The Roman coin hoard discovered at Llanvashes

Detail of the Roman Emperor Hadrian (117-38)
Detail of a denarius from the Llanvaches hoard showing the Roman Emperor Hadrian (117-38)

 

One of the finest hoards of silver coins from Roman Britain in the second century A.D. came to light in 2006 near Llanvaches, Newport.

The hoard of 599 silver denarii were discovered hidden in a locally made cooking pot. They are now on displayed at the National Roman Legion Museum.

Llanvaches lies between the fortress of the second Augustan legion at Caerleon and the local tribal capital, Venta Silurum, at Caerwent.

The 599 silver denarii, which show various Roman Emperors such as Hadrian and Nero, date back to around AD160 and were declared treasure in July 2007.

Denarius, or Denarii (plural) are perhaps the best-known Roman coin. It gives us the 'd' of our old £-s-d system. At the time it was about a day's pay, whether civilian (think of the parable of the vineyard in the Bible) or for a Roman legionary soldier. In itself, therefore, the denarius was a valuable coin.

Six hundred denarii would represent a very large sum - how long might it take one of us to save two years' gross wages?

Please click on the thumbnails below to browse through a selection of coins from the hoard.

Heads

Detail of Pagasus from one of the Roman denarii
Detail of Pegasus from one of the Roman denarii

Unlike our modern coinage - which has few designs and only one ruler - the Roman imperial currency of the second century was full of variety: Llanvaches contains coins of 12 emperors and four of their wives or girlfriends.

Tails

There were many dozens of reverse designs - forming a sort of chronicle of imperial aims, values and achievements (for those who had the inclination, or indeed the literacy, to understand them). They include: history and myth, the emperor and his achievements, the army, the empire, the Roman deities, and many abstract concepts personified; even, the natural world.

So here's our chance to get up close and personal with Roman rulers, their wives and girlfriends and the messages of some of the outstanding coins in the hoard.

The broader context

Llanvaches appears to represent saved money (rather than a sum taken from circulation at one time) - so does it relate to the compulsory and additional voluntary savings that a Roman soldier might make? Or to the savings based on a lifetime of commerce at the nearby town of Caerwent? Either way, military pay was hugely importance for the circulation of new coinage; eight hoards of the time of Antoninus Pius (AD 138-61) are known from Wales, of which Llanvaches is by far the biggest.