Votive mutilation? An unusual rolled Roman coin

As I was casually browsing through the latest finds recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database, I recently came across an extremely interesting find I had not seen before – a Roman silver denarius that has been deliberately rolled into a tube.

The act of rolling a coin up is never an easy task, and this is especially true of a small, thick silver coin such as a denarius. This, then, was neither accidental damage nor the act of someone idly passing the time by rolling up coins.

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Rolled denarius. Copyright Portable Antiquities Scheme

The coin is a silver denarius of the emperor Domitian (reigned AD81-96), but struck under his father Vespasian (reigned AD69-79) in the year AD76. The obverse of the coin (on the outside of the roll) bears the portrait of Domitian and the legend ‘CAESAR AVG(ustvs) F(ilivs) DOMITIANVS’ – ‘Domitian, son of Caesar Augustus.’ The reverse, now hidden on the inside of the roll, bears a winged Pegasus with the simple legend ‘COS II[II]’ indicating that the coin was minted in the year that Domitian celebrated his fourth Consulship – AD76. The image below shows an unmolested example of this coin type.

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An example of the coin type. Image copyright www.wildwinds.com

The act of defacing coins is well attested across the empire, and examples of deliberately damaged coins are known as casual finds but also from temples and shrines. Coins are thought to have been the most common form of offering at religious sites, but of course a normal, undamaged coin lost casually in the street is impossible to tell apart from one placed at a shrine if found out of context. The deliberate defacing or mutilation of coins provides us with some evidence that the coin has been removed from normal circulation – perhaps for sacred reasons.

Philip Kiernan (2001) has identified 5 different forms of mutilation – slashing the surface, cutting into the edge, halving or portioning the coin, bending, and hammering. This coin displays an extreme example of bending, and also slashing of the surface. Although some of the gouges in the coin’s surface may have resulted from the act of bending it, a concentration of smaller marks on the portrait of Domitian seem more likely to represent an additional form of deliberate damage.

Aside from the intrinsic interest of such treatment of a coin, two particular elements of this coin add to its significance. The first is the fact that the coin is of Domitian, the second its findspot. Domitian was the emperor who founded the Colonia at Lincoln, but he suffered damnatio memoriae after his death. You can read my earlier post about imperial statuary at Lincoln and some thoughts on Domitian here. That this coin is of Domitian may be coincidence, but the potential that it was deliberately chosen and relates to the official destruction of the emperor’s image is a tantalising one, enhanced by the suggestion that the portrait itself was specifically subjected to scratching.

The findspot is significant as the coin was found to the south of the late Roman walled town of Caistor, very close to the site of the known late Iron Age and Roman settlement and shrine at Rothwell Top (Willis 2013). Finds from the site, made through both metal detecting and excavation, have included finger rings with intaglios depicting Vulcan, and a significant assemblage of miniature weapons and shields. The rolled coin, found just to the south of the main spread of finds, could easily represent a further votive offering. The resemblance of the coin to tightly rolled lead votive tablets may have provided an additional significance to the offering. Kiernan cites the well studied temple sites of Hayling Island and Bath as placed where mutilated coins have been discovered in large quantities.

rothwell miniatures

Miniature shield (53mm high), sword and axe from the Rothwell shrine site. The Collection: Art & Archaeology in Lincolnshire

The finding of coins rolled completely into tubes is uncommon, and it is interesting to note that other examples recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme, such as here, here and here (notably from the important Piercebridge site) are all 3rd or 4th Century in date. Although we cannot know when this coin of Domitian was rolled up (denarii could remain in circulation for a long time), the potential remains that this is an early example of the phenomenon.

The coin is therefore a fascinating find in its own right, but also a significant addition to the known assemblage from one of the county’s most important ritual sites.


References

Kiernan, P. 2001. The Ritual Mutilation of Coins on Romano-British Sites. British Numismatic Journal 71, 18-33

Willis, S. 2013. The Roman Roadside Settlement and Multi-period Ritual Complex at Nettleton and Rothwell, Lincolnshire. The Central Lincolnshire Wolds Research Project Vol 1,

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One thought on “Votive mutilation? An unusual rolled Roman coin

  1. Pingback: A previously unidentified Roman miniature votive shield | Roman Lincolnshire Revealed

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