Tuesday, October 10, 2017

20 Years of Teasure

20 years of Treasure

September 2017 saw the 20th anniversary of the Treasure Act 1996 coming into force. This made it easier to define treasure than the old common law of Treasure Trove. Treasure Trove was based in part on knowing what the person who buried the treasure had intended (which can be pretty hard to know when we generally don’t know who they were and they have been dead for 100s of years). Instead the Treasure Act defines treasure using the less subjective criteria of age and precious metal content.

More significantly for Wakefield Museums the Treasure Act also sets out a clear process to save treasures for local people. Local museums are notified of all potential treasure finds in their collecting area. If the museum wants to save the find for the local community it can by paying the finder / landowner a reward based on the market value of the find.

Sometimes the market value of a Treasure case is very high and the find becomes a headline story but usually Treasure finds aren’t especially valuable, many items of Treasure are worth less than £100. However these less high profile finds can still tell us a lot about life in the past and as important pieces of heritage for local people Wakefield Museums tries to preserve them.

To mark this anniversary Wakefield Museums are joining the British Museum (which administers the treasure process) in ’20 years of Treasure’. We’re highlighting some of the treasure cases we’ve saved that are in the museums. Look out for the black stickers on display cases in Pontefract, Castleford and South Elmsall coming soon.


The Cridling Stubbs Hoard, Treasure Case 2011 T646

This treasure case consists of 445 Roman bronze coins, found by 2 metal detectorists searching a field near Cridling Stubbs in late summer 2011. Although none of the coins were gold or silver, because there were more than 10 of them and they were more than 300 years old the hoard counted as treasure. The coins date from the 330s to the 350s AD and the hoard was probably buried in 354 AD. Coin hoards are usually a sign of trouble; people bury their wealth to protect it, but are then unable to recover it as the trouble overtakes them. 354 AD was a particularly troubled time in Roman Britain.

From around 270 AD onwards some senior commanders in Britain and Gaul had taken advantage of the large armies they had to protect the Empire’s frontiers to try and make themselves emperor. Constantine the Great was the most notable, becoming sole ruler of the whole empire and establishing a dynasty, but most had less success, if any. One of these less successful usurpers was Magnentius. A senior officer in Gaul he rebelled against the western emperor, Constans, and took the throne himself in 350 AD. He had strong support in Britain, Gaul and Hispania, in part because of his relative religious tolerance; although probably a Christian himself he tolerated both Christians and pagans. Despite this support the eastern emperor, Constantius II, defeated him in successive battles and in 353 AD Magnentius finally committed suicide.

However that was not the end. Determined to prevent another rebellion Constantius rooted out and punished Magnentius’ supporters. The crackdown in Britain was led by Paul the Chain (named for his harshness). Paul was notorious for his ruthlessness, executing people with only flimsy, or even without, evidence. When the governor of Britain tried to limit the bloodshed he too was accused and forced to commit suicide, despite proven loyalty to Constantius II. The hoard was buried against the background of this violence, its owner maybe unable to retrieve it after being caught up in the purges.

Chi-Rho coin

The most interesting individual coin in the hoard is one minted for Magnentius in 353 AD. The obverse (heads) has a standard bust of the emperor, with an inscription of his name and titles around. The reverse (tails) has a Christogram, the first 2 letters of the word Christ in Greek superimposed (X – chi, P – rho), with the Greek letters alpha (A) and omega (ω) either side. This type of coin is the first Roman coin to have explicitly Christian symbolism at the centre of the design. There are earlier uses of the Christogram but they are small details in designs that are much more traditionally Roman.


Chi-Rho coin

The Ackworth Hoard, Treasure case 2011 T428

This treasure case consists of 52 gold coins, 539 silver coins, a gold ring and the pot in which they were found. They were all found during building work in a back garden in Ackworth in summer 2011. Because there were more than 2 coins made of gold or silver and they were more than 300 years old the whole find counted as treasure, including the pot. The coins date from 1547 to 1645 AD and the hoard was probably buried in 1645 AD. Coin hoards are usually a sign of trouble; people bury their wealth to protect it, but are then unable to recover it as the trouble overtakes them. 1645 was a particularly troubled time for Pontefract and Ackworth.

In 1642-5 Yorkshire was an important battlefield between Charles I and Parliament in the Civil Wars. At first Yorkshire, especially Pontefract and Ackworth, was Royalist, though with important Parliamentary centres around Bradford and Hull. But following the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644 Parliament was dominant with the Royalists trapped in isolated garrisons. One of these pockets of Royalist resistance was Pontefract Castle, and on Christmas Day 1644 a Parliamentary army began to besiege it. Troops from the siege were billeted in Ackworth when they weren’t on active duty in the siege lines. The castle surrendered in July 1645.

Interestingly the hoard contains a dozen foreign coins, ducatons from the Spanish Netherlands. These are very strongly associated with the Royalists, with records of them being sent and then brought, to Yorkshire by the queen, Henrietta Maria. Analysis of the other coins associates the hoard more closely with the Royalists than the Parliamentarians. So it would seem likely that the hoard was buried by a Royalist supporter to protect it from the Parliamentary troops billeted in Ackworth, but some misfortune was unable to retrieve it.

Posy ring

At first sight the ring is a plain gold band, but in fact it is a posy ring. These are rings with a short rhyme, known as a ‘poesy’, inscribed on them. They were popular in the 15th-17th centuries AD. The earlier posies often had the inscription around the outside of the ring, but the later ones usually had it inside. This made the inscription private and very personal as it was literally against your skin and posy rings were often love tokens. The Ackworth has a very small diameter, fitting a young woman. The inscription inside reads ‘When this you see, remember me’.
Posy ring from the Ackworth Hoard

North Elmsall Roman coins, Treasure case 2015 T658

This treasure find is 10 bronze Roman coins. They were found by a group of metal detectorists in autumn 2015. Although none of the coins is made of gold or silver the whole find is treasure because it is a group of 10 or more coins over 300 years old. The coins were issued by the emperors Trajan (98-117 AD) and Hadrian (117-138 AD) and must have been buried in 128 AD or later. This is because the latest coin records one of Hadrian’s official titles as Pater Patriae (Father of our Country), a title he only took in 128 AD.

Nine of the 10 coins are a denomination called a sestertius (famous from the Asterix books), while the tenth is a dupondius or a half sestertius. A Roman legionary in the 120s AD was paid 300 denarii, or 1200 sestertii a year, but of that he’d have to pay nearly back to the army in deductions for his food and equipment, so the 9½ sestertii here represents about 5 days take home pay. Auxiliary soldiers like those who built and garrisoned the fort at Castleford were paid less but still had the same deductions, so this represents a week or more of take home pay. Soldiers were paid 3 times a year, presumably pretty rowdy occasions.

North Elmsall would have seen lots of legionaries and auxiliaries as Ermine Street passed through the area. Ermine Street was one of the main Roman roads in Britain, connecting the provincial capital London with the legionary fortresses / cities of Lincoln and York. Just north of Lincoln Ermine Street split into 2, one branch continuing north and crossing the Humber by ferry to Brough, while the other swung west via Doncaster and Castleford to avoid the problem of crossing the Humber in bad weather, especially in winter.

Sestertius of Trajan

This coin commemorates the emperor Trajan’s victories in Dacia, on the east bank of the Danube in modern day Romania and Moldova. Relations between Dacia and the Roman Empire were uneasy at the beginning of Trajan’s reign; the Dacians had won several significant battles against the Romans. Trajan quickly decided on a pre-emptive attack and collected troops from across the empire, including the 4th Cohort of Gauls. This auxiliary unit had been the garrison of the fort at Castleford, but was withdrawn about 100 AD and the fort was demolished. In 101-2 AD and 105-6 AD Trajan fought 2 brutal wars against the Dacians. Trajan was victorious, and part of Dacia became a new Roman province. The victories were commemorated on coins like this one and most notably Trajan’s Column which still stands in Rome today.

Trajan coin


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