Happy New Year and Society Lecture, 19th January

Welcome back to 2019 from the RNS. The first meeting of the new year was held on 19th January when Julian Bowsher and Robert Kenyon presented on ‘Roman London’s first coins’.

Abstract: Archaeological activity in London produces more Roman coins than any other type of coin. A number of large-scale excavations by Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) over the last 20 years, in particular at the Bloomberg site, have provided a rich potential resource for research.

This talk concentrates on the coins in use during the first twenty-five years of Roman annexation and rule of Britain. In a number of excavations, certain types appear again and again in early archaeological contexts almost becoming – in modern parlance -‘signature collections’. This is, of course, matched at other sites in southern Britain associated with the initial invasion which suggests that, apart from official funds, the first coins came in soldier’s purses. The absence of any British Iron Age presence in central London confirms that the large number of pre-Claudian Roman coins was associated with post-invasion deposition rather than pre-conquest exchange.

A typical assemblage includes Republican denarii and coins of the first three emperors – plated copies and aes – whose circulation can be gauged from their presence in early archaeological strata. However, bronze coins of Claudius I (AD 41-54) are the most commonly found coins in those early archaeological contexts and it is the production, supply and use of those coins that will be a major focus of our talk.

Excavation of the 453 bronze coins of Claudius I found at Bloomberg and adjacent sites in London provided an opportunity to reconsider the classification of those coins previously described as “Claudian copies” in light of the important work by Paul-André Besombes and Jean-Noël Barrandon published at the turn of this century. In that work Besombes and Barrandon, employing stylistic, metrological and chemical analyses,concluded that the majority of Claudian copies found in Gaul were in fact products of secondary imperial mints operating in the western provinces of Gaul and the Iberian Peninsula. The results of Besombes’s analyses of the 8,666 Claudian copies found in the river-bed deposit at Saint-Léonard allowed him to reclassify almost seventy percent of those bronze coins as orthodox coins, the majority of a provincial style, with the remainder being the products of illicit mints. However, the results of our analyses of this sample of Claudian aesfrom London suggest a very different picture of coin-supply to Britain in the early period of its annexation as a Roman imperial province.

The production and issue of irregular Claudian coinage continued after the emperor’s death in AD 54, but it would be a further ten years before the resumption of minting aes occurred under Nero. The production of good weight and quality aes in cAD 64 was to sound the eventual death knell for the prolific irregular Claudian pieces in Roman London where many are found in Flavian deposits.

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