Riccardo Caravello

September 2015

Riccardo studied for his  BA in the Science of Cultural Heritage at Siracusa on the Island of Sicily and has a MA in Archaeology and Cultures of the Ancient World from the University of Bologna, Italy. Ricardo has a particular interest in the western Roman provinces and life on the edge of the Empire. He is particularly interested in Roman coinage and previously volunteered for the Portable Antiquities Scheme based in Birmingham

Currency of Change: The Coinage of Eboracum

My month long internship for the British Numismatic Society was split between the York Museum Trust Office and the York Archaeological Trust’s Resource Centre. The joint project aims to disseminate to a wider audience information about coin circulation during the Roman period in the colonia (the civil Administrative area).

DSC00012In the Resource Centre I worked on four different groups of Roman coins from excavations run by the Trust during the 1970s and 1980s. The sites where all in the area of the colonia (Tanner Row, Micklegate, Skeldergate) apart for the one in Blossom Street which was chosen for being just outside the colonia and useful in terms of comparison.

My first task was to fill a spreadsheet in Excel with all the information I could get from the coins. For three of the sites I could use a printed list of the coins identified by the Numismatic Richard Brickstock more than 20 years ago. At the same time, I completed recording the coins in IADB (YAT’s database) adding some details from Richard’s list. The coin identification was checked using online catalogues and to provide a description of the obverse and reverse (“heads and tails”).

It was more challenging with the coins not on Richard’s list but I really enjoyed working on them, testing my analysis and identification skills.

Subsequently, I spent two days photographing the coins using photographic equipment loaned by the York Museum Trust. The pictures will be eventually uploaded into the database to complete the documentation.
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Having completed this documentation, I spent the last three days of the month processing and analysing the data. That was a very interesting and stimulating part because I had to consider the coins individually and then overall as part of the colonia. For this I needed some information about the excavations themselves in order to have an idea of the context where the coins come from.

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One of the most interesting cases was Blossom Street. Looking at the coins first I was first impressed by the large number of early denomination such as Dupondii of Nerva (96-98 AD) and Domitian (81-96 AD) or Asses of Hadrian (117-138 AD) and Antoninus Pius (138-161 AD). In a total of 20 coins there were only two copies of Radiate Emperor of the end of the 3rd century and two Nummi of Constantine II (317-340 AD). In comparison with the other sites in the colonia, the scarcity of late coins at Blossom Street was very interesting. From the
YAT excavation report I could see that the area was been levelled with 3rd century deposits from the colonia and used as cemetary until the late 4th century. As a cemetery it must not have been a place where coins were used and lost in the late period and the early coins might have come there during the ground levelling.

DSC00028There were a substancial number of early coins was the cemetery at Trentholme Drive (just off the Mount and outside the colonia) which I was studying for the York Museum Trust in the rest of my internship. It was really interesting seeing that in the case of Trentholme many of those early coins were associated with skeletons and cremation burials. It would have been interesting to study if the coins from Blossom street were associated with graves and see how the funerary rituals might have changed.

The coins from the sites inside the colonia showed intense activity starting from the middle of the 3rd century with peaks in the Constantine period, except for the site in Tanner Row where the largest number of coins is of the Valentiniac period (364-378 AD Reece Period 19) with few issues of the Theodosian period (388-402 AD Reece Period 21).

It was intriguing to find such evidence because it might mean that coins were still being used and lost in the area of Tanner Row at the end of the 4th century. This might have been due to the fact the Tanner Row was along the road to the South and for that reason  remained  an active area of transit.

Of the coins I looked at I was amazed by those with female portraits. From the Micklegate excavation a Nummus of Fausta (324-328 AD) shows a simply natural style with the hair gathered and held in place with a pin.

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I had the chance to admire other examples from 2nd century in a Denarius of Faustina the Elder or a Sestertius of Sabina. These portraits must have been a way to communicate the style of the rulers to every part of the Empire.

It would be an idea to use the coins from these sites to show what image of themselves the Imperial women gave during the centuries.

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I was also curious about the metals used to strike coins during the centuries, and especially how they looked like after being issued.  In the case of the Sestertius of Sabina  (128-137 AD), it was a bright golden colour that made me doubt it was made of copper alloy. This would be an interesting topic for further study because it would give the opportunity to explain the monetary reforms and the changes of the materials during the Imperial Age.

This internship has been intense and really interesting. It gave me the opportunity to gain confidence in identifying and recording coins. Furthermore, I could experience the archaeological finds storage system and the extreme care taken to record the information which comes out during the excavation.

 

Riccardo Caravello