AHRC grant for Britain’s Last Roman Hoards project

Britain's Last Roman Hoards: Wealth, Power and Culture in the Fifth Century

Roman coins

MEMS is delighted to spotlight an exciting new project funded by the AHRC and led by Professor Ellen Swift alongside Dr Eleanor Ghey (British Museum) and Professor James Gerrard (Newcastle University), entitled Britain’s Last Roman Hoards: Wealth, Power and Culture in the Fifth Century. Over the next three years, the project team will be visiting museums around the UK to study some of the last Roman hoards ever deposited in Britain.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, one of England’s most important early medieval texts, declares ‘Some they hid in the earth…and some they carried away’. It tells the story of what happened to precious hoards of treasure when Britain’s Roman rulers abandoned the island in the early fifth century. Surprisingly, these Roman hoards do exist and are one of the most fascinating and important survivals of the period, ‘hid in the earth’, and never recovered by their owners. Of the 250+ recorded examples, around half survive today. They can be found in museum collections across the UK and are the subject of our research project. The hoards provide crucial evidence for the late Roman to early medieval transition period in Britain (end 4th to mid-late 5th century).

In general, few objects survive from this time. Because it was a period of political and economic crisis, there was a dramatic drop in the availability of many goods and so we have much less artefact evidence than we do for other periods. It makes the hoards especially important: collectively, they contain thousands of coins, and hundreds of other artefacts. Their study has the potential to transform our understanding of this time, but remarkably, these last Roman hoards from Britain are neglected in scholarly research. Many are unpublished or only partly published; others need re-evaluation. Each hoard typically includes Roman silver coins, and/or items of jewellery. Sometimes their burial containers are preserved. The non-coin artefacts from the hoards have been overlooked, especially the containers, which are virtually unstudied. There is also scope for fresh study of the coins. In this collaborative project we study the hoards as complete assemblages, bringing together a team of scholars who specialise in researching the different types of material.

Please see the Hoard blog for further information and to keep up to date.