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Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Curious Coins from Batheaston

Recently, visited Batheaston to display a range of incredible objects from the local area. Of course, I chose my favourite subject – coins! We had several lovely Roman coins on display, from Emperor Domitian (77AD) to Emperor Gratian (367AD), but my two favourite coins found during excavations at the Batheaston Bypass aren’t Roman at all…

Visitors to Batheaston Scout Hut find out about the archaeology of the area

The first is what I think is one of the most beautiful coins in the collection. It is a sceat (a small silver coin) from the eighth century AD - just before the Viking invasion. It might have been minted in Denmark, or Frisia (now part of the Netherlands or Northern Germany), but there is a lot of ongoing debate about when and where these coins were made.

On one side, there is the bearded face of the Ancient German sky god called “Wodan”, related to the Norse god Odin. On the other there is a mythical monster, possibly a dragon!

The Woden/Monster sceat from Batheaston

The second is a European copy of an English silver penny, originally minted for Edward I (1288-1299). At the time, these were nicknamed “crockards”, which is a term of uncertain origin. There is also a medieval Latin word crocardus which is translated as “bad money”, but this may have been derived from the English term and not the other way round.

At the time, the English silver penny was famous throughout Europe for its quality and purity. European merchants would trade their goods to the English for the coins. Then they would melt down the coins, mix the silver with some cheaper metal, and mint more coins for themselves. By making the coins look like the English pennies, they could then pretend that the coins were just as high in value as the originals.

However, the crockards weren’t considered “counterfeit”, because they were not identical to the English pennies. The names of the European moneyers were on the coins, and instead of the royal crown, Edward I is wearing a “chaplet of roses” – or a flower crown!

A 'crockard' from Batheaston - with Edward I in a flower crown!

Our coin was minted by John, Duke of Brabant (part of Belgium), who was Edward I’s son-in-law.  

At first, Edward tried to use crockards as currency, saying that they were worth half a penny instead of a full penny, but this was confusing, and soon he decided that all the crockards should be destroyed instead. This makes our coin very special!

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