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The Hoxne Hoard: How a Mislaid Hammer Led to the Largest Roman Treasure in Britain

The Hoxne Hoard: How a Mislaid Hammer Led to the Largest Roman Treasure in Britain

The Hoxne Hoard is a huge treasure from the late Roman period. The Hoxne Hoard consists of over 15,000 objects, mostly coins.

Other impressive artifacts in this spectacular hoard include jewelry, and an assortment of tableware. The most important pieces, as well as a selection of the best of the rest are now on permanent display in the British Museum in London.

Hoxne Hoard: Display case at the British Museum showing a reconstruction of the arrangement of the hoard treasure when excavated in 1992. (Mike Peel/ CC BY SA 4.0 )

Finding the Hoxne Hoard Location

The story of the Hoxne Hoard’s discovery begins with a lost hammer. On November 16, 1992, a man by the name of Eric Lawes was helping out a local farmer in Hoxne village, Suffolk. The farmer had lost his hammer in a field, and Lawes, who received a metal detector as a retirement gift, was called to help find it. When the detector picked up a strong signal in the earth, Lawes started digging, which resulted in two carrier bags being filled with coins and silver spoons. At that point, Lawes stopped, and contacted the landowner, the police, and the Suffolk Archaeological Society to report the discovery.

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Some of the artifacts from the collection still in the ground. ( hoxne.net)

The next day, a team from the Suffolk County Council Archaeology Service arrived at the spot where Lawes had made his discovery. Led by Jude Plouvier, the archaeologists were able to excavate the remaining pieces with more care. A chunk of earth containing the remaining treasure was removed from the site so that the objects within could be carefully removed under laboratory conditions. This allowed the age and the best storage method for the treasure to be determined.

At the end of this process, the archaeologists had a mass of gold and silver artifacts weighing about 27 kg (60 lbs.) This included slightly over 15,000 Roman coins, dozens of silver spoons, and various gold objects. Incidentally, the hammer was also found, and is now part of the British Museum’s collection as well.

The hammer that led to the discovery of the huge Roman hoard. (CC BY NC SA 4.0 )

A Lost Hope in Hoarding

Based on the coins found within the hoard, archaeologists have estimated that the Hoxne Hoard was buried no later than 450 AD. Towards the end of the 4th century AD, the western part of the Roman Empire was in turmoil. In order to defend their territory in mainland Europe from invading barbarians, the Romans removed their troops from Britain. Without Roman protection, Britain was now vulnerable to raids from barbarians such as the Saxons, Anglos, and Picts. As a result, the Romano-British citizens of the island began to hoard their valuables, in the hopes that once the chaos had passed, they could return to collect them.

Silver coin from the treasure. Workshop sample. Inscribed with "D N VALENS P F AVG" (Our Lord Valens Pious Fortunate Augustus). Minted in Siscia. (Fæ/ CC BY SA 3.0 )

The fact that hoards have been discovered today is proof enough that their owners somehow never got back to them. Whilst many of the hoards contain only coins, the Hoxne Hoard is rather unique as it contains other valuable objects as well. For instance, one of the best known objects in the treasure is the so-called ‘Empress’ pepper pot. This object is a silver pepper pot in the form of a noble woman. A great deal of attention was paid to the details of the figure when the pot was being made, and features such as the woman’s hairstyle, her clothes, and her jewelry are depicted.

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The Hoxne 'Empress' pepper pot. ( CC BY NC SA 4.0 )

Who Owned the Hoard?

Some of the items in the Hoxne Hoard are quite personal, and may be an indication of its owners. For instance, there is a gold bracelet with the inscription ‘UTERE FELIX DOMINA IULIANE’, which may be translated to mean ‘Use this happily Lady Juliane’, whilst another name, ‘Aurelius Ursicinus’, has been found on several of the other objects.

The Juliane Bracelet. (Fæ/ CC BY SA 3.0 )

It is reasonable to consider that Juliane and Aurelius were the couple who owned the treasure, and that the former was the woman depicted on the pepper pot. This, however, only remains a speculation, and we may never know for sure about the identity / identities of the hoard’s owner(s).


A hoxne-i kincs

1992-ben Eric Lawes a kelet-angliai Hoxne mellett, a szántóföldön fémkeresővel római kori aranyékszerekre és pénzekre bukkant. Értesítette a rendőrséget és másnap a helyi régészek szakszerű leletmentő ásatást végeztek a helyszínen: a kincs nagy részének elhelyezkedését pontosan azonosítani tudták, így később az elrejtés körülményeit és módját is meg tudták határozni. A leletet a földdel együtt emelték ki és a British Museumba szállították, ahol folytatódott a feltárás.

Összesen több mint 15 000 arany, ezüst és bronz pénzérme, 29 aranyékszer (tömegük kb. 1 kg), 12 ezüst asztali edény, 98 különféle ezüstkanál, kilenc ezüst pipereeszköz, valamint elefántcsont-, csont- és fatöredékek, textil- és bőrmaradványok, valamint vastárgyak kerültek elő.

A Hoxne-i kincset a benne talált, legkésőbb vert pénzérmék alapján 410 körül rejthették el, ahogyan az a tudományos vizsgálatok során bebizonyosodott, egy vastag falú, kb. 60 × 45 × 30 cm-es tölgyfa ládában. Az ezüstedényeket textilbe csomagolva, a kisebb ezüsttárgyakat és az ékszereket gondosan elrendezve, az aranypénzeket valószínűleg bőrzacskókban helyezték a ládába, míg az ezüstpénzeket egyszerűen csak beleöntötték, így azok kitöltötték az üres helyeket. Egy mívesen faragott elefántcsont illatszeres doboz is került melléjük, bizonyos darabokat pedig csonttal berakott faládikóban raktak a nagy ládába. Az a tény, hogy a tárgyakat ilyen gondosan elrendezték a ládában, azt mutatja, hogy az elrejtésével a megőrzés volt a cél, vagyis személyes vagy családi vagyon lehetett. A tárgyakon talált feliratok segítségével kilenc különböző nevet tudtak azonosítani a kutatók. Hoxne közelében eddig még nem találtak késő római lakóépületet, amiből arra lehet következtetni, hogy tulajdonosai valószínűleg messziről hozhatták a kincset a rejtekhelyre.


Contents

Discovery and initial excavation Edit

The hoard was discovered in a farm field about 2.4 kilometres (1.5 mi) southwest of the village of Hoxne in Suffolk on 16 November 1992. Tenant farmer Peter Whatling had lost a hammer and asked his friend Eric Lawes, a retired gardener and amateur metal detectorist, to help look for it. [8] While searching the field with his metal detector, Lawes discovered silver spoons, gold jewelry, and numerous gold and silver coins. After retrieving a few items, he and Whatling notified the landowners (Suffolk County Council) and the police without attempting to dig out any more objects. [9]

The following day, a team of archaeologists from the Suffolk Archaeological Unit carried out an emergency excavation of the site. The entire hoard was excavated in a single day, with the removal of several large blocks of unbroken material for laboratory excavation. [10] The area was searched with metal detectors within a radius of 30 metres (98 ft) from the find spot. [11] Peter Whatling's missing hammer was also recovered and donated to the British Museum. [12] [13]

The hoard was concentrated in a single location, within the completely decayed remains of a wooden chest. [8] The objects had been grouped within the chest for example, pieces such as ladles and bowls were stacked inside one another, and other items were grouped in a way consistent with being held within an inner box. [14] Some items had been disturbed by burrowing animals and ploughing, but the overall amount of disturbance was low. [15] It was possible to determine the original layout of the artefacts within the container, and the existence of the container itself, due to Lawes' prompt notification of the find, which allowed it to be excavated in situ by professional archaeologists. [9]

The excavated hoard was taken to the British Museum. The discovery was leaked to the press, and the Sun newspaper ran a front-page story on 19 November, alongside a picture of Lawes with his metal detector. The full contents of the hoard and its value were still unknown, yet the newspaper article claimed that it was worth £10 million. [8] In response to the unexpected publicity, the British Museum held a press conference at the museum on 20 November to announce the discovery. Newspapers lost interest in the hoard quickly, allowing British Museum curators to sort, clean, and stabilise it without further disruption from the press. [8] The initial cleaning and basic conservation was completed within a month of its discovery. [10]

Inquest and valuation Edit

A Coroner's inquest was held at Lowestoft on 3 September 1993, and the hoard was declared a treasure trove, meaning that it was deemed to have been hidden with the intention of being recovered at a later date. Under English common law, anything declared as such belongs to the Crown if no one claims title to it. [17] However, the customary practice at the time was to reward anyone who found and promptly reported a treasure trove with money equivalent to its market value, the money being provided by the national institution that wished to acquire the treasure. In November 1993, the Treasure Trove Reviewing Committee valued the hoard at £1.75 million (about £3.59 million in 2019), which was paid to Lawes as finder of the treasure, and he shared it with farmer Peter Whatling. [18] Three years later, the Treasure Act 1996 was enacted by Parliament which allowed the finder, tenant, and landowner to share in any reward. [19]

Subsequent archaeological investigations Edit

The Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service surveyed the field in September 1993, after it was ploughed, finding four gold coins and 81 silver coins, all considered part of the same hoard. [20] Both earlier Iron Age and later mediaeval materials were also discovered, but there was no evidence of a Roman settlement in the vicinity. [11]

A follow-up excavation of the field was carried out by the Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service in 1994, in response to illegal metal detecting near the hoard find. The hoard burial hole was re-excavated, and a single post hole was identified at the southwest corner this may have been the location of a marker post to enable the depositors of the cache to locate and recover it in the future. [11] Soil was removed in 10 cm (3.9 in) spits for analysis in the area 1,000 square metres (11,000 sq ft) around the find spot, and metal detectors were used to locate metal artefacts. This excavation recovered 335 items dating to the Roman period, mostly coins but also some box fittings. A series of late Bronze Age or early Iron Age post holes were found which may have formed a structure. However, no structural features of the Roman period were detected. [11] [21]

The coins discovered during the 1994 investigation were spread out in an ellipse centred on the hoard find spot, running east–west up to a distance of 20 metres (66 ft) on either side. [22] This distribution can be explained by the fact that the farmer carried out deep ploughing in 1990 in an east–west direction on the part of the field where the hoard was found. The farmer had ploughed in a north–south direction since 1967 or 1968, when the land was cleared for agricultural use, but the absence of coins north and south of the find spot suggests that the ploughing before 1990 had not disturbed the hoard. [22]

The hoard is mainly made up of gold and silver coins and jewellery, amounting to a total of 3.5 kilograms (7.7 lb) of gold and 23.75 kilograms (52.4 lb) of silver. [23] It had been placed in a wooden chest, made mostly or entirely of oak, that measured approximately 60×45×30 cm (23.6×17.7×11.8 in). Within the chest, some objects had evidently been placed in smaller boxes made of yew and cherry wood, while others had been packed in with woollen cloth or hay. The chest and the inner boxes had decayed almost completely after being buried, but fragments of the chest and its fittings were recovered during the excavation. [24] The main objects found are:

  • 569 gold coins (solidi) [4]
  • 14,272 silver coins, comprising 60 miliarenses and 14,212 siliquae[4]
  • 24 bronze coins (nummi) [4]
  • 29 items of jewellery in gold [25]
  • 98 silver spoons and ladles [26]
  • A silver tigress, made as a handle for a vessel [26]
  • 4 silver bowls and a small dish [27]
  • 1 silver beaker
  • 1 silver vase or juglet
  • 4 pepper pots, including the "Empress" Pepper Pot[3]
  • Toiletry items such as toothpicks
  • 2 silver locks from the decayed remains of wooden or leather caskets
  • Traces of various organic materials, including a small ivory pyxis

Coins Edit

The Hoxne Hoard contains 569 gold solidi, struck between the reigns of Valentinian I (364–75) and Honorius (393–423) 14,272 silver coins, including 60 miliarenses and 14,212 siliquae, struck between the reigns of Constantine II (337–40) and Honorius and 24 bronze nummi. [4] It is the most significant coin find from the end of Roman Britain and contains all major denominations of coinage from that time, as well as many examples of clipped silver coinage typical of late Roman Britain. The only find from Roman Britain with a larger number of gold coins was the Eye Hoard found in 1780 or 1781, for which there are poor records. [29] The largest single Romano-British hoard was the Cunetio Hoard of 54,951 third-century coins, but these were debased radiates with little precious-metal content. The Frome Hoard was unearthed in Somerset in April 2010 containing 52,503 coins minted between 253 and 305, also mostly debased silver or bronze. [30] Larger hoards of Roman coins have been found at Misrata, Libya [31] and reputedly also at Evreux, France (100,000 coins) and Komin, Croatia (300,000 coins). [32]

The gold solidi are all close to their theoretical weight of 4.48 g ( 1 ⁄ 72 of a Roman pound). The fineness of a solidus in this period was 99% gold. The total weight of the solidi in the hoard is almost exactly 8 Roman pounds, suggesting that the coins had been measured out by weight rather than number. [33] Analysis of the siliquae suggests a range of fineness of between 95% and 99% silver, with the highest percentage of silver found just after a reform of the coinage in 368. [34] Of the siliquae, 428 are locally produced imitations, generally of high quality and with as much silver as the official siliquae of the period. However, a handful are cliché forgeries where a core of base metal has been wrapped in silver foil. [35]

Historical spread and minting Edit

Coins are the only items in the Hoxne Hoard for which a definite date and place of manufacture can be established. All of the gold coins, and many of the silver coins, bear the names and portraits of the emperor in whose reign they were minted. Most also retain the original mint marks that identify where they were minted, illustrating the Roman system of regional mints producing coins to a uniform design. The coins' manufacture has been traced back to a total of 14 sources: Trier, Arles and Lyon (in Gaul), Ravenna, Milan, Aquileia, Rome (in modern Italy) Siscia (modern Croatia), Sirmium (modern Serbia), Thessaloniki (Greece), Constantinople, Cyzicus, Nicomedia, and Antioch (modern Turkey). [37]

The coins were minted under three dynasties of Roman emperors. The earliest are the successors of the Constantinian dynasty, followed by the Valentinianic emperors, and finally the Theodosian emperors. The collegiate system of rule (or Consortium imperii) meant that imperial partners would mint coins in each other's names at the mints under their jurisdiction. The overlapping reigns of Eastern and Western emperors often allow changes of type to be dated to within part of a reign. So the latest coins in the hoard, of Western ruler Honorius (393–423) and his challenger Constantine III (407–11), can be demonstrated to belong to the earlier parts of their reigns as they correspond to the lifetime of the Eastern Emperor Arcadius, who died in 408. [38] Thus, the coins provide a terminus post quem or earliest possible date for the deposition of the hoard of 408. [39]

The siliquae in the Hoard were struck mainly at Western mints in Gaul and Italy. It is unknown whether this is because coins from further East rarely reached Britain through trade, or because the Eastern mints rarely struck siliquae. [40] The production of coins seems to follow the location of the Imperial court at the time for instance, the concentration of Trier coins is much greater after 367, perhaps associated with Gratian moving his court to Trier. [40]

Table of mints and periods of gold solidi in the Hoxne Hoard [41]
Mint 364–7 367–75 375–8 378–88 388–95 394–402 402–8 Total
Aquileia 2 2
Constantinople 4 1 5
Lyons 5 5
Milan 15 6 367 388
Ravenna 54 54
Rome 1 38 39
Sirmium 8 8
Thessaloniki 1 1
Trier 6 6 8 58 78
Total 1 6 6 27 78 368 94 580

Clipping of the silver coins Edit

Almost every silver siliqua in the hoard had its edge clipped to some degree. This is typical of Roman silver coin finds of this period in Britain, although clipped coins are very unusual through the rest of the Roman Empire. [42] The clipping process invariably leaves the imperial portrait intact on the front of the coin but often damages the mint mark, inscription, and image on the reverse. [42]

The possible reasons for clipping coins are controversial. Possible explanations include fraud, a deliberate attempt to maintain a stable ratio between gold and silver coins, or an official attempt to provide a new source of silver bullion while maintaining the same number of coins in circulation. [42]

The huge number of clipped coins in the Hoxne Hoard has made it possible for archaeologists to observe the process of coin-clipping in detail. The coins were evidently cut face-up to avoid damaging the portrait. The average level of clipping is roughly the same for coins dating from 350 onwards. [43]

An unclipped siliqua

Partially clipped siliqua

A heavily clipped siliqua

Gold jewellery Edit

All the jewellery in the hoard is gold, and all gold items in the hoard are jewellery, other than the coins. None of the jewellery is unequivocally masculine, although several pieces might have been worn by either sex, such as the rings. [45] There are one body chain, six necklaces, three rings, and nineteen bracelets. The total weight of the gold jewellery is about 1 kilogram (2.2 lb), [46] and the average metal content of the jewellery pieces is 91.5% gold (about 22 carat), with small proportions of silver and copper in the metal. [47]

The most important gold item in the hoard is the body chain, which consists of four finely looped gold chains, made using the "loop-in-loop" method called "fox tail" in modern jewellery, and attached at front and back to plaques. [48] At the front, the chains have terminals in the shape of lions' heads and the plaque has jewels mounted in gold cells, with a large amethyst surrounded by four smaller garnets alternating with four empty cells which probably held pearls that have decayed. At the back, the chains meet at a mount centred on a gold solidus of Gratian (r. 375–383) which has been converted from an earlier use, probably as a pendant, and which may have been a family heirloom. [48] Body chains of this type appear in Roman art, sometimes on the goddess Venus or on nymphs some examples have erotic contexts, but they are also worn by respectable high-ranking ladies. They may have been regarded as a suitable gift for a bride. [49] The Hoxne body chain, worn tightly, would fit a woman with a bust-size of 76–81 cm (30–32 in). [50] Few body chains have survived one of the most complete is from the early Byzantine era, found in Egypt, and it also is in the British Museum. [51]

One of the necklaces features lion-headed terminals, and another includes stylised dolphins. The other four are relatively plain loop-in-loop chains, although one has a Chi-Rho symbol () on the clasp, the only Christian element in the jewellery. [53] Necklaces of similar lengths would normally be worn in the Roman period with a pendant, but no pendants were found in the hoard. [54] The three rings were originally set with gems, which might have been natural gemstones or pieces of coloured glass however, these were taken from the rings before they were buried, perhaps for re-use. The rings are of similar design, one with an oval bezel, one with a circular bezel, and one with a large oblong bezel. [55] There were 19 bracelets buried in the hoard, including three matching sets of four made of gold. Many similar bracelets have survived, but sets of four are most unusual they may have been worn two on each arm, or possibly were shared by two related women. [56] One set has been decorated by corrugating the gold with lateral and transverse grooves the other two sets bear pierced-work geometric designs. Another five bracelets bear hunting scenes, common in Late Roman decorative art. Three have the designs executed in pierced-work, whereas two others are in repoussé. One bracelet is the sole gold item in the hoard to carry an inscription it reads: "VTERE FELIX DOMINA IVLIANE" in Latin, meaning "Use [this] happily, Lady Juliane". [56] The expression utere felix (or sometimes uti felix) is the second most common inscriptional formula on items from Roman Britain and is used to wish good luck, well-being, and joy. [57] The formula is not specifically Christian, but it sometimes occurs in an explicitly Christian context, for example, together with a Chi-Rho symbol. [57]

The jewellery may have represented the "reserve" items rarely or never used from the collection of a wealthy woman or family. Some of the most common types of jewellery are absent, such as brooches, pendants, and earrings. Items set with gems are notably missing, although they were very much in the taste of the day. Catherine Johns, former Senior Curator for Roman Britain at the British Museum, speculates that the current or favourite jewellery of the owner was not included in the hoard. [58]

Silver items Edit

The hoard contains about 100 silver and silver-gilt items the number is imprecise because there are unmatched broken parts. They include a statuette of a leaping tigress, made as a handle for an object such as a jug or lamp four pepper-pots (piperatoria) a beaker a vase or juglet (a small jug) four bowls a small dish and 98 silver spoons and ladles. The beaker and juglet are decorated with similar leaf and stem patterns, and the juglet has three gilded bands. In contrast, the small bowls and dish are plain, and it is presumed that the owners of the Hoard had many more such items, probably including the large decorated dishes found in other hoards. [16] Many pieces are gilded in parts to accentuate the decoration. The technique of fire-gilding with mercury was used, [59] as was typical at the time. [60]

Piperatoria Edit

The pepper-pots include one vessel, finely modelled after a wealthy or imperial lady, which soon became known as the "Empress" pepper-pot. [note 1] The woman's hair, jewellery, and clothing are carefully represented, and gilding is used to emphasise many details. She is holding a scroll in her left hand, giving the impression of education as well as wealth. Other pepper-pots in the hoard are modelled into a statue of Hercules and Antaeus, an ibex, and a hare and hound together. Not all such spice dispensers held pepper — they were used to dispense other spices as well — but are grouped in discussions as pepper-pots. Each of those found in this hoard has a mechanism in the base to rotate an internal disc, which controls the aperture of two holes in the base. When fully open, the containers could have been filled using a funnel when part-open they could have been shaken over food or drink to add the spices.

Piperatorium is generally translated as pepper-pot, and black pepper is considered the most likely condiment these were used for. Pepper is only one of a number of expensive, high-status spices which these vessels might have dispensed, however. The piperatoria are rare examples of this type of Roman silverware, and according to Johns the Hoxne finds have "significantly expanded the date range, the typology and the iconographic scope of the type". [63] The trade and use of pepper in this period has been supported with evidence of mineralized black pepper at three Northern Province sites recovered in the 1990s, [note 2] [65] and from the Vindolanda tablets which record the purchase of an unspecified quantity of pepper for two denarii. [66] Archaeological sites with contemporary finds have revealed spices, including coriander, poppy, celery, dill, summer savory, mustard, and fennel. [65] [note 3]

They just couldn't get enough of it, wars were fought over it. And if you look at Roman recipes, every one starts with: 'Take pepper and mix with . ' (Christine McFadden, food writer)

When the Romans came to Britain they brought a lot of material culture and a lot of habits with them that made the people of Britain feel Roman they identified with the Roman culture. Wine was one of these – olive oil was another – and pepper would have been a more valuable one in this same sort of 'set' of Romanitas. (Roberta Tomber, British Museum Visiting Fellow)

So regularly filling a large silver pepper pot like ours would have taken its toll on the grocery bills. And the household that owned our pepper pot had another three silver pots, for pepper or other spice – one shaped as Hercules in action, and two in the shape of animals. This is dizzying extravagance, the stuff of bankers' bonuses. But the pepper pots are just a tiny part of the great hoard of buried treasure. (Neil MacGregor, British Museum Director)

Other silver pieces Edit

The tigress is a solid-cast statuette weighing 480 grams (17 oz) and measuring 15.9 cm (6.3 in) from head to tail. She was designed to be soldered onto some other object as its handle traces of tin were found beneath her rear paws, which have a "smoothly concave curve". [72] She looks most aesthetically pleasing when the serpentine curves of her head, back, rump, and tail form a line at an angle of about 45°, when the rear paws are flat, allowing for their curve. [73] Her gender is obvious as there are six engorged teats under her belly. She is carefully decorated on her back, but her underside is "quite perfunctorily finished". [74] Her stripes are represented by two engraved lines, with a black niello inlay between them, in most places not meeting the engraved lines. Neither her elongated body, nor the distribution of the stripes are accurate for the species she has a long dorsal stripe running from the skull along the spine to the start of the tail, which is typical of tabby cats rather than tigers. The figure has no stripes around her tail, which thickens at the end, suggesting a thick fur tip as in a lion's tail, which tigers do not have, although Roman art usually gives them one. [74]

The large collection of spoons includes 51 cochlearia, which are small spoons with shallow bowls and long, tapering handles with a pointed end which was used to pierce eggs and spear small pieces of food—as the Romans did not use forks at the table. [75] There are 23 cigni, which are much rarer, having large rather shallow spoons with shorter, bird-headed handles and about 20 deep round spoons or small ladles and strainer-spoons. Many are decorated with abstract motifs and some with dolphins or fanciful marine creatures. Many of the spoons are decorated with a Christian monogram cross or Chi-Rho symbol, and sometimes, also with the Greek letters alpha and omega (an appellation for Jesus, who is described as the alpha and omega in the Book of Revelation). Three sets of ten spoons, and several other spoons, are decorated with such Christian symbols. As is often the case with Roman silver spoons, many also have a Latin inscription on them, either simply naming their owner or wishing their owner long life. In total, eight different people are named seven on the spoons, and one on the single beaker in the hoard: Aurelius Ursicinus, Datianus, Euherius, Faustinus, Peregrinus, Quintus, Sanctus, and Silvicola. The most common name is "Aurelius Ursicinus", which occurs on a set of five cochlearia and five ladles. [76] It is unknown whether any of the people named in these inscriptions would have been involved in hiding the hoard or were even alive at the time it was buried.

Although only one of these inscriptions is explicitly Christian (vivas in deo), [77] inscriptions on silver spoons comprising a name followed by vivas or vivat usually can be identified as Christian in other late Roman hoards for example the Mildenhall Treasure has five spoons, three with Chi-Rho monograms, and two with vivas inscriptions (PASCENTIA VIVAS and PAPITTEDO VIVAS). [78] The formula vir bone vivas also occurs on a spoon from the Thetford Hoard, but whereas the Thetford Hoard spoons have mostly pagan inscriptions (e.g. Dei Fau[ni] Medugeni "of the god Faunus Medugenus [the Mead begotten]"), [79] the Hoxne Hoard does not have any inscriptions of a specifically pagan nature, and the hoard may be considered to have come from a Christian household (or households). It often is assumed that Roman spoons with Chi-Rho monograms or the vivas in deo formula are either christening spoons (perhaps presented at adult baptism) or were used in the Eucharist ceremony, but that is not certain. [80]

Table of inscriptions on silver tableware [note 5]
Reference number Inscription Transcription Translation Notes
1994,0408.31 EVHERIVIVAS Euheri vivas "Euherius, may you live" Beaker. The name may also have been Eucherius or Eutherius.
1994,0408.81–83 AVRVRSICINI Aur[elius] Ursicini "(property of) Aurelius Ursicinus" Three spoons (ligula or cignus)
1994,0408.84–85 AVRVRSICINVS Aur[elius] Ursicinus "Aurelius Ursicinus" Two spoons (ligula or cignus)
1994,0408.86–88 AVRVRSICINI Aur[elius] Ursicini "(property of) Aurelius Ursicinus" Three spoons (cochlearia)
1994,0408.89–90 AVRVRSICINI Aur[elius] Ursicini "(property of) Aurelius Ursicinus" Two spoons (cochlearia), also inscribed with the Chi-Rho monogram and alpha and omega
1994,0408.101–102 PEREGRINVS VIVAT Peregrinus vivat "Peregrinus, may he live" Two spoons (ligula or cignus)
1994,0408.103–105 QVISSVNTVIVAT Quintus vivat "Quintus, may he live" Three spoons (ligula or cignus). Inscription is an error for QVINTVSVIVAT
1994,0408.106 PEREGRINI Peregrini "(property of) Peregrinus" Spoon (cochlearium)
1994,0408.107–110 SILVICOLAVIVAS Silvicola vivas "Silvicola, may you live" Set of four cochlearia
1994,0408.115 PER PR Per[egrinus] Pr[imus] ? "Peregrinus Primus" Scratched graffiti on a spoon (ligula or cignus)
1994,0408.116 FAVSTINEVIVAS Faustine vivas "Faustinus, may you live" Spoon (ligula or cignus)
1994,0408.117 VIRBONEVIVAS Vir bone vivas "Good man, may you live" Spoon (ligula or cignus)
1994,0408.122 [V]IVASINDEO Vivas in deo "May you live in god" Spoon (cochlearium)
1994,0408.129 SANC Sanc[tus] "Sanctus" Spoon (cochlearium)
1994,0408.133 DATIANIAEVIVAS Datiane vivas "Datianus, may you live" Spoon (cochlearium). Inscription is an error for DATIANEVIVAS
Table of monograms and symbols on tableware with no text
Reference number Monogram or symbol Notes
1994,0408.52–61 Chi-rho monogram Ladle
1994,0408.91–100 Monogram cross Spoon
1994,0408.118–119 Chi-Rho, alpha and omega Spoon (ligula or cignus)
1994,0408.135 Chi-rho monogram Spoon

There are also a number of small items of uncertain function, described as toiletry pieces. Some are picks, others perhaps scrapers, and three have empty sockets at one end, which probably contained organic material such as bristle, to make a brush. The size of these would be appropriate for cleaning the teeth or applying cosmetics, among other possibilities. [81]

The average purity of the silver items is 96%. The remainder of the metal is made up of copper and a small amount of zinc, with trace amounts of lead, gold, and bismuth present. The zinc is likely to have been present in a copper brass used to alloy the silver when the objects were made, and the lead, gold, and bismuth probably were present in the unrefined silver ore. [82]

Iron and organic materials Edit

The iron objects found in the hoard are probably the remains of the outer wooden chest. These consist of large iron rings, double-spiked loops and hinges, strap hinges, probable components of locks, angle brackets, wide and narrow iron strips, and nails. [83]

Organic finds are rarely well documented with hoards because most coin and treasure finds are removed hastily by the finder or have previously been disrupted by farm work rather than excavated. The Hoxne organic finds included bone, wood, other plant material, and leather. Small fragments were found from a decorated ivory pyxis (a cylindrical lidded box), along with more than 150 tiny shaped pieces of bone inlay or veneer, probably from a wooden box or boxes that have decayed. Minuscule fragments of wood adhering to metal objects were identified as belonging to nine species of timber, all native to Britain wood traces associated with the iron fittings of the outer chest established that it was made of oak. Silver locks and hinges were from two small wooden boxes or caskets, one made of decorative cherry wood and one made of yew. [84] Some wheat straw survived from padding between the plain silver bowls, which also bore faint traces of linen cloth. [85] Leather fragments were too degraded for identification.

The initial metallurgical analysis of the hoard was carried out in late 1992 and early 1993 by Cowell and Hook for the procedural purposes of the coroner's inquest. This analysis used X-ray fluorescence, a technique that was applied again later to cleaned surfaces on specimens.

All 29 items of gold jewellery were analysed, with silver and copper found to be present. Results were typical for Roman silver in hoards of the period, in terms of the presence of copper alloyed with the silver to harden it, and trace elements. One repaired bowl showed a mercury-based solder. [59]

The large armlet of pierced gold (opus interrasile) showed traces of hematite on the reverse side, which probably would have been used as a type of jeweller's rouge. [86] This is the earliest known and documented use of this technique on Roman jewellery. [87] Gilt items showed the presence of mercury, indicating the mercury gilding technique. [59] The black inlay on the cast silver tigress shows the niello technique, but with silver sulphide rather than lead sulphide. [87] The settings of stones where garnet and amethyst remain, in the body chain, have vacant places presumed to be where pearls were set, and show elemental sulphur as adhesive or filler. [87]

The Hoxne Hoard was buried during a period of great upheaval in Britain, marked by the collapse of Roman authority in the province, the departure of the majority of the Roman army, and the first of a wave of attacks by the Anglo-Saxons. [88] Attacks on Italy by the Visigoths around the turn of the fifth century caused the general Stilicho to recall Roman army units from Rhaetia, Gaul, and Britannia. [89] While Stilicho held off the Visigoth attack, the Western provinces were left defenceless against Suebi, Alans, and Vandals who crossed the frozen Rhine in 406 and overran Gaul. The remaining Roman troops in Britain, fearing that the invaders would cross the Channel, elected a series of emperors of their own to lead the defence.

The first two such emperors were put to death by the dissatisfied soldiery in a matter of months, but the third, who would declare himself Constantine III, led a British force across the English Channel to Gaul in his bid to become Roman Emperor. After scoring victories against the "barbarians" in Gaul, Constantine was defeated by an army loyal to Honorius and beheaded in 411. [90] Meanwhile, Constantine's departure had left Britain vulnerable to attacks from Saxon and Irish raiders. [91]

After 410, Roman histories give little information about events in Britain. [92] Writing in the next decade, Saint Jerome described Britain after 410 as a "province fertile of tyrants", [93] suggesting the collapse of central authority and the rise of local leaders in response to repeated raids by Saxons and others. By 452, a Gaulish chronicler was able to state that some ten years previously "the Britons, which to this time had suffered from various disasters and misfortunes, are reduced by the power of the Saxons". [94]

Burial Edit

Exactly who owned the Hoxne Hoard, and their reasons for burying it, are not known, and probably never will be. However, the hoard itself and its context provide some important clues. The hoard evidently was buried carefully, some distance from any buildings. [95] The hoard very likely represents only a portion of the precious-metal wealth of the person, or people, who owned it many common types of jewellery are missing, as are large tableware items such as those found in the Mildenhall Treasure. It is unlikely that anyone would have possessed the rich gold and silver items found in the Hoxne Hoard without owning items in those other categories. Whoever owned the hoard also would have had wealth in the form of land, livestock, buildings, furniture, and clothing. At most, the Hoxne Hoard represents a moderate portion of the wealth of someone rich conversely, it may represent a minuscule fraction of the wealth of a family that was incredibly wealthy. [96]

The appearance of the names "Aurelius Ursicinus" and "Juliane" on items in the Hoxne Hoard need not imply that people by those names owned the rest of the hoard, either at the time of its burial or previously. [97] [98] There are no historical references to an "Aurelius Ursicinus" in Britain in this period. While a "Marcus Aurelius Ursicinus" is recorded in the Praetorian Guard in Rome in the period 222–235, [99] a soldier or official of the late fourth or early fifth century would be more likely to take the imperial nomen Flavius, rather than Aurelius. This leads Tomlin to speculate "The name "Aurelius Ursicinus" might sound old-fashioned it would certainly have been more appropriate to a provincial landowner than an army officer or government official". [99]

There are a number of theories about why the hoard was buried. One is that the hoard represented a deliberate attempt to keep wealth safe, perhaps in response to one of the many upheavals facing Roman Britain in the early fifth century. This is not the only hypothesis, however. [100] Archaeologist Peter Guest argues that the hoard was buried because the items in it were used as part of a system of gift-exchange, and as Britain separated from the Roman Empire, they were no longer required. [101] A third hypothesis is that the Hoxne Hoard represents the proceeds of a robbery, buried to avoid detection. [97]

Late Roman hoards Edit

The Hoxne Hoard comes from the later part of a century (c. 350–450) from which an unusually large number of hoards have been discovered, mostly from the fringes of the Empire. [103] Such hoards vary in character, but many include the large pieces of silver tableware lacking in the Hoxne Hoard: dishes, jugs and ewers, bowls and cups, some plain, but many highly decorated. [103] Two other major hoards discovered in modern East Anglia in the last century are from the fourth century both are now in the British Museum. The Mildenhall Treasure from Suffolk consists of thirty items of silver tableware deposited in the late fourth century, many large and elaborately decorated, such as the "Great Dish". [104] The Water Newton Treasure from Cambridgeshire is smaller, but is the earliest hoard to have a clearly Christian character, apparently belonging to a church or chapel [105] the assorted collection probably includes items made in Britain. [106] The Kaiseraugst Treasure from the site at Augusta Raurica in modern Switzerland (now in Basel) contained 257 items, including a banqueting service with sophisticated decoration. [107] The Esquiline Treasure, found in Rome, evidently came from a wealthy Roman family of the late fourth century, and includes several large items, including the "Casket of Projecta". [108] Most of the Esquiline Treasure is in the British Museum, as are bowls and dishes from the Carthage Treasure which belonged to a known family in Roman Africa around 400. [109]

The Mildenhall, Kaiseraugst, and Esquiline treasures comprise large items of tableware. Other hoards, however, such as those found at Thetford and Beaurains consist mostly of coins, jewellery, and small tableware items these two hoards probably are pagan votive offerings. [110] A hoard from Traprain Law in Scotland contains decorated Roman silver pieces cut up and folded, showing regard for the value of their metal alone, and may represent loot from a raid. [111]

Local context Edit

Hoxne, where the hoard was discovered, is located in Suffolk in modern-day East Anglia. Although no large, aristocratic villa has been located in the Hoxne area, there was a Roman settlement nearby from the first through fourth centuries at Scole, about 3.2 km (2.0 mi) north–west of Hoxne, at the intersection of two Roman roads. One of these, Pye Road, (today's A140), linked Venta Icenorum (Caistor St Edmund) to Camulodunum (Colchester) and Londinium (London). [11] [112] [113]


A Search for a Lost Hammer Led to the Largest Cache of Roman Treasure Ever Found in Britain

The gold and silver coins in the Hoxne hoard, found in Suffolk, date to the end of the Roman Empire in Britain at the start of the 5th century A.D.

On November 16, 1992, the day changed enormously the life of Suffolk-resident Eric Lawes. What he thought would have been an innocent search for a hammer he had misplaced on his farm in Hoxne Village, Suffolk, England ended up bringing him much more than he had negotiated — namely, uncovering a long-hidden treasure’s hiding spot.

Based on the Guardian’s coverage of the story, Eric Lawes had been previously gifted a metal detector upon his retirement as a parting token. He decided to put his retirement gift to good use in order to locate the hammer which he had some trouble finding.

According to a 2018 Smithsonian Magazine article, when the device started recording that there was a strong signal coming from the earth, he knew that he was about to discover something big. As he started digging, it soon became clear to him that he had unearthed a treasure trove.

The Guardian reports that, when Lawes saw that his preliminary digging had yielded a few gold coins and silver spoons, he immediately contacted both the local archaeological society and the police department.

Archaeologists came to the property the following day and had the area of earth holding the treasure carefully sectioned-off and removed. Their hope was that at a later stage, in their laboratory, they could examine the items in order to identify both their age and how they were stored. Hoxne Hoard: Display case at the British Museum showing a reconstruction of the arrangement of the hoard treasure when excavated in 1992.

When all was said and done, close to 60 pounds of items made from silver and gold were found on the site. These included more than 15,000 Roman coins, 200 gold objects, and several silver spoons.

For archaeologists, this find — which later became labeled as the Hoxne Hoard — was an incredible discovery. AP News reported that archaeologist Judith Plouviez was over-the-moon about the discovery, saying that it was “an incredibly exciting and amazing find.” What’s more, another archaeologist, Rachel Wilkinson, told Smithsonian Magazine that this discovery was “the largest and latest ever found in Britain.”Ordinarily, archaeologists would use radiocarbon dating as a means of identifying the age of ancient relics.

However, they couldn’t locate any suitable material from the haul. Consequently, they determined the age by examining the writing on the coins, as well as the ruler carved into them, estimating that the treasure was probably buried in either 408 or 409 AD. The silver “Hoxne Tigress” – the broken-off handle from an unknown object – is the best known single piece out of some 15,000 in the hoard.

Roman-era archaeologist Peter Guest told Smithsonian Magazine that “if you look at them a little more carefully, then they should be dated to the period after the separation of Britain from the Roman Empire.”He offers as part of his evidence the fact that almost all of the coins found in the Hoxne Hoard were clipped – in other words, small chunks of their edges had been taken off. These clippings would have been used to create coins which were similar to the Roman coins of that era.

A silver-gilt spoon with a marine beast from the Hoxne Hoard. Currently in the British Museum.

A guest has a logical reason for this, arguing that “The Roman Empire wasn’t supplying Britain with new gold and silver coins, and in light of that, the population tried to get over this sudden cutoff in the supply of their precious metals by making the existing supplies go further.”Archaeologists also believe that the treasure belonged to a Romano-British family.

During that time, considering that there was so much societal discord and upheaval, it was common for Romans who had settled in Britain to bury their most prized possessions. Two gold bracelets from the Hoxne Hoard, in the British Museum.

That said, one archaeologist is of the belief that the hoard had a lot of sentimental value for the Romano-British family to whom it is believed to have belonged. In her book The Hoxne Late Roman Treasure: Gold Jewellery and Silver Plate, Catherine Johns claims that the manner in which the treasure was kept supported this claim.

Some of the items which were recovered had been packaged in small, wooden boxes which were lined with leather. What’s more, pieces of wood, locks, and nails, among other things, surrounded the gold and silver pieces.

This leads Catherine to assert that the package was carefully buried and not simply chucked away in a rush. Interestingly enough, the items unearthed might shed some light on the identity of the family who owned them. Three silver-gilt Roman piperatoria or pepper pots from the Hoxne Hoard on display at the British Museum

They cite a gold bracelet bearing the inscription “UTERE FELIX DOMINA IULIANE,” which roughly translates to “use this happily Lady Juliane”.A second name “Aurelius Ursicinus” has also been discovered. This has consequently led some to believe that Juliane and Aurelius were the couples and the original owners of the treasure. That said, that has yet to be confirmed.

Two toiletry items, one in the shape of a crane-like bird the other with an empty socket, probably for bristles for a makeup brush.

All in all, the discovery was a real treasure for archaeologists, and by extension, for Lawes. According to Smithsonian Magazine, in recognition of his discovery and willingness to contact authorities, the British government rewarded him with over £1.7 million, an amount which he shared with the farmer whose land was dug out in order to get the treasure. Funnily enough, apart from the treasure, Lawes also found his lost hammer — which now resides in the British Museum.


A Farmer’s Misplaced Hammer Led to the Largest Roman Treasure in Britain

On November 16, 1992, when Eric Lawes set off for a field in the village of Hoxne, Suffolk, he was not on a treasure hunt. The metal detector he had received as a gift for retirement was intended to find a hammer lost on the farmland.

Hoxne Hoard: Coins.

But a strong signal was picked up by the detector in the earth, leading Lawes to start digging and it quickly became apparent that he had indeed found treasure.

Having brought up just a few shovelfuls of silver spoons and gold coins, Lawes fled quickly and called the police and the nearby archaeological society. The very next day the archaeologists excavated a chunk of the earth as covertly as possible with the treasure still contained within.

This way, under laboratory conditions, they could extract the items, which would help determine the age and storage method of the cache. By the time all was separated from the dirt, the archeologists had about 60 pounds of gold and silver objects including 15,234 Roman coins, hundreds of silver spoons and 200 gold objects.

Lawes won £ 1.75 million from the British government for discovering the gold and leaving it safe, which he shared with the farmer on whose property the hoard was discovered (in the end he even found the hammer which later went on exhibit).

A silver-gilt spoon with a marine beast from the Hoxne Hoard. Currently in the British Museum.

As for archaeologists, they had their own reward: of the 40 treasure hoards discovered in Britain, the Hoxne Hoard was “the largest and latest ever found in Britain,” says Rachel Wilkinson.

The project curator for Romano-British collections at the British Museum, where the artifacts reside, Wilkinson says the unique way this hoard was excavated, compared to how most are retrieved by farmers plowing their field, makes it invaluable.

In the 25 years since the unearthing of the Hoxne hoard, researchers have used the objects to learn more about one of Britain’s most turbulent periods: the island’s separation from the Roman Empire in 410 A.D.

The prancing tiger was once the handle of a large vase or amphora, discovered in the Hoxne Hoard in 1992. (British Museum)

The end of the fourth century A.D. was an unsettled time for the Roman Empire. The territory stretched across the entirety of the Mediterranean world, including all of the land that would come to be Italy, Spain, Greece and France and large chunks of North Africa, Turkey and Britain.

Under Emperor Theodosius, Christianity became the sole religion of the empire, while all other belief systems became illegal, a dramatic change after centuries of polytheism. And while parts of the Empire continued to thrive, the Western Roman Empire was deteriorating.

Gothic warriors won battles and killed leaders like Emperor Valens, and in 410 the Visigoths (nomadic Germanic peoples) sacked Rome. Meanwhile, Roman subjects in Britain were left to fend for themselves against raiders from Scotland and Ireland, having lost the support of Roman soldiers even before the separation from the Empire.

Hoxne Hoard: Display case at the British Museum showing a reconstruction of the arrangement of the hoard treasure when excavated in 1992.

“The years from the later fourth century to 450, the period including the British hoarding peak, witnessed numerous invasions into the [mainland Europe] Empire by Germanic and Hunnic groups often followed by largescale devastation and disruption,” writes Roman archaeologist Peter Guest, the author of The Late Roman Gold and Silver coins from the Hoxne Treasure.

This level of societal upheaval has led to the “hoards equal hordes” hypothesis. Basically, Romano-British citizens who no longer had the protection of the Roman Empire were so terrified of the raiding Saxons, Angles, Picts and others that they buried their most valuable belongings.

According to an entry from 418 in the 9th-century text Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, “In this year the Romans collected all the treasures which were in Britain and hid some in the earth so that no one afterwards could find them, and some they took with them into Gaul.”

For all their fears of “barbarians,” the Romano-British weren’t only the only people in the Roman Empire to experience upheaval—yet nowhere else have hoards been discovered in as dense of numbers as in Britain. Could there be an alternate explanation for why some wealthy family buried so much gold in the ground?

Because no organic materials survived in the Hoxne hoard, radiocarbon can’t be used as a dating technique. Instead, archaeologists use the age of coins, which they arrive it by looking at inscriptions on the coin as well as the ruler depicted on its face.

“The date after which Hoxne must’ve been buried is 408 or 409 and the traditional model would suggest it was buried around about that point in time,” Guest said in an interview. “My perspective is that actually we’ve been misdating these hoards. If you look at them a little more carefully, then they should be dated to the period after the separation of Britain from the Roman Empire.”

A series of gold bracelets, one with an inscription to Juliane, all found in the Hoxne Hoard in 1992. (British Museum)

Guest argues that the coins may have been in circulation around Britain for decades after the Roman Empire removed its influence from the island. One bit of evidence he offers for this hypothesis is a practice called clipping.

Of the more than 15,000 coins in the Hoxne cache, 98 percent are clipped—bits of their edges have been removed, reducing their size by as much as a third. Based on chemical analyses, Guest and others have found that the metal removed from those coins was used to make imitation Roman coins that remained in circulation for longer.

“The Roman Emperor wasn’t supplying Britain with new gold and silver coins, and in light of that, the population tried to get over this sudden cutoff in the supply of precious metals by making the existing supplies go further,” Guest said.

But part of the value of the Hoxne hoard is that it contains more than just a massive quantity of coins. In The Hoxne Late Roman Treasure: Gold Jewelry and Silver Plate, archaeologist Catherine Johns speculates that the Roman family to whom the treasure belonged kept them as sentimental objects.

This suggestion is possible thanks to an analysis of not just what was in the hoard, but also how it was hoarded. Surrounding the coins and gold objects were nails, hinges, locks, scraps of wood, bone and ivory. Some of the objects were packed with straw, while others were placed in smaller, leather-lined wood boxes.

Some of the items revealed significant wear, such as the silver handle in the shape of a tiger that had been detached from its vase, and the damaged pepper pots. All these details imply the stash might have been buried with care rather than being hurriedly hidden. And they also offer archaeologists plenty of fodder for theories about life for a wealthy family at the turn of the fifth century.

Take the dozens of silver spoons, for example. Some of them are worn down and show evidence of being repaired. Others are marked with words, including names (Aurelius Ursicinus and Silvicola) and a Latin phrase (vivas in deo). And while most of the spoons are inscribed to be read from a right-handed position, one spoon looks as if it was made for a leftie.

The silver pepper pot is hollowed out, in the shape of a noble lady. At the base the pot can be turned to three sittings, one closed, one with small holes for sprinkling, and one open for filling the pot with ground pepper. (British Museum)

Or look at the pepper pot, selected by the BBC as one of 100 objects to tell the story of the history of the world. The silver pot is molded in the shape of a noble woman, with holes in the base of the object for pepper to be shaken out. Not only does the pot tell us the owners engaged in international trade—pepper had to be shipped and purchased from India—but it also reveals details about women’s fashion. As Johns writes for the BBC, “The most striking aspect of the lady’s appearance is her intricate hairstyle. It would have required very long, thick hair and the attentions of a skilled hairdresser to create,” and included decorative pins arranged to look like a tiara.

Even the jewelry reveals tiny glimpses of what life may have looked like for women. There’s a gold body chain for an adolescent girl, several rings missing their gemstones, and multiple bracelets, including one with the inscription utere felix domina Iuliane—“use this and be happy, Lady Juliane.”

“Were Aurelius and Juliane the owners of the treasure, or perhaps their ancestors? We do not know,” writes Kenneth Lapatin in the Times Literary Supplement. “These people remain ciphers to us and, unlike their possessions, are largely irrecoverable.”

Archaeology is a field that often requires making inferences. The Hoxne hoard offers tantalizing slivers of the past without enough detail to allow for definitive answers. Even something as simple as when the treasure was buried currently remains unknowable. “You can’t prove or disprove either of these two positions,” Guest said of the hypothesis that the treasure was buried at the end of the Roman Empire in Britain or in the years after the end. “The dating of material culture to produce our chronologies and the difficulty of that goes back a long way in archaeology.”

But even surrounded by unanswered questions, the Hoxne treasure is an irresistible collection that tells a dramatic story: the end of one empire, the earliest days of what would eventually become another empire. And whatever else it might provide archaeologists, it also provides the public with a happy ending—sometimes you find buried treasure when you least expect it.


Items discovered

The hoard is mainly made up of gold and silver coins and jewellery, amounting to a total of 3.5 kilograms (7.7 lb) of gold and 23.75 kilograms (52.4 lb) of silver. [23] It had been placed in a wooden chest, made mostly or entirely of oak, that measured approximately 60×45×30 cm (23.6×17.7×11.8 in). Within the chest, some objects had evidently been placed in smaller boxes made of yew and cherry wood, while others had been packed in with woollen cloth or hay. The chest and the inner boxes had decayed almost completely after being buried, but fragments of the chest and its fittings were recovered during the excavation. [24] The main objects found are:

  • 569 gold coins (solidi) [4]
  • 14,272 silver coins, comprising 60 miliarenses and 14,212 siliquae[4]
  • 24 bronze coins (nummi) [4]
  • 29 items of jewellery in gold [25]
  • 98 silver spoons and ladles [26]
  • A silver tigress, made as a handle for a vessel [26]
  • 4 silver bowls and a small dish [27]
  • 1 silver beaker
  • 1 silver vase or juglet
  • 4 pepper pots, including the "Empress" Pepper Pot[3]
  • Toiletry items such as toothpicks
  • 2 silver locks from the decayed remains of wooden or leather caskets
  • Traces of various organic materials, including a small ivory pyxis

Coins

The Hoxne Hoard contains 569 gold solidi, struck between the reigns of Valentinian I (364–75) and Honorius (393–423) 14,272 silver coins, including 60 miliarenses and 14,212 siliquae, struck between the reigns of Constantine II (337–40) and Honorius and 24 bronze nummi. [4]

The most significant coin find from the end of Roman Britain, the hoard contains all major denominations of coinage of the time, and many examples of clipped silver coinage typical of late Roman Britain. The only find from Roman Britain with a larger number of gold coins was the Eye Hoard found in 1780 or 1781, for which there are poor records. [29] The largest single Romano-British hoard was the Cunetio Hoard, of 54,951 third-century coins, but these were debased radiates with little precious-metal content. The Frome Hoard, unearthed in Somerset in April 2010, contains 52,503 coins minted between 253 and 305, also mostly debased silver or bronze. [30] Larger hoards of Roman coins have been found at Misrata, Libya [31] and reputedly also at Evreux, France (100,000 coins) and Komin, Croatia (300,000 coins). [32]

The gold solidi are all close to their theoretical weight of 4.48 g (​ 1 ⁄72 of a Roman pound). The fineness of a solidus in this period was 99% gold. The total weight of the solidi in the hoard is almost exactly 8 Roman pounds, suggesting that the coins had been measured out by weight rather than number. [33] Analysis of the siliquae suggests a range of fineness of between 95% and 99% silver, with the highest percentage of silver found just after a reform of the coinage in 368. [34] Of the siliquae, 428 are locally produced imitations, generally of high quality and with as much silver as the official siliquae of the period. However, a handful are cliché forgeries where a core of base metal has been wrapped in silver foil. [35]

Historical spread and minting

Coins are the only items in the Hoxne Hoard for which a definite date and place of manufacture can be established. All of the gold coins, and many of the silver coins, bear the names and portraits of the emperor in whose reign they were minted. Most also retain the original mint marks that identify where they were minted, illustrating the Roman system of regional mints producing coins to a uniform design. The coins' manufacture has been traced back to a total of 14 sources: Trier, Arles and Lyon (in Gaul), Ravenna, Milan, Aquileia, Rome (in modern Italy) Siscia (modern Croatia), Sirmium (modern Serbia), Thessaloniki (Greece), Constantinople, Cyzicus, Nicomedia, and Antioch (modern Turkey). [37]

The coins were minted under three dynasties of Roman emperors. The earliest are the successors of the Constantinian dynasty, followed by the Valentinianic emperors, and finally the Theodosian emperors. The collegiate system of rule (or Consortium imperii) meant that imperial partners would mint coins in each other's names at the mints under their jurisdiction. The overlapping reigns of Eastern and Western emperors often allow changes of type to be dated to within part of a reign. So the latest coins in the hoard, of Western ruler Honorius (393–423) and his challenger Constantine III (407–11), can be demonstrated to belong to the earlier parts of their reigns as they correspond to the lifetime of the Eastern Emperor Arcadius, who died in 408. [38] Thus, the coins provide a terminus post quem or earliest possible date for the deposition of the hoard of 408. [39]

The siliquae in the Hoard were struck mainly at Western mints in Gaul and Italy. It is unknown whether this is because coins from further East rarely reached Britain through trade, or because the Eastern mints rarely struck siliquae. [40] The production of coins seems to follow the location of the Imperial court at the time for instance, the concentration of Trier coins is much greater after 367, perhaps associated with Gratian moving his court to Trier. [40]

Clipping of the silver coins

Almost every silver siliqua in the hoard has had its edge clipped to some degree. This is typical of Roman silver coin finds of this period in Britain, although clipped coins are very unusual through the rest of the Roman Empire. [42] The clipping process invariably leaves the imperial portrait on the front of the coin intact, but often damages the mint mark, inscription, and the image on the obverse. [42]

The reasons for the clipping of coins are controversial. Possible explanations include fraud, a deliberate attempt to maintain a stable ratio between gold and silver coins, or an official attempt to provide a new source of silver bullion while maintaining the same number of coins in circulation. [42]

The huge number of clipped coins in the Hoxne Hoard has made it possible for archaeologists to observe the process of coin-clipping in detail. The coins were evidently cut face-up to avoid damaging the portrait. The average level of clipping is roughly the same for coins dating from 350 onwards. [43]

Gold jewellery

All the jewellery in the hoard is gold, and all gold items in the hoard, other than coins, are jewellery. None of the jewellery is unequivocally masculine, although several pieces, like the rings, might have been worn by either gender. [46] There is one body chain, six necklaces, three rings, and nineteen bracelets. The total weight of the gold jewellery is about 1 kilogram (2.2 lb), [47] and the average metal content of the jewellery pieces is 91.5% gold (about 22 carat), with small proportions in the metal of silver and copper. [48]

The most important gold item in the hoard is the body chain, which consists of four finely looped gold chains, made using the "loop-in-loop" method called "fox tail" in modern jewellery, and attached at front and back to plaques. [49] At the front, the chains have terminals in the shape of lions' heads and the plaque has jewels mounted in gold cells, with a large amethyst surrounded by four smaller garnets alternating with four empty cells, which probably held pearls that have decayed. At the back, the chains meet at a mount centred on a gold solidus of Gratian (r. 375–383), which has been converted from an earlier use, probably as a pendant, and which may have been a family heirloom. [49] Body chains of this type appear in Roman art, sometimes on the goddess Venus or nymphs some examples have erotic contexts, but they are also worn by respectable high-ranking ladies. They may have been regarded as a suitable gift for a bride. [50] The Hoxne body chain, worn tightly, would fit a woman with a bust-size of 76–81 cm (30–32 inches). [51] Few body chains have survived one of the most complete, from the early Byzantine era and found in Egypt, is also in the British Museum. [52]

One of the necklaces features lion-headed terminals, and another includes stylized dolphins. The other four are relatively plain loop-in-loop chains, although one has a Chi-Rho symbol () on the clasp, the only Christian element in the jewellery. [54] Necklaces of similar lengths would normally be worn in the Roman period with a pendant, but no pendants were found in the hoard. [55] The three rings were originally set with gems, which might have been natural gemstones, or pieces of coloured glass however, these were taken from the rings before they were buried, perhaps for reuse. The rings are of similar design, one with an oval bezel, one with a circular bezel, and one with a large oblong bezel. [56] The 19 bracelets buried in the hoard include three sets of four matching gold bracelets. Though many similar bracelets have survived, sets of four are most unusual they may have been worn two on each arm, or possibly were shared by two related women. [57] One set has been decorated by corrugating the gold with lateral and transverse grooves the other two sets bear pierced-work geometric designs. Another five bracelets bear hunting scenes, common in Late Roman decorative art. Three have the designs executed in pierced-work, whereas two others are in repoussé. One bracelet is the sole gold item in the hoard to carry an inscription: it reads " VTERE FELIX DOMINA IVLIANE " in Latin, meaning "Use [this] happily, Lady Juliane". [57] The expression utere felix (or sometimes uti felix) is the second most common inscriptional formula on items from Roman Britain, and is used to wish good luck, well-being and joy. [58] The formula is not specifically Christian, but it sometimes occurs in an explicitly Christian context, for example, together with a Chi-Rho symbol. [58]

The jewellery may have represented the "reserve" items rarely or never used from the collection of a wealthy woman or family. Some of the most common types of jewellery are absent brooches, pendants, and ear-rings for example. Items set with gems are notably missing, although they were very much in the taste of the day. Catherine Johns, former Senior Curator for Roman Britain at the British Museum, speculates that the current or favourite jewellery of the owner was not included in the hoard. [59]

Silver items

The hoard contains about 100 silver and silver-gilt items the number is imprecise because there are unmatched broken parts. They include a statuette of a leaping tigress, made as a handle for an object such as a jug or lamp four pepper-pots (piperatoria) a beaker a vase or juglet (a small jug) four bowls a small dish and 98 silver spoons and ladles. The beaker and juglet are decorated with similar leaf and stem patterns, and the juglet has three gilded bands. In contrast, the small bowls and dish are plain, and it is presumed that the owners of the Hoard had many more such items, probably including the large decorated dishes found in other hoards. [16] Many pieces are gilded in parts to accentuate the decoration. The technique of fire-gilding with mercury was used, [60] as was typical at the time. [61]

Piperatoria

The pepper-pots include one vessel, finely modelled after a wealthy or imperial lady, which soon became known as the "Empress" pepper-pot. [note 1] The woman's hair, jewellery, and clothing are carefully represented, and gilding is used to emphasize many details. She is holding a scroll in her left hand, giving the impression of education as well as wealth. Other pepper-pots in the hoard are modelled into a statue of Hercules and Antaeus, an ibex, and a hare and hound together. Not all such spice dispensers held pepper — they were used to dispense other spices as well — but are grouped in discussions as pepper-pots. Each of those found in this hoard has a mechanism in the base to rotate an internal disc, which controls the aperture of two holes in the base. When fully open, the containers could have been filled using a funnel when part-open they could have been shaken over food or drink to add the spices.

Piperatorium is generally translated as pepper-pot, and black pepper is considered the most likely condiment these were used for. Pepper is only one of a number of expensive, high-status spices which these vessels might have dispensed, however. The piperatoria are rare examples of this type of Roman silverware, and according to Johns the Hoxne finds have "significantly expanded the date range, the typology and the iconographic scope of the type". [64] The trade and use of pepper in this period has been supported with evidence of mineralized black pepper at three Northern Province sites recovered in the 1990s, [note 2] [66] and from the Vindolanda tablets which record the purchase of an unspecified quantity of pepper for two denarii. [67] Archaeological sites with contemporary finds have revealed spices, including coriander, poppy, celery, dill, summer savory, mustard, and fennel. [66] [note 3]

They just couldn't get enough of it, wars were fought over it. And if you look at Roman recipes, every one starts with: 'Take pepper and mix with . ' (Christine McFadden, food writer)

When the Romans came to Britain they brought a lot of material culture and a lot of habits with them that made the people of Britain feel Roman they identified with the Roman culture. Wine was one of these – olive oil was another – and pepper would have been a more valuable one in this same sort of 'set' of Romanitas. (Roberta Tomber, British Museum Visiting Fellow)

So regularly filling a large silver pepper pot like ours would have taken its toll on the grocery bills. And the household that owned our pepper pot had another three silver pots, for pepper or other spice – one shaped as Hercules in action, and two in the shape of animals. This is dizzying extravagance, the stuff of bankers' bonuses. But the pepper pots are just a tiny part of the great hoard of buried treasure. (Neil MacGregor, British Museum Director)

Other silver pieces

The tigress is a solid-cast statuette weighing 480 grams (17 oz) and measuring 15.9 cm (6.3 in) from head to tail. She was designed to be soldered onto some other object as its handle traces of tin were found beneath her rear paws, which have a "smoothly concave curve". [73] She looks most aesthetically pleasing when the serpentine curves of her head, back, rump, and tail form a line at an angle of about 45°, when the rear paws are flat, allowing for their curve. [74] Her gender is obvious as there are six engorged teats under her belly. She is carefully decorated on her back, but her underside is "quite perfunctorily finished". [75] Her stripes are represented by two engraved lines, with a black niello inlay between them, in most places not meeting the engraved lines. Neither her elongated body, nor the distribution of the stripes are accurate for the species she has a long dorsal stripe running from the skull along the spine to the start of the tail, which is typical of tabby cats rather than tigers. The figure has no stripes around her tail, which thickens at the end, suggesting a thick fur tip as in a lion's tail, which tigers do not have, although Roman art usually gives them one. [75]

The large collection of spoons includes 51 cochlearia, which are small spoons with shallow bowls and long, tapering handles with a pointed end which was used to pierce eggs and spear small pieces of food—as the Romans did not use forks at the table. [76] There are 23 cigni, which are much rarer, having large rather shallow spoons with shorter, bird-headed handles and about 20 deep round spoons or small ladles and strainer-spoons. Many are decorated with abstract motifs and some with dolphins or fanciful marine creatures. Many of the spoons are decorated with a Christian monogram cross or Chi-Rho symbol, and sometimes, also with the Greek letters alpha and omega (an appellation for Jesus, who is described as the alpha and omega in the Book of Revelation). Three sets of ten spoons, and several other spoons, are decorated with such Christian symbols. As is often the case with Roman silver spoons, many also have a Latin inscription on them, either simply naming their owner or wishing their owner long life. In total, eight different people are named seven on the spoons, and one on the single beaker in the hoard: Aurelius Ursicinus, Datianus, Euherius, Faustinus, Peregrinus, Quintus, Sanctus, and Silvicola. The most common name is "Aurelius Ursicinus", which occurs on a set of five cochlearia and five ladles. [77] It is unknown whether any of the people named in these inscriptions would have been involved in hiding the hoard or were even alive at the time it was buried.

Although only one of these inscriptions is explicitly Christian (vivas in deo), [78] inscriptions on silver spoons comprising a name followed by vivas or vivat usually can be identified as Christian in other late Roman hoards for example the Mildenhall Treasure has five spoons, three with Chi-Rho monograms, and two with vivas inscriptions (PASCENTIA VIVAS and PAPITTEDO VIVAS). [79] The formula vir bone vivas also occurs on a spoon from the Thetford Hoard, but whereas the Thetford Hoard spoons have mostly pagan inscriptions (e.g. Dei Fau[ni] Medugeni "of the god Faunus Medugenus [the Mead begotten]"), [80] the Hoxne Hoard does not have any inscriptions of a specifically pagan nature, and the hoard may be considered to have come from a Christian household (or households). It often is assumed that Roman spoons with Chi-Rho monograms or the vivas in deo formula are either christening spoons (perhaps presented at adult baptism) or were used in the Eucharist ceremony, but that is not certain. [81]

Table of inscriptions on silver tableware [note 5]
Reference Number Inscription Transcription Translation Notes
1994,0408.31 EVHERIVIVAS Euheri vivas "Euherius, may you live" Beaker. The name may also have been Eucherius or Eutherius.
1994,0408.81–83 AVRVRSICINI Aur[elius] Ursicini "(property of) Aurelius Ursicinus" Three spoons (ligula or cignus)
1994,0408.84–85 AVRVRSICINVS Aur[elius] Ursicinus "Aurelius Ursicinus" Two spoons (ligula or cignus)
1994,0408.86–88 AVRVRSICINI Aur[elius] Ursicini "(property of) Aurelius Ursicinus" Three spoons (cochlearia)
1994,0408.89–90 AVRVRSICINI Aur[elius] Ursicini "(property of) Aurelius Ursicinus" Two spoons (cochlearia), also inscribed with the Chi-Rho monogram and alpha and omega
1994,0408.101–102 PEREGRINVS VIVAT Peregrinus vivat "Peregrinus, may he live" Two spoons (ligula or cignus)
1994,0408.103–105 QVISSVNTVIVAT Quintus vivat "Quintus, may he live" Three spoons (ligula or cignus). Inscription is an error for QVINTVSVIVAT
1994,0408.106 PEREGRINI Peregrini "(property of) Peregrinus" Spoon (cochlearium)
1994,0408.107–110 SILVICOLAVIVAS Silvicola vivas "Silvicola, may you live" Set of four cochlearia
1994,0408.115 PER PR Per[egrinus] Pr[imus] ? "Peregrinus Primus" Scratched graffiti on a spoon (ligula or cignus)
1994,0408.116 FAVSTINEVIVAS Faustine vivas "Faustinus, may you live" Spoon (ligula or cignus)
1994,0408.117 VIRBONEVIVAS Vir bone vivas "Good man, may you live" Spoon (ligula or cignus)
1994,0408.122 [V]IVASINDEO Vivas in deo "May you live in god" Spoon (cochlearium)
1994,0408.129 SANC Sanc[tus] "Sanctus" Spoon (cochlearium)
1994,0408.133 DATIANIAEVIVAS Datiane vivas "Datianus, may you live" Spoon (cochlearium). Inscription is an error for DATIANEVIVAS
Table of monograms and symbols on tableware with no text 
Reference number Monogram or symbol Notes
1994,0408.52–61 Chi-rho monogram Ladle
1994,0408.91–100 Monogram cross Spoon
1994,0408.118–119 Chi-Rho, alpha and omega Spoon (ligula or cignus)
1994,0408.135 Chi-rho monogram Spoon

There are also a number of small items of uncertain function, described as toiletry pieces. Some are picks, others perhaps scrapers, and three have empty sockets at one end, which probably contained organic material such as bristle, to make a brush. The size of these would be appropriate for cleaning the teeth or applying cosmetics, among other possibilities. [82]

The average purity of the silver items is 96%. The remainder of the metal is made up of copper and a small amount of zinc, with trace amounts of lead, gold, and bismuth present. The zinc is likely to have been present in a copper brass used to alloy the silver when the objects were made, and the lead, gold, and bismuth probably were present in the unrefined silver ore. [83]

Iron and organic materials

The iron objects found in the hoard are likely to all be from the remains of the outer wooden chest. These comprise large iron rings, double-spiked loops and hinges, strap hinges, probable components of locks, angle brackets, wide and narrow iron strips, and nails. [84]

Organic finds are rarely well documented with hoards, because most coin and treasure finds are removed hastily by the finder or have previously been disrupted by farm work rather than excavated. The Hoxne organic finds included bone, wood and other plant material, and leather. Small fragments from a decorated ivory pyxis (a cylindrical lidded box) were found, along with more than 150 tiny shaped pieces of bone inlay or veneer, probably from a wooden box or boxes that have decayed. Minuscule fragments of wood adhering to metal objects were identified as belonging to nine species of timber, all native to Britain: wood traces associated with the iron fittings of the outer chest established that it was made of oak. Silver locks and hinges were from two small wooden boxes or caskets, one made of decorative cherry wood and one made of yew. [85] Some wheat straw survived from padding between the plain silver bowls, which also bore faint traces of linen cloth. [86] Leather fragments were too degraded for identification.


Free Gold

Metal detectors are starting to look like essential items.

A farmer in Australia was walking around his home with one of these devices when he heard a loud beep. He dug out some little pieces of gold and was convinced there was more down there. He dug until he came up with 5.5kg of gold. The find was vetted and valued at $315,000. [7]
Photo Credits: Brightside


October News Digest

Here is our October News Digest to help keep you well informed about current events and topics around the world and at Rosland Capital.

  • Teenage metal detectorists discover two rare coins dating back one thousand years that will be auctioned separately. Read more about their discovery.
  • The search for a lost hammer led to the discovery of Hoxne Hoard, the largest cache of treasure from the era of the Roman Empire ever discovered in Britain. Read more about this massive collection of gold and silver.
  • In recent reports from Goldman Sachs, analysts suggest that it is a good time to buy silver again as silver benefits from global solar surge. Read more.
  • A recently discovered World War ll shipwreck found off the coast of Poland may hold pieces of Russian treasure that was looted by the Nazis and lost since 1945. Learn more about the Amber room, one of the greatest treasures the Nazis looted during World War ll.
  • A recently unearthed early medieval cemetery in Germany is home to a number of gravesites that contained artifacts like gold jewelry, weapons, and other precious items made from glass and precious metals. Read more about the riches discovered.
  • The Royal Mint archive has mind-blowing photographs that give a rare look into its 1,100 year history. Read more into the history of the Royal Mint.
  • 25 rare chinchillas sit atop 3.5 million ounces of extractable gold in Chile. Gold Fields, a South-African based gold mining company, is determined to find a way to protect the colony while developing the gold. Read more.
  • The Fed’s framework was modified for the first time since its creation in 2012. Read more about how the Fed will now target an average inflation rate of 2%.
  • Historians believe a 3,500-year-old bronze hand decorated with a gold cuff that was discovered in Switzerland may be the earliest known metal prosthetic. Read more about the hand that was crafted during the Bronze Age.
  • A jeweler in Norwich, England launches a nationwide treasure hunt to find 49 rare silver coins that bear an image of his beloved spaniel. Read more about this treasure hunt.
  • Gold is a relatively difficult precious metal to make on Earth, yet there is an extraordinary amount of gold in the universe. Read more about where this gold is coming from.
  • The Federal Reserve’s new flexible average inflation targeting (FAIT) framework is expected to be good for gold in the long term. Read more about what may happen to gold under the Federal Reserve’s new monetary framework.
  • With U.S stimulus expectations increasing, gold rose 1% on the market earlier this month, along with other precious metals like silver, platinum, and palladium. Read more.
  • The “Ring of King Minos”. Read more about the discovery of the ring and all the events that followed the discovery.
  • Archaeologists recently unearthed more than 3,500 artifacts made from gold, silver, and other precious metals in a grave of a Bronze Age warrior near the ancient Greek city of Pylos. Read more about the burial that provides vital clues to the origin of Greek civilization over 3,500 years ago.
  • The Philadelphia Mint, the nation’s largest producer of coin currency, is working around the clock to compensate for the COVID-19 pandemic-caused coin shortage problem that turned quarters, nickels, and dimes into rare commodities. Read more.

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Watch the video: The Seaton Down Hoard - 22,888 Roman coins (January 2022).