Toss a coin to your protector

Recent work on a Fen edge site in Suffolk produced evidence for Late Iron Age activity; amongst the finds of this period recovered is this silver Iceni unit of ‘Ecen’, collected from the top fill of a ditch. The coin can be dated to between 10 and 45 AD. Prior to post-excavation analysis it was cleaned by Pieta Greaves at Drakon Heritage, revealing beautiful detail on the coin: the before-and-after photographs illustrate the transformation that the coin underwent!

Silver Iceni coin before conservation
Silver coin before conservation

On the front of the coin is a double crescent emblem lying over a vertical wreath. The back-to-back crescent is a commonly found motif on Iceni coinage, on both their silver and gold denominations. Early gold coins of the Catuvellauni tribe, who were centred on Hertfordshire, also displayed the back-to-back crescent motif and it is possible that the Iceni may have copied their use of the motif. Back-to-back moon motifs are seen on other artefact types, such as a Catuvellauni strap junction from Buckinghamshire and on an Iceni strap junction found at Litcham, Norfolk. Some believe that it may represent a tribal emblem.

Silver Iceni coin after conservation
Silver coin after conservation

On the reverse there is a depiction of a horse with a globular body, large oval head and pellet for eye. The horse is widely found on Iron Age coinage. There are several trains of thought as to why the horse was such a dominant motif – perhaps the most popular being that the horse was worshipped by Iron Age tribes’ people and was an important animal in their society and mythology. It may have been used by elite warriors to ride into battle, and as a status symbol by those who could afford to own one.

Below the horse appears to be a blundered version of ‘ECEN’. Whilst this inscription of often thought to represent the name of the Iceni tribe, some scholars think that it could be the name of a ruler that co-existed alongside Antedios, the Iceni king who was made a client of Rome. Such coins were widely distributed across Iceni territory and are common finds.

Whilst this coin may reflect a simple loss, given its recovery from within a ditch it could equally represent a votive offering. Ditches are often filled with rainwater, poor imitations of streams or rivers. Tossing a coin into a water filled ditch may well have satisfied a desire to placate or win over a fickle god.

Ruth Beveridge

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