I (AD 253-260), Gallianus (AD 253-268) and Postumus (AD 260-268).

Roman Baths spokesman Stephen Clews said: “The find is also unusual as it was discovered by professional archaeologists as opposed to an amateur using a metal detector,”

Don Foster said: “It was simply staggering to hold a handful of these coins from around 2,000 years ago.”

Approximately 1,500 coin hoards have been discovered in Britain but the mid 3rd century is one of the most poorly represented periods, which makes this a find of considerable archaeological interest. Also intriguing is its location: most hoards come from rural locations but this one was deposited against the inside face of a masonry wall in what appears to have been a small, roughly oval pit, measuring 40cm x 30cm, dug through the floor of a Roman building.

Conventional thinking is that hoards were concealed by their owners with the intention of later recovery – which, for some reason, was prevented. They are more common from some periods than others and in some instances this can be linked to known periods of political and economic crisis.