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Massive Roman Hoard Discovered in East Devon

One of the coins: Constantine I (AD 306-337) Rome AD 330-335

26 September 2014

A hoard of over 22,000 Roman coins has been unearthed near Seaton in East Devon, the fourth largest hoard of coins ever found.

The discovery

East Devon builder and metal detector enthusiast Laurence Egerton discovered the hoard of 4th-Century copper-alloy coins in November 2013 while operating under licence on Clinton Devon Estates land near Seaton Down. The findspot is near to the Honeyditches site which includes a Roman villa and a possible Roman fort.

After uncovering the coins, Mr Egerton followed best practice guidelines and reported the find to the landowner Clinton Devon Estates, Devon County Council archaeologist Bill Horner and to the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) through Devon’s Finds Liaison Officer Danielle Wootton. The hoard was then carefully removed in its entirety by a team of archaeologists and over the past 10 months the coins have been lightly cleaned, identified and catalogued by experts at the British Museum (BM). Many of the coins are very well preserved. Called the ‘Seaton Down Hoard’, it was declared treasure at a Devon Coroner’s inquest on Friday 12 September 2014.

The hoard

Dr Roger Bland, Keeper of Britain, Europe and Prehistory, British Museum said “It is one of the largest coin hoards of the C4th ever found within the Roman Empire but, despite the number of coins found, the financial value would not have been great, amounting to approximately four gold coins (solidi). This sum of money would possibly have provided the ration of four soldiers for one year or a worker’s pay for two years.”

Most of the coins are associated with Emperor Constantine I (the Great) (AD 306-37) and his family. Constantine I was made Emperor while in Britain in AD 306. He promoted Christianity as a state religion and was successful in bringing the empire under one ruler. The latest of the coins come from the joint reign of Constantius II (AD 337-61) and his younger brother Constans (AD 337-50). This was a turbulent period in the history of Roman Britain, a time when settled periods of affluence were interrupted by civil wars, rebellions and invasions and only fifty years after the hoard was buried Rome’s imperial presence in Britain ended. Isca, now Exeter, was the economic and social capital of the Southwest and Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM), with its extensive Romano-British collection, is the natural home for the coins.

The hoard and RAMM’s collection

Exeter’s Lead Councillor for Economy and Culture, Rosie Denham, expressed her delight: “This extraordinary hoard will add greatly to our picture of life in Roman Devon. It would be a wonderful addition to RAMM’s collection of local Romano-British objects which includes finds from Honeyditches. We hope that public support will enable us to acquire the hoard. It has so many exciting stories to tell not least of which is the exemplary cooperation between the finder, landowner, PAS and county authorities. We look forward to developing and sharing these stories and invite all to help buy and conserve this important discovery.”

Fundraising appeal

RAMM has launched a bid to purchase the coins. Online donations can be made at www.don8.to/RAM002, or donate £5 by texting RAM002 to 70970. The amount needed to purchase the hoard will be determined by the BM’s Treasure Valuation Committee when it meets later in the year. Should the museum fail to raise sufficient funds to purchase the hoard, money donated will be used to buy other Devon treasures for the museum.

How I found the hoard

Finder Laurence Egerton described how he found the hoard: “Initially I found two small coins the size of a thumbnail sitting on top of the ground and then, as I began working in a grid formation in the surrounding area I had a 50 50 signal on the metal detector which means that there is probably iron involved. Most detectors are set up to ignore iron but I decided to dig the earth at that spot and immediately reached some iron ingots which were laid directly on top of the coins. The next shovel was full of coins - they just spilled out over the field. I had no idea how far down the coins went so I stopped immediately and phoned my wife to come to the site with a camera.

“Under the terms of my licence, I contacted Clinton Devon Estates and Danielle Wooton (Devon Finds Liaison Officer) and Bill Horner (County Archaeologist) and was instructed to take away what was loose and then fill in the hole. Between finding the hoard and the archaeologists excavating the site I slept alongside it in my car for three nights to guard it!

“It’s by far the biggest find I’ve ever had. It really doesn’t get any better than this!”

One in a million

One of the coins in the hoard also made history by being the millionth coin to be registered by the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the discovery of the hoard was announced simultaneously at RAMM and the British Museum.