A hoard of 62 Roman coins, now known as The Grinton Hoard, was unearthed in 1988 by a metal-detectorist in a field next to Scarr House, to the west of Grinton village on Swale Hall Lane (SE041983). They were declared treasure trove and placed in the custody of the Yorkshire Museum at York. The best of them are now on permanent display in the Time Tunnel at the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes.
The coins were found loose, and scattered in a fan shape not far below the surface. It’s thought that at some time in the past they had been grubbed up and pushed around by pigs kept on the farm. Possibly the coins had originally been buried in a leather or cloth bag that had decomposed.
The find was analysed by P J Casey and P Wenham and described by them in a brief article ‘A second-century denarius hoard from Grinton, North Yorkshire’, which was published in the Yorkshire Archaeological Journal (vol. 62, 1990, pp. 9-11).
Nine of the coins were unrecognisable fragments, but Casey and Wenham were able to describe the remaining 53 as having issue dates spanning the years 74 to 169 AD. They noted that hoarding coins seems to have been a common characteristic of Roman Britain, and that it wasn’t possible to link this particular find with any known event such as an attack or rebellion at the likely time of their burial.
Could the hoard be a Roman soldier’s pay packet?
In his book Romano-British Coin Hoards (Oxford, 2002), Richard Abdy, a curator at the British Museum, 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.
Abdy explained that the majority of abandoned coin hoards found so far from the period up to the 200s AD are exclusively of denarii. He 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?
It’s an idea, but on the other hand it could have been a payment received by a local civilian supplier of meat and dairy products to a nearby military camp, or indeed it could relate to any one of a number of imagined scenarios. A soldier’s net pay is a useful guide to scale though.