Cache of chopped-up Roman-era silver found in Shropshire field
A hoard of fourth and fifth century silver including coins and plates hacked up after a Roman-era “Brexit” has been unearthed in a farmer’s field by three metal detectorists, a treasure inquest has heard.
The “significant” discovery, made in the Wem area of Shropshire last year, included a brooch thought to have been used to pin together a cloth or leather bag when the hoard was buried during the Dark Ages.
Shropshire coroner John Ellery was told the haul – only the sixth hoard of Roman hacksilver found in Britain – was located by Steve Lord, Steve King and Andy Bijsterbosch after they detected a handful of coins in a ploughed field.
Mr Ellery ruled that the original find, and more silver objects identified during a follow-up dig last week, constituted a single hoard of treasure.
The coins and the other items should be known as the Wem Hoard, said Mr Ellery, who was told that experts at the British Museum were involved in assessing and examining the items.
Peter Reavill, finds liaison officer for Shropshire and Herefordshire with the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme, told the inquest it was hoped the items could be acquired for display in Shropshire.
He told the hearing some of the coins had been chiselled into halves and quarters, as the collapse of the monetary system following “the Roman Brexit” meant they only retained value as silver bullion.
Pieces of silver cups and plates were found cut into smaller pieces, also of apparent use as a form of payment.
Speaking after the inquest, Mr Reavill said: “This hoard was discovered last summer by three metal detectorists that reported it to my colleague.
“That hoard is the largest hacksilver Roman hoard we have from the West Midlands. It contains both hacked-up vessels and brooches and buckles, but it also includes a number of Roman coins from the very end of the Roman Empire.
“Analysis which has been done at the British Museum suggests that it goes in the ground in the fifth century – 460 to 500AD.
“We know at that time that the monetary system in Britain has completely collapsed and we are based on a sort of bullion – the weight of the silver in the coins and the objects.
“That’s been hacked up and put into very small pieces so that it can be paid out to people like mercenaries to protect you, but also to traders.
“The Romans traditionally leave Britain in 402AD and that’s seen as the Roman Brexit, as it were – we are at a point where that whole Roman system has collapsed, and the only way that you can go and spend money is by hacking up the old coinage and weighing it in to buy products from abroad, but also to pay people to protect you.
“So these fragments of silver vessels and things no longer function as an object but have turned into money.
“That period is known as the Dark Ages, and in Shropshire and the West Midlands we have very few objects of that sort of date, so this hoard is absolutely a really important thing.
“Without these metal detectorists we wouldn’t have known anything about that period in this part of Shropshire.”
Experts believe the hoard was probably deposited for recovery at a later date near a marker stone or a tree.
Mr King, from Ashton, near Chester, told the PA news agency he was searching with Mr Lord, from Abergele in Wales, and Mr Bijsterbocsh, who lives in Blackpool, when they discovered around half a dozen coins on the surface.
The 59-year-old, a retired supermarket manager, said: “It was a rally organised by a friend. We had been saying that on our wish-list was a silver Roman coin.
“The guy organising the rally, John Parry, said he felt on the farthest part of the site there was a good opportunity of finding something.
“Steve (Lord) found the first Roman silver coin in front of me, which was extraordinary. We were both looking at it and then I found one about two foot away on the floor as well.
“We found a couple more and then Andy joined us and we ended up finding about six or seven coins around the surface.
“I had a listen and there was definitely something there – but obviously deeper.
“We dug down a couple of feet and we ended up sort of putting my hand in – and literally coming up with handfuls of silver, including the brooch, including some rings… bits of cut silver.
“It was just incredible.”