Silke Hahn | Project | Vita | Publications 

Hidden Values: Comparing Coin Hoards in Roman Germany across the Limes

Archaeology of Coinage, Money and the Economy in Antiquity
Supervision: Prof. Dr. Fleur Kemmers; Prof. Dr. Reinhard Wolters (Vienna)

Money allows people to forego social relations that are at the heart of early societies. But how far did the societies of Roman Germany go on the road to altering those traditional links? Depositions of Roman coins demonstrate a wide-spread practice of coin-hoarding which has left its traces across the northwestern edges of the Roman Empire – and beyond. However, the fundamental bias of the archaeological record causes a methodological dilemma for any attempted interpretation: hoards recovered today are fragments of a wider spread practice which left no material traces after contemporary retrieval. Despite this the evidence can still help us to understand the practices creating hoards.

My PhD project analyses the context and composition of coin hoards found in the northwestern contact zone of Imperial Rome and its Germanic neighbours. Selected case studies illustrate the importance of taking into account both sides of the Limes. A more diverse picture is revealed by comparing regional patterns of coin distribution and the composition of coin hoards in Germania Inferior, the northern periphery of Germania Superior, northwestern Germania Magna and the area of today's Denmark. Comparison raises further questions:

·      Do coin hoards reflect contrasting contemporary conceptions of value?

·      Can coin hoards tell us more about social relations, the social circulation of valuables and socio- historical change?

·      Does the Limes constitute a "frontier" in terms of cultural practice and monetary vs. social circulation?

The underlying question is an anthropological one: why did people bury coins? Are coin hoards expressions of specific value systems, beyond the "moneyness" of coins? Did this practice have the same meaning outside of the Roman Empire?  Comparison with e.g. weapon depositions might be useful. My project aims to approach the complex nature of coins as currency, commodity and objects of prestige with (ascribed!) value which percolate political borders.