Coins from Butrint: Numismatic research on archaeological excavation

Museum Coin Case: Sam Moorhead assisting with the display of coins in the refurbished site museum at Butrint

Project leader: Sam Moorhead

Department: Portable Antiquities and Treasure

Project start: 1993 (Butrint Foundation), 2003 (British Museum)
End date: ongoing

Other British Museum staff: Richard Abdy, Pippa Pearce

Other departments:
Coins and Medals
Conservation and Scientific Research

External partners:

Project funded by:

Butrint Foundation, Lord Rothschild and Lord Sainsbury

A general view of the tree-covered site of Butrint, taken from the Vrina Plain onto which the city extended in the Roman period.

Description:

Butrint (Classical Buthrotum) is situated on a low promontory on the southwest coast of Albania. The site has been occupied since at least the eighth century BC, although myths associated with its origins speak of the city's foundation by Trojan exiles.

By the fourth century BC a walled settlement was established and the city became a successful cult site, dedicated to Aesclepius. Augustus founded a colony there and the town remained a relatively small Roman port until the sixth century. Its later medieval history was turbulent as the town was involved in power struggles between Byzantium and successive Norman, Angevin and Venetian states and then in the conflict between Venice and the Ottoman Turks. By the early nineteenth century it had dwindled to a small fishing village clustered around a Venetian castle.The Theatre at Butrint

Excavations at Butrint began with an Italian mission in the 1920s and continued under the post-war government of Albania. Since 1994, excavations have been undertaken by the Albanian Institute of Archaeology and the Institute of World Archaeology (University of East Anglia), working as the Butrint Foundation.

The project has included close collaboration between British and Albanian archaeologists and training for Albanian archaeology students. Work has included conservation of the site and its presentation to a growing number of tourists; the site museum was refurbished and reopened in 2005. 

Excavations have concentrated on four major areas: the Triconch Palace in the city, next to the Vivari Channel; Pippa Pearce working on a Byzantine mosaic in a church on the Vrina Plain. Diaporit Villa and Church, built on the eastern side of Lake Butrint; the Vrina Plain across the Vivari Channel where extensive urban settlement has been discovered; the Forum at the heart of the city.

Sam Moorhead and Richard Abdy from the British Museum are working on the Greek, Roman and early Byzantine coins from these sites, along with Shpresa Gjongecaj, a Greek numismatist from the Albanian Institute of Archaeology. Byzantine and Mediaeval coins are being worked on by Pagona Papadopoulou, currently at the Dumbarton Oaks Research Centre, Washington D.C.

Objectives:

The objective is to publish the coins from the four archaeological sites:

  • Triconch: Sam Moorhead has written a draft report for the final publication of the site which is due 2007/8.
  • Diaporit: Sam Moorhead has catalogued all of the coins from Diaporit and is working on the report in 2007/8.
  • Vrina Plain: Sam Moorhead and Richard Abdy have catalogued most coins found to date, although a few still require conservation.
  • Forum: Sam Moorhead and Richard Abdy have catalogued most coins found to date, although a few still require conservation.

Publications comprise:

  • Catalogue and illustrations as appropriate
  • Period analysis of coins found to enable comparison with other sites in the Mediterranean.
  • Context analysis to ascertain the longevity of circulation of particular coin issues and types.
  • Comparative analysis with site-finds and hoards in the vicinity and in the Mediterranean as a whole.
  • An attempt to reconstruct the monetary economy of which Butrint was a part, and how it changed over time.
  • An attempt to redefine the nature of the monetary economy of the Mediterranean given the material from Butrint.
  • A provision of more accurate dates for particular coin issues, notably in the Greek series, as a result of accurate stratigraphic recording.

Work completed so far has shown that the coins from Butrint are making an important contribution to the understanding of the site and its hinterland, to specific numismatic research, and to an understanding of the broader monetary economy in the Mediterranean.  Accurate stratigraphic recording should enable the more precise dating of hitherto broadly dated coins of Corcyra (Corfu) and is enabling the research team to understand better the longevity of circulation of coins in the fourth to sixth centuries.Also, the vast quantities of nummi from the fourth to sixth century AD are enabling a reappraisal of the nature of economic activity in this period.

More information:

For a full bibliography and more about the excavations at Butrint, visit www.butrintfoundation.co.uk 

Publications:

S. Moorhead, S. Gjongcecaj and R. Abdy, ‘Ancient coins from the excavations at Butrint, Diaporit and the Vrina Plain’, in I. L. Hanson and R. Hodges (eds.), The Roman Colony at Butrint: an Assessment (Butrint Foundation, University of East Anglia, 2007)

‘A coin struck at Butrint representing Aeneas’, in S. Walker and K. Zachos (eds.), After Actium: new archaeological discoveries in Roman Greece (London, forthcoming)


Images (from top):

  • Museum Coin Case: Sam Moorhead assisting with the display of coins in the refurbished site museum at Butrint.
  • A general view of the tree-covered site of Butrint, taken from the Vrina Plain onto which the city extended in the Roman period.
  • The Theatre at Butrint.
  • Pippa Pearce, a senior conservator at the British Museum working on a Byzantine mosaic in a church on the Vrina Plain.  She is talking to the Director of the excavations, Professor Richard Hodges.