Aspects of my research :The Coinage of the Durotriges tribe between the mid 1st century BC and AD 43

The Coinage of the Durotriges tribe between the mid 1st century BC and AD 43

By Jeremy Hallatt (BA Roman Archaeology)

The next few posts will be on my research on Iron Age coinage of the Durotriges tribe (or tribes), there will be several posts with a general bibleography at the end.

Silver stater from the North Down Excavations (Author 2012)

The Late Iron Age in Britain has been divided into tribal areas first by the 2nd century geographer Ptolemy and later into administrative divisions by the Romans, which suggests that each administrative area of Britain belonged to a particular tribe (Papworth, 2011, 1). The tribe which the Romans named the Durotriges are assumed to have been located around the Dorset, Hampshire and Somerset area (Mack, 1964, 18). It has traditionally been believed that the Durotriges were a single tribe although no distinct tribal capital has been definitively located, and it is reliant upon archaeology to provide evidence to whether this is the case or not.  The boundaries of this tribe or tribes has been mapped using the distribution of coins by Cunliffe (2004,104) and Papworth (2008, 369) but the analysis of Durotrigan coins has been lacking particularly with regard to the changes in the coinage itself and what affected this change in design and metal in relation to other tribes and historical events. These coins with their varying designs and different denominations will be considered along with outside influences and events, to determine what effected the change in coinage.

Durotrigan coinage has ultimately been neglected until recently in favour of the inscribed coinage of the Atrebates with their coins of Commios and his successors. Perhaps it is this reason which makes Durotrigan coinage so interesting. Why did Durotrigan coins not have any inscriptions of rulers or definite images of people considering the close proximity to the territory of the nearby Atrebates and why was this coinage debased? Also can the Durotrigan coins excavated from sites give an indication of a tribal centre? These are some of the questions which need to be answered in order to understand why Durotrigan coins were different from neighbouring tribes.

Background to the Oxford Celtic Coinage Index

It has only been over the last century and a half that Durotrigan coins have been discovered and identified. A link was made by Evans (Evans , 1864, 101-102-) and Warne (Warne 1872, 154) between other Iron Age coins and those from the Durotriges.  This enabled coins found from excavations and later through metal detecting to be identified. Although some coins have been discovered through excavations the majority have been found by metal detectorists.   Many of these coins found in the CCI have no provenance recorded and are therefore difficult to analyse to any real extent. In 1960 the Celtic Coin Index (CCI) was created by Professor Shepard Frere and Derek Allen, this was used as a database to record Iron Age coins (Pett, 2007). A substantial number of coins were recorded but Frere and Allen (Pett , 2007) both found it difficult to keep up with the amount of coins being submitted. In the 1980s Barry Cunliffe took over the CCI and recorded many missing coins. In 1992 the database was computerised by Philip de Jersey and continues to be a source for the recording of Iron Age Coins (Pett, 2007).

Excavated remains of coins and their data

It is through excavations however that we may get a clearer picture of coinage and society in the Iron Age. The following hillforts and settlements are just a small percentage of the settlements which have revealed coins. However they give an example of the distribution of coins throughout the supposed territory of the Durotriges.

Hengistbury Head

Hengistbury Head is a peninsula located to the south of Christchurch in Dorset and lies directly adjacent to the coast (Cunliffe, 1978, 11). This peninsula has seen human activity from 10,000 BC to the Roman period. However it was during the middle to late Iron Age that the settlement became increasingly important. The settlement became an important area for trade for the whole of the south England, but was later overtaken by the nearby area around Poole during the 1st century BC (Hoodless, 2005, 22).  A considerable amount of Armorican pottery and various Mediterranean commodities appeared in the 1st century BC. The evidence suggests that the site rapidly developed into a port of trade in the 1st century BC. Hengistbury Head’s immediate trading partner was the Coriosolites whose principal port lay at Saint-Servin close to Saint-Malo in the Rance estuary (Cunliffe 2004, 182).

Most of which have been dispersed into private collections and to the British Museum.  There have also been a number of stray finds found from the site.  Most of the coins are from several hoards found through excavations on site 31 and 33 at Hengistbury Head (Mays, 1987, 140). These hoards however seem to have been deposited in the years after the Roman conquest; according to Bushe-Fox (1916):

The whole 3000 to 4000 seem to have been deposited together in some wrapping and formed a hoard which was buried in or about ad 150.

If this is correct then it proves that Durotrigan coins were used after the Roman conquest. The Durotrigan coins included 1308 struck staters (largely of debased silver and bronze), 1660 cast bronze staters, around nineteen silver quarter staters , and two silver starfish coins (Mays, 1987, 140). Only a small amount of the struck staters have been dated. Eight are known to be early (68 BC onwards) and all the other known specimens are of debased silver and bronze and may have been from the late first century BC.  Thirteen quarter staters have been dated (Mays ,1987, 141), three or four early, eight late, and one uncertain. Later excavations also uncovered several coins. The St George Gray excavations revealed fifteen coins of which twelve were debased staters and three were cast coins. Excavations by Cunliffe revealed one stater, one silver or bronze quarter stater and one starfish coin (Mays ,1987,141).  Other finds were discovered by metal detectors including one British O gold quarter stater, seven Durotrigan staters and three quarter staters. There is also evidence that a mint was located at Hengistbury Head at site 33 where several gold and copper alloys have been found (Mays, 1987). Others such as Darvill state (1998) ‘by the time of the Roman Conquest it was probably minting coins to facilitate local exchange’.

A number of non Durotrigan coins have also been found. These are mainly from Armorica in northern Gaul (Sellwood, 1987, 138). The location of the site is within the supposed perimeter between the territory of the Durotriges and the Atrebates. A number of Attrebatic coins have also been found which are dated to around the time of Caesar’s conquests in Gaul in the mid-first century BC (Sellwood, 1987, 140).

Cadbury Castle

Cadbury Castle lies to the east of Yeovil in Somerset and is a large mutlivallate hillfort. Occupation occurred throughout the Iron Age. Excavations were undertaken by Bennett in 1890 and Gray in 1913 and a major campaign in 1966-70 when 6% of the 7.28 ha site was sampled (Somerset Historic Environment Record ,2001). .More recently the site was excavated by Alcock during 1966-1970 and also in 1973. Her excavations were concentrated on the enclosing earthworks, the south western gateway and the interior occupation (Barrett, 2000, 3).

Excavations revealed thirteen Iron Age coins making it one of the largest discoveries of excavated Iron Age coins from any settlement ( Haselgrove and Mays, 2000, 249) . The site lies to the western edge of the supposed territory of the Durotrigan tribe and coinage represents this. Thirteen coins were recovered, twelve were Durotrigan, and the thirteenth coin was gold stater inscribed (ANTED)  which was attributed to the Dobunni. One of the coins was excavated from the south west entrance of the hillfort (Haselgrove and Mays, 2000, 249).  This may be accidental or perhaps a sacred offering. A number of coins have been found on the entrances to hillforts such as at Danebury, where one Durotrigan coin was recovered during excavations ( Cunliffe, 2003, 177).  Boundaries in prehistory have been thought to have held religious significance. The deposition of high status items are known throughout the Iron Age such as the Battersea shield which was discovered in the Thames River (Cunliffe, 2004, 75).

Ham Hill and Badbury Rings

Other excavations such as Ham Hill (Allen, 1968, 52) produced at least nine south western issues and a British potin and the 1959-69, Waddon Hill excavations yielded ten Iron Age coins, three of them were non local types and the rest were Durotrigan ( Haselgrove and Mays, 2000, 249).


Hod Hill

Located near Blandford Forum in Dorset lies Hod Hill, which is a large hillfort. Excavations have shown that the site’s main defences were constructed around 500 BC and people were living in the hillfort until it was conquered by the Romans during the Roman Conquest (Richmond, 1968, 4).  Excavations which were carried out by Sir Ian Richmond between 1951-58 uncovered areas of settlement and also revealed one coin (Allen, 1968, 52) . However coins have been found at Hod Hill since the 19th century. Most of the surviving coins are associated with Henry Durden of Blandford who held a collection in 1864 which was later sold to several museums including the British Museum (Allen 1968, 44). Others were held by Charles Warne (1872) and Henry Symonds (1909) and finally one coin was found from the 1951-8 excavation (Allen, 1968, 52).

There have been a total of twenty seven coins found from Hod Hill only one of which was recovered by excavation (Allen , 1968, 45) . The majority of Durotrigan coins consist of the silver stater. However these fourteen silver staters which are from the Durden collection have eleven different find spots from Hod Hill and the local area (Allen, 1968 , 44). These silver staters were produced around the mid-first century BC or slightly later. The bronze type is a debased version of an earlier silver type of stater, which must make the earliest date of deposition the late first century BC.  A total of nine of the twenty seven coins discovered belong to other tribes. These include a silver Icenian coin with the inscription ECEN and a rare silver minim with CRAB which may be Durotrigan but this is not certain (Allen, 1968, 44). The origin of this CRAB inscribed coin has been suggested by Wellington (2001) to be from around the Isle of Wight area; the coinage in this area suggests a strong Durotrigan influence (Wellington, 2001). Also discovered are silver coins from others tribes such as the Coriosolites and from the Lemovices which is a tribe from northern Gaul. This indicates not only coins from Britain were being used for some function but also from northern Gaul.  The presence of a number of Dobunni coins as well as other tribes from as far away as northern Gaul suggest this site was well known through much of Britain and northern Gaul.

Maiden Castle

Maiden Castle is one of the most well-known of hillforts in Britain. Excavations by Wheeler in the 1930’s and Sharples in the 1980’s have revealed a great deal about its occupation. It may have been the centre of the tribe or tribes of the Durotriges. It was at least an important centre. However there is no direct evidence for this being a tribal centre. Excavations famously undertaken by Wheeler in the 1930’s revealed fifteen coins. According to Sharples (Sharples, 1991, 263);

It is possible to identify high status settlements by the quantity of coins or the size and richness of the associated cemetries.

Of the coins which have been recovered five were from the nearby territory of the Atrebates, nine of the coins came from Gaul with two being Armorican and seven being Gaulish (Sharples, 1991, 156).  These may have been exchanged at Hengistbury Head or from Poole Harbour and ended up at Maiden Castle. No Durotrigan coins have been recovered from the site. The latest excavation by Sharples in the 1980s has uncovered a cast bronze from the Trinovantes and a Roman Sestersius (Sharples, 1991, 156). The lack of Durotrigan coins does not mean that none were produced or used here. Many have been found from other territories including the Atrebates (Cunliffe, 2004, 104).

North Down

The Banjo Enclosure recently excavated by Miles Russell, Paul Cheetham and Bournemouth University has indicated the presence of late Iron Age inhabitation. In the 1980s a metal detectorist uncovered over one hundred staters most of which have been lost. During the 2010 and 2011 excavations three staters were uncovered. Of the three which were found two were bronze staters and one was a silver stater. This shows that coins were not just being used at hillforts but also at smaller sites such as North Down.


Durotrigan coinage has also been found in other tribal areas such as in Hampshire. Silchester (Calleva Attrebatum) is situated in Hampshire and is the capital of the Atrebates (Wythe, 2011, 351). It is therefore no surprise that coins have been discovered here.  The data illustrates just how many different tribal coins there are at Silchester which suggests Silchester was at the crossroads between the tribes of the north and those of the south and east.

Author:  Jeremy Hallatt



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