A Roman coin hoard from Hengrove, Bristol

In September 2019, Cotswold Archaeology were contacted by Bellway Homes regarding an unexpected discovery at a construction site in Hengrove, Bristol.

Planning permission for the residential redevelopment of the site had been granted by Bristol City Council and, following the completion of a Heritage Assessment that had assessed the archaeological potential of the site as being low, no condition was attached to this planning consent requiring any further archaeological work.

Monitoring the site

However, during the course of the development groundworks, a find of probable archaeological importance was identified by the building contractor, and Bellway Homes contacted CA for advice and assistance. Subsequent liaison with Bristol City Council’s Planning Archaeologist and Finds Liaison Officer resulted in emergency site attendance to record the exposed archaeological find and to monitor any further groundworks in the area.

On arrival at the site, it was clear that the identified find was part of a Roman coin hoard. Further careful excavation and a metal-detector survey recovered a total of 309 bronze and silvered-bronze coins, alongside a copper-alloy scale-pan lid and greyware pottery container.

Following their recovery, the coins and scale-pan lid were subject to a meticulous cleaning and conservation, and the coins were then sent to Dr Peter Guest at Vianova Archaeology & Heritage Services for detailed analysis and reporting.

10 selected Roman coins from Hengrove
Some of 309 coins

In summary, the Hengrove hoard is an unusual cache of coins from the mid-4th century and includes a significant number of coins struck by the usurpers Magnentius and Decentius, who ruled the western provinces of the Roman Empire between  AD 350 and 353.

The most recently struck coin within the hoard was dated to between 355 and 358, and it is unlikely that the hoard was buried any later than AD 360. Therefore, it is one of a comparatively small number of coin hoards from Britain dating to the later 350s, and the unusually large quantities of coins of Magnentius and Decentius mean that it is unlike most contemporary finds.

The scale-pan lid appears to have been associated with the hoard and may have functioned as a covering over the pottery container that was secured in place with suspension fixings. Scale pans are rare finds from Roman Britain, and none have been recorded as coming from coin hoards, although examples are known from metalwork hoards.

scale pan
Copper-alloy scale-pan lid

The interpretation of the association of the scale pan with the coin hoard rests on interpretation of the hoard itself, and whether it was intended for retrieval or as a votive deposit. If the former, the pan may have served simply as a protective cover. If a ritual motive lay behind the hoard’s deposition however, the associations of scale pans with commerce, agriculture, or even concepts of justice or judgement, might have been significant.

bagged coins
The coins, ready to go to join the museum collection

While the reasons for the Hengrove hoard’s burial and non-recovery are not known, it is possible that the coins were deposited in the political aftermath of the usurpers’ defeat. It is notable that the area around Bristol has produced a number of coin hoards dating to the 350s, including Wraxall, Blaise Castle, Gatcombe and Hanham Abbots. This concentration of contemporary finds suggests the Hengrove hoard is an important piece of evidence for the political and financial fortunes of this part of Roman Britain in the later 350s.

Given the size and age of the hoard it has been declared as Treasure, and will be donated to Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives.

Alex Thomson

More information about the hoard can be found in the forthcoming article in the Numismatic Chronicle (available soon):

Guest, P. and McSloy, E. 2022.  ‘The Hengrove Hoard of mid-fourth century Roman Bronze Coins’, Numismatic Chronicle 181

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