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The Petworth Hoard

by Elizabeth Byles

Petworth Hoard

Purchased with the support of the Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund

A hoard of 103 Silver denarii was found on the 24th of November 2008 in the Petworth area. They equate to roughly one third of the annual wages of a Roman soldier.

Amongst the hoard were ten coins from the Roman republic period of 509 BC to 27 BC, five coins commemorating Mark Antony, three from the reign of Augustus (27 BC to 14 AD), one of which shows an inscription on one side in an anti-clockwise direction, as opposed to the typical clockwise wording found on most coins of this type. This coin depicts a Parthian, one of Rome's old enemies, kneeling with a Roman standard, commemorating the return of three legionary standards as a part of Augustus's peace negotiations, after their capture during the Battle of Carrhae, in 53 BC, southern Turkey.

One of the coins is from the reign of Nero (54 AD to 68 AD) and twenty-seven are from the reign of Vespasian (69 AD to 79 AD), one of which commemorates his son Titus Caesar and four celebrate his younger son, Domitian Caesar. Another two of the hoard were issued during Titus's reign (79 AD to 81 AD), and seven during Domitian's reign (81 AD to 96 AD), which and was characterised by the cruelty of its emperor. Three coins are from the reign of Nerva (96 AD to 98 AD), twenty-eight are from the reign of Trajan (98 AD to 117 AD), and the last twelve were issued under Hadrian (117 AD to 138 AD). One of Hadrian's coins is unusual as the bust shown on it is a variation of one usually seen on this type of coin.

As nearly all coins were minted in Rome until the end of the second century AD, the coins in this hoard would have originated from Rome. As the exact date that the coins were buried is unknown, we do know that it must have been after the newest coin in the hoard was issued; in this case it is approximately 134 AD.


There are many theories as to why these coins were buried, and why people hoarded coins in Roman Britain, for example, during times of economic upheaval people may have buried their possessions with the intention of returning and reclaiming them later, similarly when invasion was feared, to prevent theft people may have buried their coins, so that when the threat had passed they could reclaim them. Other theories include votive rituals, similar to throwing a penny into a well and making a wish as many people do now.

Roman currency was split into three main groups; gold (aureus), silver (denarius) and brass (sestertius, dupondius and as). Two asses made up one dupondius, two dupondii equalled one sestertius, four sestertii made up one denarius and twenty-five denarii totalled one aureus. All gold and silver coins were issued by the emperor and brass coins were issued by the Senate.

One coin of the Petworth Hoard commemorates the safe return of three legionary standards, eventually returned to Rome by the Parthian Empire after their capture during the Battle of Carrhae in 53 BC. This battle took place whilst the Parthian Empire, which covered most of modern day Iran, eastern Turkey, Iraq and Syria, was an ally of Rome. Marcus Licinus Crassus, member of the First Triumvirate, wanted to conquer a large region to compete with his rival and fellow triumvir, Pompeius Magnus, or Pompey the Great. He chose to invade the Parthian Empire, which was an ill-advised and unsupported decision. The invasion was a disaster. Crassus was deceived by spies, resulting in the slaughter of many Roman soldiers, including Crassus's son, Publius. Eventually the Parthian leader tricked the Romans once more and murdered Crassus and his remaining Romans under the pretence of negotiating a truce. Only a group led by Gauis Cassius Longinius escaped that night. Cassius was one of Crassus's advisors, who had been ignored by Crassus in favour of a local chieftain, who was later revealed a spy. Plutarch, a Greek biographer, estimated that around 20,000 were killed and 10,000 were captured during the battle.

Marcus Antonius, better known as Mark Antony, was a member of the Second Triumvirate with Octavian (Later Augustus, the first emperor of Rome) and Lepidus in 44 BC. He is now well-known for his notorious affair with Cleopatra and their suicide after he was declared a traitor by Octavian when the Triumvirate broke up in 33 BC and civil war erupted.

Nero began his reign in 54 AD. He was extravagant, cruel and tyrannical, and is now known as one of Rome's most murderous leaders, a title well-earned by his numerous assassinations, including his mother. Accounts report that during the devastating fire of 64 AD, Nero amused himself by playing the fiddle whilst the city burned, and then in its ruins he built the Domus Aurea, a palace decorated with the finest marble, gilded colonnades, and revolving ceilings.

As Nero did not leave an heir to the empire, his suicide in 68 AD triggered the 'Year of Four Emperors', beginning when Servius Sulpicius Galba succeeded him and almost immediately enraged military groups and his own ally, Otho, who instructed the Praetorian Guard to murder Galba and his heir in the forum. Otho was then declared emperor, but many legions in both upper and lower Germany proclaimed Aulus Vitellius as emperor. When Vitellius's supporters Began marching to Italy, Otho summoned forces and went to meet them, however the Vitellians were stronger and defeated Otho at Bedriacum, in northern Italy, who then committed suicide. Vitellius was then recognised by the senate as the next emperor.

In Judea, General Titus Flavius Vespasianus began to gather support. He was hailed as emperor by his troops and invaded Italy, where he defeated Vitellius's forces in the second Battle of Bedriacum and was officially confirmed by the senate, beginning the Flavian dynasty in 69 AD. Vespasian was known for beginning the construction of the Flavian Amphitheatre, now the Colosseum, the stability he brought to Rome, his ample common sense, and saying on his death bed, "Oh dear! I think I'm becoming a god." He died in 79 AD and was succeeded by his eldest son, Titus.

Titus's short rule, from 79 AD to 81 AD, was popular in Rome and he was loved by the empire due to his good looks and likable persona, he was even called the 'darling of the human race'. He married twice and had one child, a girl named Flavia Julia. She later became the mistress of her uncle, Emperor Domitian, after her father's sudden death, aged 41, in 81 AD.

Domitian's reign was one of fear. The treason law was liberally used, even against senators, and after he executed his cousin in 96 AD, his close associates saw that no one was safe. Several palace officials, two Praetorian prefects and his wife, Domitia Longina, were part of a conspiracy against him, and Domitian was assassinated in 96 AD. His memory was condemned and the Senate was over joyed.

Nerva's reign, from 96 AD to 98 AD, was a contrast to his predecessor's; where Domitian had stripped the Senate of most of its powers Nerva consulted it on all decisions. He reportedly said, "I have done nothing that would prevent me laying down the imperial office and returning to private life in safety." When he died in 98 AD a solar eclipse occurred on the day of his burial.

Trajan was very popular with the people of Rome due to his generosity in giving to the poor, and the wars he fought against Dacia (in modern Romania) and Parthia. When he reached the Persian Gulf he is said to have wept because he was too old to repeat Alexander the Great's achievements in India. He died in 117 AD aged sixty-four.

Hadrian was an incredibly curious man, so much so that he travelled across the empire as both a tourist and a commander, inspecting troops and climbing mountains, such as Mount Etna, just to watch the sunrise. He is best known for Hadrian's Wall, being the first emperor to have a beard, and being the only emperor to publicly recognise a male lover, after the young man, AntinoĆ¼s, captivated him and later drowned in the Nile, after which Hadrian was devastated, naming a city in his honour. Hadrian echoed Emperor Augustus's double succession, choosing both a mature senator and young man to follow him. After his death in 138 AD he was described as someone to propitiate like a god, but not one to evoke affection.