1,600-year-old coin discovered in Channel Islands features Roman emperor killed by invading Goths

By Jurassic JennJun 29, 2024 09:36 AMScience
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1,600-year-old coin discovered in Channel Islands
1,600-year-old coin discovered in Channel Islands. Source: www.livescience.com

Archaeological excavations on the Channel Islands, situated off the coast of France, have unveiled an intriguing find – two coins from the Roman era. Among the numismatic discoveries is a coin illustrating a young Caesar who met an untimely demise and another showcasing a Roman emperor who fell at the hands of invading Goths.

These coin findings, along with previous unearthing of Roman structures including remnants of a fort, provide evidence of Romans' presence on Alderney, the northernmost island in the Channel. Archaeologist Jason Monaghan, affiliated with the excavation and serving as the secretary of Dig Alderney, suggested that the Romans likely established a fort on Alderney to monitor the trade route between the Mediterranean and France, deterring piracy and ensuring the safe passage of ships carrying valuable cargo, such as oil and wine.

Although archaeological explorations have been ongoing on Alderney since 2008, there is still much beneath the surface waiting to be revealed. In 2017, electrical workers made the remarkable discovery of Iron Age burials and fragments of a Roman building, indicating centuries of human habitation on the island.

Further examination of the Roman-era structure uncovered three rooms, with a courtyard on one side, a paved area on the other, and a refuse collection site on the southeastern corner. Notably, one of the coins was discovered within this refuse area. The silver coin, known as an "antoninianus," dates back to A.D. 255 and holds a value of two denarii, which were the standard silver coins during the Roman period. This particular coin bears the image of Valerian II, the teenage grandson of Roman emperor Valerian who was granted the title of caesar. Tragically, Valerian II's life was cut short under dubious circumstances just two years later.

Describing the coin of Valerian II, Monaghan highlighted its size, likening it to "a little bit bigger than my thumbnail." It features the portrait of the young caesar, who, as an assistant emperor, met his untimely end during his teenage years. Due to inflation during the period of the Roman Empire, the coins were no longer solid silver, as the empire needed to reduce the value of its currency.

In another layer of the building, archaeologists uncovered a bronze coin depicting Roman co-emperor Valens. This coin, minted between A.D. 364 and 367, gains significance from Valens' demise at the Battle of Adrianople when invading Goths ended his life. Monaghan characterized the coin as a low-value bronze, indistinctly stamped due to poor striking. Evidently, the Valens coin aligns with the time of construction of the nearby Roman fort, approximately 90 feet (27 meters) from the building. Little is known about the inhabitants of the island aside from the soldiers stationed in the fort, suggesting the presence of families or government officials. Consequently, the function of the building remains ambiguous, but the expanse of Alderney's sand dunes likely conceals numerous Roman-era structures.

Monaghan, drawing a parallel to Pompeii, referred to Alderney's excavated areas as a "mini Pompeii," emphasizing the wealth of historical remnants beneath the surface. In addition to the Roman finds, archaeologists have also identified several well-preserved human remains in an exceptionally profound Iron Age burial ground.

The ongoing archaeological endeavors on Alderney continue to shed light on the island's extensive historical significance, uncovering remnants from different periods, thus deepening our understanding of the region's rich cultural heritage.

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