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Iron Age Coins

None of the tribes that inhabited the area of modern Wales produced their own coins and coinage, therefore, was not part of the indigenous culture before the Roman conquest. Consequently, all Iron Age coins that are found in Wales were imported from other, coin-producing, parts of Britain and the continent.

Only 35 Iron Age coins have been recovered from Wales. This is a surprisingly small number, particularly when compared to the quantities found beyond the River Severn in Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and northern Somerset (the settlement at Weston-under-Penyard, Ariconium, has produced more Iron Age coins than the whole of Wales).

The distribution shows a strong concentration in south Wales, principally in the south-eastern part of the country.

The majority of Welsh Iron Age finds are of gold coins, all of which were found as single finds (with the possible exception of the three gold coins from Glamorgan that could be a hoard, see the table below).



Iron Age coins from Wales: metals and circumstances of discovery

 Single findsHoardExcavated coins**Groups***Total
Gold17  320
Copper alloy1  12
Potin2 1 3
Uncertain1   1
Total 24 3 3 5 35

* Hoard of 3 silver coins from Minfford, Portmeirion, Gwynedd
** Silver coins excavated from Caldicot and Whitton, and a potin from Caerwent
*** Three 'Groups' of coins: 'Glamorganshire' (3 gold staters), Landovery (1 silver coin with 4 mixed Roman coins) and Llanfaes (1 bronze coin of the Carnutes found together with a Roman coin)

Almost half of the Iron Age coins from Wales were struck by the Dobunni ('Western' issues), a tribe whose territory stretched eastwards from the River Severn from Gloucestershire. On the other hand, coins of the tribes of southern and eastern England are relatively rare from Wales, as are continental issues (Welsh finds include single coins of the Turones, Carnutes and Aedui). The absence of coins from the Hertfordshire / Essex area is puzzling given how Roman authors describe events in the years after the invasion of Britain in AD 43. Tacitus describes how Caratacus, king of the Catuvellauni, fled to Wales where he continued to lead the resistance against Roman attempts to subdue the local tribes until his final defeat and capture in 51. However, the presence of Caratacus and his followers, who came from a coin-producing tribe, has left no discernible trace in the archaeological record of Wales and it remains an open question whether or not Caratacus brought any coins at all with him during his flight to the Welsh tribes (or indeed whether the Welsh tribes would have known what to do with coins if he had).

A noticeable feature of the distribution of Iron Age coins in southeast Wales is the concentration between the rivers Usk and Wye. The native tribe in this area was known to the Romans as the Silures and there has been some debate about where the boundary between the Silures and the Dobunni to the east actually lay.

While the pattern of Iron Age coin finds in this area is certainly more similar to the situation in Gloucestershire, this should not be taken as evidence that Dobunnic influence extended beyond the Wye (or even that a boundary in the modern sense of the word existed between these tribes in the later Iron Age). In any event, the Wye, or the hills above the west bank of the river, apparently acted as an effective barrier to the spread of Iron Age coins, except in small numbers, into Wales.

The impermeability of the Wye and the Welsh highlands suggests a political or cultural rejection of coinage that perhaps indicates different exchange systems on either side of the coin using / non-coin using border.