Silver denarii from Westgate

Obverse faces of the six Roman denarii from Slitt Wood (see description for details).
Source: Paul Frodsham.
Copyright: Paul Frodsham.

Silver denarii from Westgate

Reverse faces of the six Roman denarii from Slitt Wood (see description for details)..
Source: Paul Frodsham.
Copyright: Paul Frodsham.

The Tortie Stone
Original Location: Slitt Wood, Westgate, Weardale
Current Location: Weardale Museum, Ireshopeburn
Theme: Economic/Ritual
Period: Roman
Date: c.101 – 175 AD

What is it?
Six second-century Roman silver ‘denarii’ coins from Slitt Wood, Westgate, Weardale. Kindly loaned to the Weardale Museum (where they are on display) by their owner, Mr Malcolm Nattrass.

What is its relevance to the North Pennines?
These six coins were found in an area well-known for its medieval and post-medieval lead mining heritage. There is good reason for believing, though as yet no archaeological proof, that mining for lead and silver may have been underway here in Roman times. These coins may well have been offerings made at a shrine, either in anticipation of, or in thanks for, a good return from mining operations. Several other Roman coins have also been found in the vicinity, though sadly these appear now to be lost. For obvious reasons, the exact location of the finds is not being publically revealed until it has been archaeologically investigated.

The coins range in date from 101 to 175 AD, though their date of deposition could be later. Brief summaries are as follows:

  1. (Top left of both images). Trajan (Emperor, 97-117 AD). Reverse depicts Arabia holding a branch and a bundle of cinnamon sticks, with a camel behind. This coin was minted in 101 or 102 to celebrate the annexation of Arabia into the Roman Empire.
  2. (Top centre). Hadrian (Emperor 117-138 AD). Reverse depicts Pax standing with olive branch and sceptre. Pax was the Roman goddess of peace.
  3. (Top right). Vibia Sabina (wife of Hadrian, Empress 117- 137 AD). Reverse depicts Juno standing, with patera and sceptre. Juno was Queen of the Gods, patron of Rome and the Empire, and played various important roles in Roman religion, for example as goddess of marriage and motherhood.
  4. (Bottom left). Antoninus Pius (Emperor 138 - 161 AD). Reverse depicts Annona standing, with ears of corn in her right hand and her left hand resting on a modius (a vessel for measuring grain) standing on a ship’s prow (representing the transport of grain from source to market). Annona was the divine personification of the grain supply from rural areas, such as the Nile valley, to Rome.
  5. (Bottom centre). Faustina (Wife of Antoninus Pius, Empress 138-141 AD). This coin was struck after Faustina’s death in 141, when she was deified – hence the legend ‘DIVA FAVSTINA’ (meaning ‘Divine Faustina’). Reverse depicts Vesta standing, with simpulum (ladle) and palladium. Vesta was the goddess of the hearth, home and family, and is often depicted with simpulum and palladium, the latter being a cult image or statue of Pallas, kept in the Temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum, on which the safety of Rome was said to depend.
  6. (Bottom right). Faustina the younger (Daughter of Antoninus Pius, wife of Marcus Aurelius, Empress 161 – 175 AD). Reverse depicts Fecunditas standing with sceptre in her right hand, and an infant in her left arm. Fecunditas was the goddess of fertility.

Why is it important?
These coins were probably all minted a long way away from Weardale, and serve to demonstrate the links between Weardale and distant lands during the Roman occupation of Britain. Exactly how and why they found their way to Slitt Wood is not known, but it almost certainly relates in some way to Roman lead and silver mining in the area. Their presence here, along with that of other lost examples, suggests that rather more may have been going on in the wilds of the North Pennines during Roman times than we currently appreciate. As with so many aspects of North Pennines archaeology, more work is required if we are to approach a full understanding of these fascinating finds.

Further Information
In the New Testament, the gospels refer to the silver denarius coin as a day's wage for a common labourer (Matthew 20:2, John 12:5).

    Text References:
  • Set of Roman coins found in Slitt Wood, Westgate, 2005. Illustrated report produced by the Weardale Museum, Ireshopeburn.

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