Roman coins in Horncastle

BOTH GEORGE WEIR, and James Walter§ writing almost 100 years later, report many finds of Roman coins in Cagthorpe, east of the Roman wall and over the Waring.

George Weir lists some of the finds:
…silver coins of Septimius Severus, Alexander Severus, Volusianus…

…brass of Trajan and Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Hadrian, Domitian, Marcus Aurelius…

He adds that ‘small brass’ and denarii form nearly a complete series of the emperors from Gallienus to Valentinanus. This gives a run from the death of Gallienus in 268 AD to the death of Valentinanus in 392 AD. Currently, the date for the building of the fort is early fourth century which accords well with the dates of the coins Weir lists; especially when we remember that the Romans left in 410 AD.

Augustus [top right] was the first and greatest of the Roman emperors; hardly surprising really as he created the rank, defined and acquired its powers, all the while smiling sweetly in a steely fashion. He had all powers at his command but did not resort to terror. He set about consolidating the empire. One effect of his determination is found in this famous quotation: I inherited it {ie Rome} brick and left it marble.
[see The Romans in Britain]

Trajan [right] was the first emperor since Augustus to extend the empire by conquest; while at the same time he was the first and only emperor to sail on the Red Sea.

Hadrian is, of course, best known in England for his 74-mile long wall — if for no other reason. He was, though, a great soldier-emperor.


The coins illustrated on the right are ‘idealised’, drawn versions, as they would have appeared in their mint condition. The coins themselves today are relatively crude and much damaged and worn by time and usage. [Apparently, and unlike British coins before decimalisation, the Romans did not face the emperor alternately left and right, as our kings and queens did on all coins.]

The silver coins found here were obviously used to pay the soldiers based in the town. Soldiers were paid in gold or silver which rarely reached the pockets of the majority of the population — the 90% who were rural dwelling.

Gold and silver were the engine of the Roman Imperial state. It paid out in gold and silver and would receive its dues also only in gold or silver. The one great power central government has is to extract money from its subjects [here in the UK] and from its citizens* [elsewhere]. Rome would accept only precious metal.

Brass was used for small payments in the towns, when exchange in kind would not be acceptable [for whatever reason]. Peasants who had taxes to pay would never have the right money to pay them with unless they dealt with an intermediary — who would perhaps — for a fee — aggregate several peasants brass coins into gold or silver. Once the Romans left the coinage system in Britain disappeared; coins were for the convenience of the emperor’s collecting of taxes. After AD 410, there was no central authority with power enough to extract money. Sixteen hundred years ago, no Roman central power=no tax demand=no coins=severe economic depression and the disappearance of the towns.

Brass coin which the Roman soldiers probably used for local needs became worthless and disappeared once the army left; the army’s absence also meant no coins need be imported into Britain. This account for the absence of Roman coins with dates after about AD 4110.

* Roman citizenship was greatly valued: non-roman soldiers would be given citizenship on retirement after 20 years, for example. It was valued as highly as the ‘green card’ for American residence is today. Also, citizenship also removed the liability to torture in criminal investigations.

§ James Conway Walter’s book A History of Horncastle was published in 1908 by WR Morton & Sons. [Morton’s now publishes the Horncastle News and other local newspapers.]