Numismatic and History Discussions > History and Archeology

Foundation deposits: was there a public ceremony?

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Among the sources of datable ancient coins are foundation deposits: coins that were set into the foundation of a building (such as a temple) when the building was built. The foundation deposit under the temple of Artemis at Ephesus is a famous example, containing a large group of early electrum coins.

I was wondering about the practice of making foundation deposits. Do we have any historical/literary documentation that describes the practice? Something along the lines of, "The people assembled at noon, and after the soothsayer read some entrails, the king took a handful of change from his pocket and tossed it in the hole, just before the crane lowered the cornerstone in place."  ;D

I know foundation deposits pre-date coins, and often contain jewelery and other valuables beside coins. I'm just wondering if we know anything about the ceremony--if there was one--surrounding the placing of a deposit.


The idea was probably to make a sacrifice of something valuable, so it would presumably have been accompanied by prayers and some form of ceremony, but I don't know whether there are any actual records.

Bill Perry:
The tradition of foundation deposits stretches back to the first major builders - the Egyptians (and I mean MAJOR builders).  The greeks probably adopted that tradition from them, the Romans adopted it from them, and most other cultures adopted it from them (George Washington used it :) ). A web reference for the Egyptians would be

for the Greeks (indirectly) showing other than coins or metals but actually valuable texts...

and the romans I'm sure you have your own references on as you brought it up here :)

Not just temples either... Ships often had a coin inserted between the mast and the hull.


From collecting coins as a kid in England, I remember reading that more than one of the 1933 pennies (one of the famous rarities of British coin collecting) had been placed in the foundations of buildings.

I just learned something new by searching for a reference to this... the few 1933 pennies (~6-7) that were made were specifically issed by the mint in response to requests for "foundation coins" for that precise purpose!



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