The history of the collection


The corpus of early medieval coins in the British Museum consists of, amongst others, those minted in Italy during the reign of Odovacar and used throughout the Ostrogothic kingdom. The collections were formed mainly between the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century following a series of donations, purchases and bequests. Among the well-known donors were Revd Clayton Mordaunt Cracherode (who bequeathed his collection in 1799), King George III (his collection was posthumously presented to the nation by his son King George IV in 1823), Charles Townley and the collection of the Duchés de Blacas d’Aulps. However, the majority of the coins were donated by Count John Francis William de Salis (1825–71).


Count John Francis William de Salis, mid 19th century.


Count de Salis was an army man and a keen numismatist. In 1859 he donated his very large collection of coins (as well as some prehistoric antiquities) to the Trustees of the British Museum on the condition that he could carry on studying the coins. He mainly worked on the typological arrangement of Roman Republican coinage, but also took an interest in the identification of the ‘barbarian’ coinages.

The work of de Salis strongly influenced Warwick W. Wroth: ‘[Count de Salis] had separated many specimens of this series from the Byzantine Imperial coins and classed them as “Italian”. In a few cases he appears to have discriminated between an “early” and a “late” class, but he has made no precise allocations.’ Wroth also realized that ‘The coins that hitherto have been most fully studied are those silver and bronze pieces which bear the names or monograms of Ostrogothic rulers; but besides these there is extant a great mass of gold, silver, and bronze money which is of Italian, and probably of Ostrogothic, origin, though inscribed only with the name of a Roman Emperor.’ (Wroth 1911, xxix)

After Wroth’s pioneering work was published in 1911, the Ostrogothic collection was subsequently increased by only 21 coins with 8 specimens minted under Odovacar being purchased or donated after this date.

This was a time when large collections could be assembled and the donations of aristocratic and wealthy individuals greatly increased the collection. However, most coins acquired during this period lack information about their provenance (e.g. area, archaeological excavation or even country of origin).

To date, the British Museum has 271 Ostrogothic coins and 51 coins of Odovacar, which represents one of the most comprehensive collections of this rare series of coinage in the world.