A visit a while ago to a small temporary exhibition at the British Museum ‘Hoards: the hidden history of ancient Britain’ prompted me to think again about an earlier blog post about the hoard of second-century Roman silver denarius coins, found near Grinton in Swaledale in 1988. Very little has been written about the Grinton Hoard, so I bought a small book, Romano-British Coin Hoards, by Richard Abdy, a curator at the museum, to see if it might provide ideas to help understand the Swaledale find a little better.
Abdy explained that hoarding by burial was common practice at a time when there was no safer way of protecting one’s savings. He said that so far about 2,000 Roman coin hoards abandoned by their owners have been found in Britain, which might give some idea of the scale of coin hoards that were not abandoned but successfully reclaimed. He argued that there were so many possible reasons for abandonment that it was almost pointless to speculate in any particular case.
However, it was his explanation that the majority of abandoned coin hoards found from the period up to the 200s AD are exclusively of denarii that was most interesting, because the Grinton Hoard comprised only silver denarius coins, 62 of them, minted in the period 73-176 AD. Abdy pointed out that soldiers and civil servants of the Roman authorities were all paid in silver denarii, rather than the more valuable gold or less valuable bronze denominations. One reason was that their taxes had to be paid in silver denarii. Naturally, recipients’ usually held their savings in denarii.
He wrote that a soldier for instance, whose basic needs were met every day by the army, would only want bronze coins for pocket money. An ordinary Roman soldier’s pay during the period was 300 denarii per year, which was paid in thrice-yearly instalments of 100 denarii each, less any deductions for food, equipment and other expenses.
Could it be possible therefore that the modest find of just 62 denarii in a field outside Grinton equated to a single, net-pay-packet of a Roman soldier, who saved it in the ground because he still had enough cash to get by from his previous earnings? Other possibilities exist, of course, but a soldier’s net pay is a useful guide to scale. To read more about the Grinton Hoard visit Grinton coin hoard.