Iron Age coin depicting Caratacus set to fetch £30,000 at auction

Britain’s first freedom fighter: Iron Age coin depicting warlord Caratacus who held back the invading Roman hordes nearly 2,000 years ago is set to fetch £30,000 at auction

  • The Iron Age coin was found in a field near Newbury, Berkshire in 2019
  • It depicts the leader Caratacus and could fetch as much as £30,000 at auction
  • Caratacus was a chieftain 2000 years ago who resisted the Roman conquest
  • He resisted the Roman conquest of Britain for eight years before being caputred

A 2,000-year-old Iron Age coin depicting Britain’s first ever freedom fighter is set to become one of the most expensive ever sold.

Described as the ‘most important single Iron Age coin ever found in this country’, the coin depicts the leader Caratacus, who resisted the Roman invasion in 43AD.

It was minted in Hampshire shortly before Emperor Claudius sent four legions to raid Britannia and may fetch as much as £30,000.

A metal detectorist dug the prize up in a field near Newbury, Berkshire, in November 2019, only 20 miles from where it was minted in modern day Silchester – then Calleva – 2,000 years ago.

The auction at Chris Rudd in Norwich has a starting price of £24,000, but experts say they expect to see it climb much higher.

The coin is the first definitely known as linked to Caratacus to be discovered.

A 2,000-year-old Iron Age coin depicting Britain’s first ever freedom fighter is set to become one of the most expensive ever sold (pictured)

He was a military commander in the 1st century AD and managed to resist the Roman conquest of Britain for eight years.

Dr John Sills, author of Divided Kingdoms: The Iron Age Gold Coinage of Southern England, said: ‘The Caratacus gold stater is the most important single Iron Age coin ever found in this country, the only known gold coin of one of Britain’s greatest resistance leaders.’

Dr Philip de Jersey, former keeper of the Celtic Coin Index and author of Celtic Coinage in Britain, said the find was ‘extraordinary.’

He added: ‘It seems quite extraordinary after so many decades of metal detecting that something quite so unexpected should turn up, and for a ruler who plays such an important role in British history.

‘The simple fact that it is unique, after all those years of searching and all those thousands of finds, must indicate that it was a rare and unusual coin from the moment it was struck.’

The coin has been recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme of the British Museum and by the Celtic Coin Index at the Institute of Archaeology, Oxford.

A metal detectorist dug the prize up in a field near Newbury, Berkshire, in November 2019, only 20 miles from where it was minted in modern day Silchester, 2000 years ago

University of Reading experts have already excavated parts of Silchester – the site of Caratacus’ capital city – to reveal its heritage.

Professor Michael Fulford said the coin added ‘not only a new dimension to Caratacas’ coinage, otherwise found only in silver, but an insight into the resources he commanded at the time of the Roman invasion of Britain.’

He says Caratacus dug or re-dug a deep ditch and rampart 1.5 miles long around Calleva which he thinks was captured by the Roman army, probably early in AD 44.

In 2019, five months before the coin was found, the skull of a young man was discovered near the bottom of the ditch.

He may have died defending Calleva and its ruler, who then retreated to Wales with his family.

In their pamphlet The Caratacus Stater, Norfolk coin dealers Elizabeth Cottam and Chris Rudd describe Caratacus as ‘a privileged prince in Britain’s first famous royal family, a charismatic character, a charmer even in chains and a courageous commander who became an international celebrity.’

Pictured: A portrait of Caratacus, from stained glass window in Colchester Town Hall. Caratacus was a British chieftain of the Catuvellauni during the first-century AD, who resisted the Roman conquest

Caratacus: The first-century AD chieftain who resisted the Roman invasion for eight years

Caratacus was a British chieftain of the Catuvellauni tribe during the first-century AD, who resisted the Roman conquest of Britain under Emperor Claudius.

Before the Roman invasion, the chieftain was known for expanding his tribe’s occupation of the town of Verlamion (now St Albans) and the surrounding areas of Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and southern Cambridgeshire.

His successful expansion led to the Roman invasion of the region, but he resisted the Romans for almost a decade. 

The conquest started in 43 AD, and was largely completed by 87 AD, but for eight years, Caratacus was able to hold them off by employing a combination of gorilla warfare and set-piece battles, although he was unsuccessful with the latter.

Caratacus’s last battle was the Battle of Caer Caradoc, fought in 50 AD. While the location of the battle is unknown, the hill fort of Caradoc Hill in Shropshire is connected with the battle by name.

Despite having the high ground, Caratacus’s force was broken by those of Roman commander, Publius Ostorius Scapula, who was hailed as a hero in Rome.

Caratacus’s wife, son and daughter were captured while his son surrendered, but Caratacus himself escaped and fled the territory after his final defeat to the territory of Cartimandua, a first-century queen of the Brigantes, a Celtic people living in what is now northern England.

Cartimandua, who was loyal to Rome, captured Caratacus and handed him over to the Romans, who sentenced him to death as a military prisoner.

Before his execution, he made a speech that persuaded Emperor Claudios of the Romans to spare him.

His speech became the subject of folklore and art, with his life inspiring plays and poems.

Tacitus – the Roman historian and politician – who is said to have witnessed the speech, claims Caratacus told the Romans that his stubborn resistance made Rome’s glory in defeating him all the greater.

Some traditions have credited Caratacus – or Caradog in Welsh – with the introduction of Christianity to Britain upon his return from Rome.

The Roman conquest is regarded to have brought an end to Iron Age Britain. 

They say: ‘In view of his inspiring leadership of the Welsh warriors and his daring hit-and-run defence of the Welsh people, we think that Caratacus may be more deserving of the title Prince of Wales than later princes whose Norman ancestors fought against the Welsh, not for them.’

Experts believe Caratacus means ‘beloved leader’ and may have been pronounced Cara-tarkus, a proposal corroborated by both Dr Daphne Nash Briggs, author of Coinage in the Celtic World, and the Celtic etymologist, Dr Thomas Markey.

Despite his Celtic name, some believe Caratacus came from a partially Roman family and was probably wealthy, well dressed, well educated, possibly even in Rome, wrote Latin, had slaves, drank fine Italian wine from a silver goblet and wore the latest Roman armour.’

David R Sear, author of Roman Coins and their Values, said: ‘This must surely rank amongst the most exciting numismatic discoveries of the 21st century, if not of all time.’

And Dr Nash Briggs added: ‘Pre-Roman coins like this remarkable gold stater struck in the name of Caratacus, found recently near Newbury, lend uniquely rich insight into the history and politics of their age.’

It is believed that the coin was almost certainly a one-off special issue and that it is unlikely it went into general circulation.

Caratacus is best known today as the freedom fighter who defied and delayed the forces of Rome for eight years, mostly in Wales, until he was betrayed in Yorkshire by Cartimandua, queen of the Brigantes.

He is also remembered for the eloquent speech he gave as he stood as a chained captive before Claudius, expecting to be executed.

Bizarrely, he was eventually pardoned and set free, with some historians speculating it was because Claudius had known him as a boy.

Dr John A Davies, former chief curator of Norwich Castle Museum, described the coin as ‘beautiful’ and a ‘superb discovery.’

He added: ‘This does all confirm that Caratacus issued coinage in his name, in turn having significance for the other ‘CAR’ silver coins. This is a very important find and a beautiful coin.’

The coin is considered to be important because it has the inscription ‘CNVO’ which confirms the previously disputed claim that Caratacus was the son of Cunobelinus, a king in pre-Roman Britain from about AD9.

The coin has now been recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme of the British Museum and by the Celtic Coin Index at the Institute of Archaeology in Oxford.

It will be auctioned on November 15.

Archaeologist Professor Colin Haselgrove, added: ‘It must be in with a chance of being the most valuable Iron Age coin found to date. Everyone likes a British hero.’

In 2019, five months before the coin was found, the skull of a young man was discovered near the bottom of the ditch (pictured). He may have died defending Calleva and its ruler, who then retreated to Wales with his family

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