5.6.5 Roman Coins

The Roman military economy had a monetary based economy and coins are common finds from Roman military sites (eg Frere and Wilkes 1989, 139; Robertson in Pitts and St Joseph 1985, 283–5).They are notably rarer on Iron Age sites, indicating that money played little role in transactions between these different groups; coins were not used in the local Iron Age. However, hoards of Roman silver coins are found in association with Iron Age sites. 

Small picture of a single bronze coloured coin, sub-circular shaped, with a warrior and horse on the front. Letters surround the outside edge of the coin.
Denarius from Carpow, showing Caracalla on his horse, A.D. 198-209 ©️ Taymara

These hoards of denarii form a very different class of Roman artefact which are characteristic of the late 2nd and early 3rd century AD. As of 2017, 41 silver coin hoards were recorded in Scotland from non-Roman contexts (Blackwell et al 2017, 20–1). In the north-east, a scatter of hoards around Perth and Kinross, Fife and Angus lead northwards, forming a dense linear distribution along the coast towards the modern-day area of the city of Aberdeen. Five hoards distributed along the Moray Firth lead towards Inverness (Blackwell et al 2017, Fig 3.2). 

In AD 197, the Roman statesman Cassius Dio recorded the failure of the Caledonians to honour their promises by assisting the Maeatae; the Romans were consequently forced to ‘buy peace’ (Blackwell et al 2017, 21). The Roman policy for using silver coin hoards as pay-offs to local groups around the northern frontier is well-documented (Hunter 2007a, 23–31, 50–3; Blackwell et al 2017, 19–31). Bribery and tactical manoeuvres may have been used by the Romans to cause friction between competing social groups (Hunter 2007a, 23–31; Blackwell et al 2017, 19–31). The distribution and context in which the hoards are found shows the deliberate targeting of specific settlements (Hunter 2007a, 27–31). However, being in receipt of these diplomatic gifts may have become more of a curse when the movement of Roman material stopped abruptly in the early 3rd century AD where the archaeological record shows social disruption (Hunter 2007a, 50–3; Blackwell et al 2017, 19–31). 

Most such hoards in Perth and Kinross are found in the 18th and 19th centuries, notably examples from Drummond Castle and Taymouth (Macdonald 1918, 263–4), and little is known of them. There are four recorded hoards of denarii where some or all elements survive; two are small and span a broad range of dates from Emperor Vitellius (AD 69) to Commodus (AD 180–92), namely 8 recovered from near Inchyra (MPK7817; Bateson and Hall 2002) and 14 from Taymouth, Kenmore (MPK372; Macdonald 1918, 263–84). Of note are 179 discovered in small batches between 1938 and 1974 from beside a river at Briglands, Rumbling Bridge (MPK5602; Robertson 1959) with date ranges between Emperor Nero (AD 54–68) and Crispina (AD 178–92).By far the largest recorded hoard is from Kirkness by Portmoak (MPK5616; Macdonald 1918, 264–5), where in 1851 over 700 denarii were reported to have been discovered, dating between the Emperors Nero and Severus (AD 54–211; Wilson 1852; Macdonald 1918, 264–5). There are also some isolated finds such as the pair of denarii from Findo Gask (Hall 2002) for which we have no clear context nor sense of whether they were part of any larger accumulation(s). It has been suggested that many such hoards were votive deposits rather than for safekeeping. But the implication of such depositional practices is that consideration should be given to other practicalities. 

The Inchyra hoard, for example, may indicate deposition at the site of a ferry crossing; the analysis of hoards for their landscape/taskscape locations should be encouraged. The finding of a trumpet brooch at Inchyra adjacent to the coin hoard find reminds us of a wider pattern of votive deposition which should be taken into account. 

Black and white photo of eight coins in two rows of four. The coins are all sub-circular and a man's face can be seen stamped on each one. Some are blackened and others are cleaner silver.
Inchyra Roman coin hoard ©️ Perth Museum and Art Gallery

The valuable research carried out by National Museums Scotland regarding silver deposition across Scotland is important for understanding the nature and pattern of these stray finds. Payments associated with the terms reached between the Romans and some Iron Age groups following the death of Severus and the premature end of his military campaign (Blackwell et al 2017, 25) offers context to the Kirkness hoard. Although the relationship between the Romans and the Iron Age communities living south of the Ochil Hills in the Loch Leven basin remain unclear. Greater regional application of Blackwell et al’s work and further assessment of the Perth and Kinross resource remains an area which would benefit from further investigation.