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XXI

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The Roman Triton X hoard from India

 

By Tom Buijtendorp

 

January 8th 2007, CNG auctioned a silver hoard of 175 Roman denarii found in India and briefly published in its Triton X catalogue. Described Roman hoards from India are rare and fortunately a large part of this hoard could be traced on the internet, including local imitation of Roman coins. This is very important because only one other hoards with several imitations has been published so far and most denarii hoards from India have been dispersed before being catalogued.

 

Fig 1: detail of the hoard as shown in the CNG auction catalogue (2007)

 

The hoard

 

Monday January 8th 2007, the silver hoard was sold at the annual numismatic auction'Triton’ of the Classical Numismatic Group (CNG) in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York for $ 21,000 excluding buyer’s fee (fig. 1).[i]   Unfortunately, the description of the "denarii of Augustus and Tiberius" was only very brief: "Includes: Augustus. Gaius and Lucius Caesars (12) // Tiberius. Livia seated. "Tribute Penny" type (163). Reportedly found in India. Includes many cast contemporary imitations. A mix of official and unofficial issues that circulated side by side in India. Fine to VF condition." Fortunately, is was possible to trace 101 hoard coins via the internet, sold piece by piece in 2007-2011 by Forum Ancient Coins with description: 5 denarii of Augustus and 96 denarii of Tiberius.[ii]  This helps to get a better overview of this hoard. Analyses of the composition of the hoard offer new insights and supports the claim that the coins have been hoarded in India. This is important because most Roman silver hoards from India are from uncontrolled excavations and have been dispersed before being described.

 

Joe Sermarini of Forum Ancient Coins acquired the coins from the CNG auction and sold about 1/3rd shortly after in New York. As a result, only the description of the remaining 101 coins is known. According to Sermarini, the coins sold in New York where comparable to the 101 coins described, with the same range of condition (about Fine to Very Fine).[iii] This fits the description by CNG, all coins being "Fine to Very Fine condition." The share of Augustian denarii in the sample of 101 coins (5%) is close to the share in the total hoard (7%). This all means the 101 seem to offer a representative sample of the 175 coins auctioned sold by CNG. It is not completely sure whether the 175 coins are the complete hoard as other parts may have been sold elsewhere before. However, at least it offers an interesting sample as basis for some interesting hoard analysis.

 

The first analyses focuses on the weight distribution. Of the 101 coins in the sample, about half (56%) is Very Fine and close to a quarter (24%) is about Very Fine. The remaining part is Fine (16%) or about Fine (9%). There are no coins in the better condition Extremely Fine or Mint State. This is important because it has been suggested in the past that during the early empire Roman denarii of the two types present in the hoard (Augustus with Gaius & Lucius and Tiberius with Seated Female) where send directly form the Roman mint to India. This certainly is not the case here.

 

Fig 2: Example of an early coin of Tiberius in the Triton X hoard with a portrait close to that of Augustus and a plain style (group 1), sold by Forum Ancient Coins nr. SH21221.

Fig 3: Example of the youngest coin of Tiberius in the Triton X hoard with an older portrait and a more ornate style (group 6) compared to the early coin of fig 2 (for example the decorated legs of the chair), sold by Forum Ancient Coins nr. SH 20737

 

The wear per coin type offers some additional information. Although there still is some debate about the exact dating of the Tiberian coins, it is clear which types are the youngest and oldest. In his study published in 1983, Giard divided the denarii of Tiberius in six chronological groups.[i] The oldest types are dated very early in the reign of Tiberius because the portrait still strongly resembles the portrait of the predecessor Augustus, a smooth portrait transition known from later Roman emperors as well. Already at the end of the reign of Augustus (11-13 CE), some denarii for Tiberius where minted with his portrait, bare headed, no laureate yet, and the resemblance confirms the dating early in the reign of Tiberius. Over time, the portrait of Tiberius clearly got older what helps to attribute the oldest portrait to the latest years of his reign, including a wave like pattern of the wreath-ties. In addition, changes in the details of the seated female figure at the reverse support the chronology. The early coins show a'early plain style’ with the female seated in a simple chair on a podium, symbolized by a second line, the same configuration as the chair of the coins minted 11-13 CE (fig 2). The chairs of the youngest coins of Tiberius (group 6) are much more detailed (fig 3). Changes in the ornamentation of the chair, the presence of a footstool in some cases, the depiction of the spear or sceptre and the number of lines beneath the chair all helped to define the chronology.

 

A further analysis of the wear of the hoard coins can offer additional information. The time of circulation can be roughly estimated, knowing the hoard coins all have been buried and left circulation at the same moment. For this analysis, the youngest and oldest coins of the'seated female’ denarii of Tiberius offer an interesting source for comparison within the hoard. The weight of these coins was quite stable during his reign. So differences in weight reflect differences in wear. In the sample of 96 Tiberian coins, the average weight of the hoard coins in the condition Very Fine is 3.53 gram compared to only 3.38 gram for the coins in condition Fine. So condition for these coins is related to weight. In the sample of 96 Tiberian coins, there are 12 denarii of Tiberius of the early group 1 of Giard and 29 late denarii of group 5-6 of Giard 36-37 CE, all of the seated female type. The time difference is about two decades, or a little less depending on the length of the early and late stage. As expected, the wear of the younger coins on average is less then the wear of the early coins. Of the late type coins, 55% is in the condition Very Fine, about 1/3th more then the 42% for the early coins. And of the youngest group no coin has the condition Fine, the worse condition being Good Fine. Of the oldest Tiberian coins, 17% is in the condition Fine.

 

This is reflected in a lower average weight of the oldest Tiberian coins compared to the youngest Tiberian coins in the sample of the hoard. The average weight of the first group is 3.34 gram and for the second group 3.52 gram. It suggests the average weight dropped from 3.52 to 3.34 gram in about two decades of additional circulation, an average yearly wear of 0.26%. Interestingly this yearly weight loss compares quite well with known coin statistics. Data of coin wear in the 19th century give an impression of the average wear of silver coins in economies that resembled the ancient economy more then current coin circulation.[ii] The yearly weight loss of the English silver penny (5.23 gram) was 0.26% up to 1906/09 and 0.22% for the French franc (5.00 gram) up to 1884/88.

 

The amount of wear suggests a burial date much later then the minting date of the youngest coins of Tiberius who died in 37 CE. The average aimed weight of denarii of Tiberius was in the range of 3.7 gram.[iii] At an average weight decrease of 0.26% a year, it takes a coin of 3.7 gram about two decades to reach a weight of 3.52 gram. This would imply a burial date around 60 CE (37+20=57). Interestingly, Butcher and Ponting based on new analysis concluded that Nero at the latest in 61 CE started to add copper to the silver used for minting denarii, possibly linked to a transfer of the mint form Lyon to Rome. And in 64 CE, Nero introduced a strong debasement towards about 80% silver content against about 98% before.[iv] The impact of this reform was the hoarding of older purer denarii. It’s the effect of the famous economic Law of Gresham which says that'bad money drives out good money’. As a result, monetary reforms are in many cases reflected in the hoarding of old coins.

 

Unfortunately, there are several uncertainties. The aimed weight, for example, is subject of debate. A few examples from the hoard itself of 3.9 gram show the weight was not 100% stable. And Duncan-Jones calculated for denarii in hoards of the 2nd century CE a lower average yearly wear of 0,06%. Given the uncertainties, it should be stressed that the wear does not proof the burial in the time of the Neronian reform. It only shows such a burial period is possible from the perspective of coin wear. In any case, the lack of Extremely Fine and Mint State coins in the hoard of 175 pieces indicates burial at the earliest during the reign of Claudius (41 – 54 CE) and possibly Nero (54-68 CE). The large share of denarii of Tiberius points in the same direction. According to the CNG catalogue only 7% of the denarii (12 coins) are from Augustus and the rest of Tiberius. Turner lists six other early imperial Roman silver hoard from India with more then 100 denarii and information about the number of coins per emperor.[v] One hoard, discovered in Vellalur in 1931, consist of Augustan denarii only. For the other five hoards the share of Tiberian denarii varies between 50 and 74%, in all cases considerably lower then the 93% of the Triton X hoard. The hoard of Akenpalle with only 51% Tiberian coins includes 0,9% later denarii, the youngest one being of Nero, implying a burial after 54 CE. The larger the share of the denarii of Tiberius, the later the probable burial date of the hoard. The majority of the 771 Tiberian denarii of the Akenpalle hoard cluster around a comparable weight of 3.49 gram.[vi]

 

The Claudian or more probably Neronian burial date raises the question why denarii are missing of the other Julio-Claudian emperors, including Caligula (37-41 CE). Part of the answer is that these three emperors until the reform of Nero minted much less denarii then Augustus and Tiberius who apparently had saturated the supply of silver coins for a few decades. However, these emperors did mint some denarii and in a sample of 175 pieces one would expect at least some of them. The explanation is probably offered by Turner who suggested that during the first century EC the Romans selected just two types of denarii for the trade with India. There are about 6,000 Roman denarii known from India, most of them from coin hoards, the largest two of them containing about 1400 denarii each.[vii] Only a few single finds of denarii are known, indicating that they played no serious role in the regular coin circulation in India. What made the Roman denarii special to the local silver Indian coinage was the very high silver content. With a silver content of about 98% until the debasement of Nero, the Roman denarii where almost pure silver.[viii] Butcher and Ponting remark that producing coins with such a high silver content requires special techniques. And Turner remarks that the skill of low relief die-cutting was not widely known in India in the first century CE.[ix]

 

As a result, the Roman silver coins acted as tradable pieces of pure silver with the Roman portrait and reverse as quality mark. Turner suggests that two types where selected for the sake of simplicity.[x] This does make sense. A local imitation discussed below, illustrates that the local Indian people could not read the Roman letters and text, having their own very different script. So it was very practical that two high volume denarii where selected with a comparable obverse, and two distinctive reverses. As a result, the local people only needed to recognize 2 different coins. And the Romans could easily select them from the silver money supply in the Roman Empire, where the two types formed a major share of the silver coins available during the early Roman Empire.

 

Fig. 4: Denarius of Augustus of the coin hoard. Weight 3.815 gram, maximum diameter 19.5 mm, die-axis 180o, , sold by Forum Ancient Coins nr. SH 2103.

 

This preselection also explains why the hoard contains only one type of denarius of Augustus. For the denarii of Tiberius the single type of the seated female is easy to explain because this was the only issue from the second year of Tiberius (15 CE) onwards. For Augustus the picture is different however as the Roman mint produced a broad range of denarii during his reign. The hoard only contains the denarius showing the young brothers Gaius and Lucius, adopted by Augustus in 17 BCE and for a long time his favoured heirs. They are standing in a toga virilis, holding a shield and two spears. Above them are the lituus and simpulum, the priestly implements as sign of their assumption of priestly duties (fig 4). There is a variant with the lituus and simpulum reversed. The minting of these coins started in 2 BCE as they mention the title pater patriae which Augustus accepted that year.[i] Lucius died in 2 CE and Gaius in 4 CE, leaving Tiberius as the new heir. It is possible that the minting stopped in 4 CE, although the large volume suggests that the coinage lasted longer. Mattingly assumes minting continued until 11 CE, an assumption followed by many others.[ii] The large volume minted is illustrated by the special find in Kalkriese (Germany). This was the site of the famous battle against the Germans where the Roman general Varus lost three legions in 9 CE. The coins found gave a unique view of the coins in the pockets of the soldiers. It showed that at that moment 30% of the denarii of Augustus in circulation where of the Gaius and Lucius type.[iii] This is a large share, but at the same time it means 70% of the circulating denarii of Augustus where of a different type. The change to pick 12 coins from such a circulation and all of them being of the Gaius and Lucius type, like in the hoard, is extremely small.[iv]  It makes clear this type has been selected for shipment to India.

 

After being issued, the'cohort’ of coins minted in a certain year still in circulation, decreases year after year. Some coins are lost, others are buried in a hoard and sometimes not recovered, and some coins are melted or used as part of jewellery. At the same time, new coins are minted year after year. As a result, the share of for example the Gaius and Lucius denarii diminished year after year. This is clearly shown in this hoard where they are outnumbered 13:1 by the younger denarii of Tiberius. And later on, the same process would step by step reduce the number of circulating Tiberian denarii in the same way. It seems denarii of later Roman emperors where much less easy accepted in India. In the large Akenpalle hoard, for example, the 1506 denarii are mainly Augustus and Tiberius, and only 0.9% of one of the later emperors Caligula, Claudius or Nero.[v] As a result, an increasing shortage of the acceptable silver coins of Augustus and Tiberius developed over time. This may have been a reason to produce local imitations as substitute. However, the hoard suggests the production of these imitations started already earlier. According to Turner, such imitations are only known in comparable numbers from the hoard of Akenpalle, with in addition the hoard of Nashullapur with one imitation, both sites at the north of the Krishna River. This is much more to the north then the find spot of most other Roman silver hoards within a 30-kilometre radius of the beryl-mines at Coimbatore.[vi] This may indicate a local production site of the imitations, although it is also possible that imitations have not been recognized as such in other cases, knowing that most hoards are not described in detail.[vii]

 

Fig 5: A local imitation of a denarius of Tiberius, on the obverse blundered reading of CAESAR DVI AVG F AVGVSTVS as TILLFSLRIVIAVCFAVGVSTVS. Reverse blundered reading of PONTIF MAXIM as ONIIF MANIM. Weight 3.008 gram, max diameter 18.2 mm, die-axis 180, sold by Forum Ancient Coins nr. SH20732.

 

Fig 6: A local imitation of a denarius of Tiberius, cast. Weight 3.235 gram, max diameter 19.9 mm, die-axis 45, sold by Forum Ancient Coins nr. SH21014.

 

Fig 7: A local imitation, struck. Weight 3.554 gram, max diameter 18.6 mm, die-axis 90, sold by Forum Ancient Coins nr. SH20307.

 

In any case, it is interesting that the Triton X hoard consisting of several imitations next to the denarii minted in the official Roman mint. Very interesting is the example with blundered texts, showing the imitators did not understand the original text (fig 5).  The normal obverse text is CAESAR DVI AVG F AVGVSTVS. On this coin, this became a text like TILLFSLRIVIAVCFAVGVSTVS. The normal reverse text PONTIF MAXIM became ONIIF MANIM. This coin was cast (weight only 3.008 gram), using another coin as original to create the casting mould. This process may explain (part of) the errors. The first P may have been missing on this imitation as a result of using as example a Roman coin which may have been lacking this letter being worn and/or off centre. Other worn letters may have caused the other misreadings. Some other cast coins in the hoard appear to have been based directly on coins from the Roman mint as they show no such writing errors (fig 6). Some imitations where not cast but struck as another example from the hoard illustrates (fig 7).

 

 

Fig 8: silver denarius of Tiberius, brockage strike error and probably an eastern or Indian imitation given the low weight of 2.408 gram, sold by Forum Ancient Coins nr. RS16632.

 

Fig 9: silver imitative denarius from India, imitating a denarius of Augustus, sharing the die with 2 other known examples. The high weight (8.147 gram) and specific type of flan, sold by Forum Ancient Coins nr. RS39137.

 

The only other hoard with a large number of imitations is the Akenpalle hoard with 24 imitations of Augustus and 31 of Tiberius, a total of 55 coins or 4% of all hoard coins.[i] While all these imitations are struck, the sample of the Triton X hoard contains at least 11 cast imitations (11%). The cast examples are on average quite light: a sample of 11 cast coins shows an average weight of 3.26 gram compared to the aimed weight of 3.7 gram. However, the wear of the cast coins is also quite high with only 36% in the condition Very Fine. So the relatively low weight seems to reflect the relatively high wear. This suggests at least some of the cast coins have been produced earlier then the youngest coins of Tiberius which show a average higher weight. However, wear of the imitations may offer a distorted picture in case the moulds where produced from worn original coins. At the same time, an early start of the first imitations could explain that 36% is based on the oldest type compared to only 10% for the other 85 Tiberian denarii. The die-axis of the cast coins shows a random distribution (0, 45,90, 105, 180 and 225 degrees) with only a above average share (27%) for the 180 degree die-axis. This is also the pattern for all 101 coins in the sample with 26% share for the 180-degree die-axis.[ii] In line with the imitations in the Triton X hoard, Turner remarks that the other imitations from India generally are of comparable weight to the original Roman coins. And metallurgical analysis of one imitation according to Turner also showed a relatively high silver content of 96,18%.[iii] The average maximum diameter of the 11 cast coins (18.75 mm, range 18.1 – 19.9 mm) is also close to the average of 19.0 mm (range 17.4 – 20.3 mm) for all 96 Tiberian coins of the sample.

 

There are no minting errors among the imitations although other examples show they did exist. For example Forum Ancient Coins sold an interesting example of a brockage strike error of a silver denarius of Tiberius which may have been produced in India (fig 8). Two other Indian imitations sold by the same seller, also unprovenanced, are both from a single die and share this die with another example sold in 2002 by CNG (fig 9).[iv] Sharing dies is typical for coins which have been hoarded shortly after entering circulation, in many cases close to the site of production. The cast coins in the sample of the Triton X hoard are all different, what fits the impression they have been circulating for quite some time before being hoarded.

 

The wear pattern in the hoard can offer some more information regarding the dating of the Tiberian denarii of group 3-4 of Giard. The average weight of the 53 coins in this group 3-4 is 3.52 gram, the same as the average for the 29 coins in the youngest group 5-6. This suggests that the coins of this type have been minted in the second half of the reign of Tiberius, close to the dating of the youngest Tiberian coins. In the past, it has been suggested that minting volume increased considerably after the monetary shortage in 33 CE, mentioned by Tacitus.[v]

Here again, the uncertainties in the data should be stressed, meaning it only offers a rough indication. Some other Roman silver hoards from India show a large share of bankers marks. This is not the case in the Triton X hoard. 

 

In conclusion, the Triton X hoard offers a lot of new information. In case one or more pieces have been acquired by public collections, it would be interesting to conduct some further research.[vi] Butcher and Ponting, for example, have suggested that imitative denarii of India may be recognized by a very different isotope signature compared to the denarii of the Roman mints. They suggested a denarius form a UK hoard with a very different isotope signature may be minted in India, and it would be interesting to compare this signature with the examples form the Triton X hoard.[vii]  

 

Bibliography

 

- Ball, W, 2002: Rome in the east. The transformation of an empire. London.

- Berger, F., 1996: Kalkriese 1. Die römischen Fundmünzen. Mainz.

- Butcher, K, and M. Ponting, 2005: The Roman denarius under Julio-Claudian emperors: mints, metallurgy and technology. Oxford Journal of Archaeology 24(2),163-197.

- Duncan-Jones, R.P., 1994: Money and government in the Roman Empire. Cambridge University Press.
- Giard, J-B, 1983: Le monnayage de l’atelier de Lyon, des origines au règne de Caligula (43 avant J.C. – 41 après J.C.). Numismatique Romaine XIV. Wetteren.

- Krishnamurthy, R, 1994: Late Roman Copper Coins from South India: Karur and Madurai. Madras.

- Mattingly, H., 1923: Coins of the Roman Empire in the British Museum. A catalogue of Roman coins in the British Museum. BMCRE Volume I. Augustus to Vitellius. London.

- Sridhar, T.S., S. Suresh en N. Sundararajan, 2011: Roman coins in the government museum Chennai. With a detailed catalogue of the denarii hoard from Budinatham (Tamil Nadu). Chennai.

- Sutherland, C.H.V., 1984: The Roman imperial coinage, volume I. 31 BC – AD 69. Revised edition. London.

- Turner, P.J., 1989: Roman coins from India. London.

- Walburg, R., 1996: The preserved part of the Matara coin hoard, Sri Lanka. Lanka-Roman imitations of late Roman copper coins in the British Museum. London.



[i] Turner 1989, 39, 47 and table 3.

[ii] Sutherland 1984, 92 about the irregular system in the die-axes.

[iii] Turner 1989, 38-39.

[iv] Forum Ancient Coins nr. RS39137 and RS 38740, and CNG auction 60 (2002) nr. 1483; The imitations mention, by the way, suggest that in the first century CE, before the large scale minting of the younger denarii, some earlier denarii did enter India.

[v] Tacitus Ann. VI.16-17.

[vi] All 101 coins of the sample have been sold and dispersed along unknown collections.

[vii] Butcher and Ponting 2005, 193-194.

 


[i] Mattingly 1923,  cxvi.

[ii] Sutherland 1984, 88; Butcher and Ponting 2005, 165.

[iii] Berger 1996, 27.

[iv] 0,312 = 0,0000005/100st = 0,00005%

[v] Turner 1989,47 and 124 table 3.

[vi] Turner 1989,10-11 and 16; Ball 2002, 127.

[vii] Turner 1989, 8 and 14 about the lack of detailed descriptions of many hoards.



[i] Giard 1983, 47-48 and 124-128.

[ii] Numbers in Duncan-Jones 1994, 191-192,  partly based on a study of Grierson in 1965.

[iii] Butcher and Ponting 2005, 164 footnote 1.

[iv] Butcher and Ponting 2005, 178-179.

[v] Turner 1989,3.

[vi] Turner 1989,39.

[vii] Turner 1989, 23-24.

[viii] Butcher and Ponting 2005,175 and 178-180 for recent measurements.

[ix] Butcher and Ponting 2005, 187; Turner 1989, 40.

[x] Turner 1989,  24.



[i] CNG Auction January 8th 2007 Lot nr. 1559.

[ii] Mainly as part of the sold items of the'Tribute penny’, the hoard coins being the coins provenanced'ex Triton X, lot 1559’ : https://www.forumancientcoins.com/catalog/roman-and-greek-coins.asp?vpar=807&pos=0&sold=1; in addition a search on internet generated 7 more coins with the inventory numbers 20305, 20684, 20723, 21030, 21031, 27901 and 27910.

[iii] Personal comment by Joe Sermarini,  August 2012.

 

 

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