Monday, July 9, 2012


Gold Saters Minted about the Time of Boadicea
Hello My Friend and Welcome. 

In the past we’ve dealt with Queen Boudicca of the Iceni, or as the Romans called her, Boadicea. We looked at her rebellion, which nearly overthrew Roman rule in Britannia, in a post entitled Queen Boadicea, Warrior Queen of Britannia and also examined the consequences of that rebellion on the city of Camulodunum in Boadicea’s Legacy in the post ATale of Two Cities and the Arthurian Legend. Today, we want to take a look at a huge cache of gold coins discovered a few years ago in East Anglia, Britain. Interestingly enough, this hoard of Iceni coins circulated during the period of Boadicea’s reign. 

Here is a tale that will warm the heart of even the most discouraged treasure hunter. Michael, a 60-year-old mechanic who prefers that his full name not be used, had been metal detecting for 25 years and never discovered a gold coin. One spring day, he decided to explore a field which had been used as a pasture for almost 30 years. He found very little at first…a rusty nail here, an old bolt there. Then he stumbled upon his first gold coin. He checked the Internet and found that his find was known as a Freckenham gold stater, a coin used by the Iceni during the last century BC and the First Century AD. 

Freckenham gold staters are a somewhat unique coin known as base gold staters or what dealers call rose gold staters. They are made with an alloy mix of about 40 per cent copper, 20 per cent silver and 40 per cent gold. They continued to be minted up to and beyond Boadicea’s reign. Note the coppery color of the gold coins made during the Boadicean era. 

It snowed the following weekend, but that didn’t dissuade Michael. He returned to the pasture on Easter Sunday and, under a light covering of snow, dug up eight more of the staters. Then, in his own words, “my machine suddenly went doolally and I knew for sure I was standing right on top of a crock of gold.” In an amazing display of self-control, he marked the spot and went home for a cup of tea. He returned to the field the following day, Easter Monday, and dug into clay soil which hadn’t been plowed since 1980. Six to eight inches beneath the sod he found a cache of 774 gold staters, many of them still in their original container, an earthenware pot. The top of the pot had been sheared off years before by a plowshare which scattered coins over a 30 foot area.  

All of but two of the 825 coins eventually recovered were minted by the Iceni, Queen Boadicea’s tribe. The coins were minted over a number of decades under several Kings and many predated Boadicea’s rule by a generation. Below is a coin minted by Prasutagus, Boadicea’s late husband.

What 774 Gold Staters Looks Like

Who accumulated and buried these coins, now easily worth several million dollars? Such a huge accumulation of gold could not have been the savings of a rich merchant, a prosperous farmer, a skilled craftsman or a mercenary warrior. Their sheer quantity and extreme value of the original deposit indicates the coins most probably belonged to a wealthy king…or queen.  

What was the purpose of this hoard? A number of possibilities have been suggested. It might have been the life savings of a king who died without telling anyone where he stashed the family fortune. Or they could have been gathered to make a very specific and important payment of some kind. If so, to whom and to what end? The fact that the hoard consists solely of gold staters —no gold quarter staters, no silver coins, no gold jewelry, no gold or silver bullion— and that the coins were mostly minted within 20–30 years of deposition suggests they were hoarded very quickly to make a specific payment.  

But what sort of payment? The hoard may have been a votive offering, made on behalf of the tribe during a period of anxiety.  The Wickham Market hoard, as it’s come to be called, was buried close to the boundary of a ditched enclosure close to the southern border of the Iceni’s realm. Several similar hoards have been found along the tribal borders, which seem to imply some sort of  religious significance…a gift to the gods, perhaps. Could the ditched structure have been a temple? However, the special nature of this group, all gold staters, implies it had some special purpose. We examined a similar situation in a cache collected for the Temple Tax buried on Mt. Carmel in the post A Lost Hoard of Shekels Tell Their Story.  

It also may have been a war chest, gathered in anticipation of an imminent military threat. The early years of the First Century seem to have been a time of political upheaval in Britannia and perhaps the Iceni felt threatened by the aggressively expansive Catuvellauni, and prudently accumulated hoards of gold staters in readiness for a military campaign. Almost the only monetary transaction for which there is documentary evidence is the purchase of military service. While coinage was undoubtedly used for other commercial purposes, its most common use appears to have been in governmental transactions. The historical record is replete with the monthly rates of military pay, various taxes and levies, etc.  

And, finally, the coins might have been gathered as a tribute payment to a more powerful king. The proximity of Addedomaros, king of the Catuvellauni’s, to the Iceni may have necessitated a political alliance between the two tribes…an alliance of compliance, with the Iceni as the weaker partner. When Cunobelin invaded the Trinovantes sometime around AD 10 he may have scrapped this treaty and demanded a massive payment of tribute from the Iceni in exchange for not invading them too. This begs the question, if so, why weren’t they paid? 

Clearly, such caches of coins are the stuff of legend and they pose questions which can never be answered. Rather than making it less interesting, it piques the imagination to speculate on why someone buried that jar of gold coins, who they were, and why they did it. 

Until next time, we wish you Peace and Blessings. 

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