Roman coins treasure sheds light on time when 'Shropshire was like Helmand Province'

A treasure hoard of 337 silver coins discovered near Gobowen two years ago gives an insight into a period of Roman history when Shropshire was more like the Afghan province of Helmand.

Peter Reavill excavating. Picture: Portable Antiquities Scheme
Peter Reavill excavating. Picture: Portable Antiquities Scheme

That's the view of Peter Reavill, who was one of the team called in after metal detectorist Darren Booth heard tell-tale beeps on his detecting equipment on September 8, 2019.

The hoard has an estimated value of "thousands" of pounds, which will be decided by a committee. Shropshire Museums is keen to buy the hoard and keep it locally.

Mr Booth and the club he is a member of, the HSS Mold (Historical Search Society, Mold), were praised by Mr Reavill for doing the right thing and reporting it straight away to the authorities.

Detectorist Darren Booth with some of the coins found near Gobowen

Mr Reavill is the finds liaison officer for Shropshire and Herefordshire under the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme.

"The latest coins in the hoard were dated from the time of the Emperor Vespasian (AD 69-79),when Shropshire was more like Helmand Province," said Mr Reavill.

"The army was in control but there were outbreaks of guerilla warfare.

"It's very much borderland and there were large military camps in the area and attacks were being launched into Wales. Shropshire wasn't Romanised until about AD90 or AD100. The coins give an insight into that time."

The Gobowen Hoard in detail. Pic: British Museum Trustees

In Roman times the hoard was worth about 18 months salary for a soldier and one idea is that he could have hidden it away in the middle of nowhere for safe keeping. Another is that a local farmer could have made a killing by selling things to the Romans. Or another that it was money used to pay off local rebels.

"It's hard to tell what happened," said Mr Reavill. "We're at the point where you can pick the sexiest story you want!"

The hoard contains a number of rare coins from the days of the Roman Republic as far back as 209 BC.

"They would have been antiques at the time, being 300 years old," said Mr Reaville who receives 100 emails a week and calls on a daily basis from people wondering if they have found anything significant.

The Gobowen Hoard under excavation. Picture: Portable Antiquities Scheme

In most cases there is little or no interest from the authorities, even though the finds may be treasure.

In this case Shropshire Museums is keen to buy them. But to do that it had to be declared a treasure, which Shropshire senior coroner concluded on Tuesday.

The finder and the landowner will be involved in setting a price with the experts at the British Museum in London. The museum will then be able to decide whether to buy it.

Mr Reavill reckons it will be valued in the "thousands but not tens of thousands", so not enough to change lives. It will be split between Mr Booth and the landowners.

A 3D image of the Gobowen Hoard. Picture: Portable Antiquities Scheme

"Darren will be able to buy everyone in the club a drink but it won't change his life," said Mr Reavill.

And the decision isn't likely to be soon.

"The committee hasn't met in since the pandemic but may do in the next six months," he added.

In the meantime it may be worth the metal detectorists going back to the same field, as the topsoil and subsoil may well have been mixed up again, to reveal another set of presents from Shropshire's history.

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