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Roman coins reused as weights in an Anglo-Saxon balance


Diameter: 40.000 mm (pans)
Diameter: 40.000 mm (pans)
Diameter: 40.000 mm (pans)

M&ME 1963,11-8.752

Room 68: Money

    Roman coins reused as weights in an Anglo-Saxon balance

    From an Anglo-Saxon warrior's grave in Dover, England, 6th century AD
    Roman coins, 1st - 4th centuries AD

    What use are coins when they are no longer legal tender?

    Gold and silver coins have an intrinsic value because they are made from precious metal, and bronze coins can be used as scrap metal if in large quantities. A handful of old bronze coins have little use except as an ornament or a fairly regular unit of weight; in London's famous landmark, Big Ben, large pre-decimal pennies are used to refine the movement of the clock. This set of ancient artefacts, from what are usually considered distinct periods in the history of Britain - Roman Britain and Anglo-Saxon England, came together in a similar fashion.

    The Anglo-Saxon pan-balance would probably have been used to weigh pieces of bullion or gold and silver coins from continental Europe, as no coins were being produced in Britain at that time. However, found with it were fourteen Roman bronze coins, by this time centuries old, which had been marked to indicate their new function as weights.

    In modern Britain, the ploughing of fields overlying Roman settlement sites regularly brings to light a mixture of low denomination Roman bronze coins. Even without the use of metal-detectors they can be spotted by the sharp-eyed. The latest types of Roman coins current during the collapse of Roman rule (such as those found at Hoxne) did not continue to circulate into the Anglo-Saxon period, and so, very soon after the end of Roman Britain, Roman coins would have been unearthed just as they are today. It was through this indirect mechanism that such objects came to be re-used in Anglo-Saxon England.

    R.A. Abdy, Romano-British coin hoards (Princes Risborough, Shire Publications, 2002)

    M. King, 'Roman coins from Anglo-Saxon contexts' in Coins and the archaeologist-1 (Seaby, 1988)

    J. Williams (ed.), Money: a history (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)

    S. Rigold, 'Coins found in Anglo-Saxon burials' in Coins and the archaeologist (Seaby, 1988)


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