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Iron Age and Roman Coins from Wales: a case study

Dr Peter Guest

IARCW is a research project whose purpose is the study of the supply, circulation and use of ancient coins within modern Wales. The intention is to better understand the production of coins (particularly by Rome) and the impact of coinage (especially Roman) on the diverse population of this part of western Britain from the first century BC to the fifth century AD.

The original objectives of the project were as follows:

  • to record the distribution of ancient coins from Wales onto a database, including:
    • excavated site-finds
    • coin hoards
    • casual finds (i.e. recovered by metal detector or field walking and reported through the Portable Antiquities Scheme)
  • to produce and publish a detailed corpus of all Iron Age and Roman coins from Wales
  • to stimulate the exploration of spatial and chronological distributions of ancient coinage.
  • to encourage the investigation of coin supply and use in Wales during the later Prehistoric and Roman periods.

The IARCW project was funded by the University of Wales through the Board of Celtic Studies. A successful application for a grant from the Board led to the appointment at Cardiff University of a Research Assistant (Nick Wells) for a period of one year (2003-04). The project's RA designed a database to record the published and (where possible) unpublished Iron Age and Roman coins from Wales. This is linked to a GIS program to facilitate the spatial analysis of this material. The details of 52,666 coins (the vast majority dating to the Roman period) from 1,117 find spots were entered onto the database during the project's single year.

IARCW is intended to be comprehensive and the design of the database means that a vast body of data can be easily searched in a variety of ways. For example, it is possible to study ancient coins from Wales by region, locality, ancient settlement or archaeological excavation. The detailed recording of over 50,000 coins allows the analysis of these objects by metal, denomination, emperor or ruler, mint, date of production, or a number of other numismatic criteria. The data and a detailed analysis of late Iron Age and Roman coinage in Wales are currently being prepared for publication. The data will be available shortly in downloadable form from AHDS Archaeology, while the National Museum Wales is planning to host an Ancient Coins from Wales website with a searchable GIS-linked database to coincide with its centenary celebrations in 2007.

Preliminary results of IARCW have been presented at the Coin Finds, Databases and the Internet symposium at Frankfurt-am-Main (October 2004), the Roman Archaeology Conference at Birmingham (April 2005) and at the European Science Foundation's (Standing Committee for the Humanities) Exploratory Workshop Roman Coins outside the Empire held at Nieborów in Poland (September 2005, organised by Warsaw University). These papers focused on the early history of coinage in Wales, particularly the transition from the later Iron Age to the Roman period. A summary of this case study is presented here to illustrate the broader research questions that coin finds can contribute towards, and also to highlight the potential of databases and GIS in finds research.

The supply and use of coins in later prehistoric and early Roman Wales

The original IARCW aims and objectives are being continually refined in order to ensure that the data is fully exploited when considering specific research themes and questions. For the early history of coinage in Wales, the following research questions might be asked of the IARCW data:

  • to what extent were coins used in Wales before the conquest?
  • how did Roman coins arrive in Wales?
  • what functions did coins perform?
  • did using Roman coins involve the expression of identity?
  • can we detect different responses to Roman coinage, including resistance?