Sunday 26 June 2022

Greek and Roman Provincial Coins Found in England and Wales


A question  arose in correspondence with a reader and I suggested that for a comparison to what we were discussing, they looked at the occurrence of Greek and Roman provincial coins in England and Wales on the Portable Antiquities Scheme "Database". They reported some problems, so I decided to extract the data myself and send them. When you start to do that... what a complete ballsup. The PAS (stricte: the well-paid staff of the British Museum), shamed by the fact that UKDND had started doing this before them, spent ages a few years ago, well before the Pandemic lockdown, getting up "guides"  to various finds categories. In effect what they did was create something that was not much more than a wordy online numismatic guide - as if there were no coin books on the planet. 

Anyway, the one of Greek and Roman Provincial coins is rubbish. They spent ages creating a list of all the possible rulers that could issue the things... it goes into 30 pages, 506 rulers, and that's a waste of time because coins of most of those rulers never reached the British Isles (these coins circulated locally, mostly around the eastern Mediterranean). But when you turn to the issuing places, you find a shorter list . When however you start clicking, you find most of the fields are empty and the ones that are not contain links to BYZANTINE coins. What a public-funded fiasco.

Using the search engine, one finds that all this wasted effort was to "provide a background" for just 346 coins

Since the PAS database is mainly geared up to creating dot-distribution maps, here's one for the Greek issues ("500BC to 50 AD") on the left and ones for provincial issues of the Roman period ("40AD to 450AD") on the right generated by the clunky map-making application that forms part of the PAS database. Does this pattern mean anything? What does it mean? 

Let's look at this. This is where according to the table in the right sidebar of the PAS database display the coins in the PAS database were from:  

county of origin: Kent (27), Wrexham (22), Hampshire (18), Monmouthshire (15), Lincolnshire (14), Oxfordshire (14), Newport (11), Cornwall (10), East Riding of Yorkshire (10), Isle of Wight (10), Powys (9), Suffolk (9), Essex (7), Leicestershire (7), Norfolk (7), North Yorkshire (7), Nottinghamshire (7), Buckinghamshire (6), Darlington (5), East Sussex (5), Gwynedd (5), Medway (5), West Sussex (5), Cambridgeshire (4), Carmarthenshire (4), Cheshire East (4), Cumbria (4), Greater London Authority (4), North Lincolnshire (4), Surrey (4), Swansea (4), County of Herefordshire (3), Denbighshire (3), Devon (3), Hertfordshire (3), Lancashire (3), Warwickshire (3), Wiltshire (3), Wirral (3), Worcestershire (3), Cardiff (2), Central Bedfordshire (2), Cheshire West and Chester (2), Derbyshire (2), Doncaster (2), Flintshire (2), Neath Port Talbot (2), Northamptonshire (2), Pembrokeshire (2), Rhondda Cynon Taf (2), Shropshire (2), Staffordshire (2), Tameside (2), Wakefield (2), West Berkshire (2), Windsor and Maidenhead (2), Bath and North East Somerset (1), Calderdale (1), Ceredigion (1), City of Peterborough (1), Halton (1), Kirklees (1), Newcastle upon Tyne (1), Northumberland (1), Sefton (1), Solihull (1), Somerset (1), South Tyneside (1), Stockton-on-Tees (1), Wokingham (1), York (1), the Vale of Glamorgan(1)
Interesting. The 22 Wrexham ones are from a find called "Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog" and are all records imported from the IARCW ("a corpus of work produced by Peter Guest and Nick Wells, entitled "Iron Age and Roman coins of Wales@. There are no images to accompany this series and our staff did not identify these coins. Questions about these data should be directed to Dr Guest/ Dr Wells"). So why are they in the PAS database and not the IARCW one? In fact as many as 82 of the Greek and Roman provincial coins found by members of the public in the PAS database are data imported equally blindly from the IARCW database... this rather would skew their geographical distribution (Wrexham (22), Monmouthshire (15), Newport (11), Powys (8), Gwynedd (5), Carmarthenshire (4), Swansea (4), Cardiff (2), Denbighshire (2), Neath Port Talbot (2), Pembrokeshire (2), Rhondda Cynon Taf (2), Ceredigion (1), Flintshire (1), the Vale of Glamorgan (1)). What is more that with the exception of three finds, from Powys, Denighshire and Flintshire, all the Welsh records in the PAS database came from the IARCW data, gathered by unknown means, and therefore not comparable to the PAS data. Why are they even there? 

Taking all of these finds (PAS and IARCW) together * we can find the following pattern of coins recorded in the PAS database  according to the  information presented in the table in the right sidebar of the PAS database display:
Septimius Severus (27), Diocletian (13), Probus (13), Caracalla (8), Julia Domna (8), Trajan (8), Hadrian (7), Gordian III (6), Antoninus Pius (5), Juba I (5), Severus Alexander (5), Alexander III (4), Diadumenian Caesar (4), Nero (4), Philip II (4), Ptolemy II (4), Aurelian (3), Carinus (3), Ptolemy VI (3), Uncertain Roman Provincial (3), Antiochus IV (2), Azes (2), Cassander (2), Claudius (2), Commodus (2), Demetrius I (2), Elagabalus (2), Hermaeus (2), Hieron II (2), Kujula Kadphises (2), Maximian I (2), Maximinus I (2), Philip I (2), Ptolemy (2), Ptolemy I (2), Trajan Decius (2), Vabalathus (2), Agathocles (1), Alexander the Great (1), Amyntas III (1), Antiochus VIII (1), Apollodotus I (1), Augustus (1), Azes II (1), Domitian (1), Galba (1), Gallienus (1), Geta (1), Juba II (1), Julia Mamaea (1), Kanishka (1), Lucius Verus (1), Marcus Aurelius (as Caesar), (1), Maximian (1), Menander (1), Nerva (1), Numerian (1), Philip III (1), Ptolemy III (1), Salonina (1), Sextus Pompeius (1), Timoleon (1), Tranquillina (1), Trebonianus Gallus (1), Uncertain - 1st/2nd Century AD (1), Valerian I (1), Vespasian(1)
and Place of Issue, as presented by the table in the right sidebar of the PAS database display:
Alexandria -Egypt (34), Alexandria - Egypt (26), Laodiceia Combusta (24), Emisa (8), Nicaea, Bithynia (6), Syracuse (6), Carthage (5), Ebusus (5), Lycia (5), Massalia (5), Byzantium (4), Numidia (4), Sardinian (4), Sicily (4), Athens (3), Caesarea, Cappadocia (3), Sicilian mint (3), Antioch (2), Antioch (Antakya, Turkey), (2), Antioch (Syria), (2), Bactria (2), Carteia (2), Nicopolis ad Istrum (2), Sardes (2), Syrian Mint? (2), Agrigentum (1), Amisus (1), Amphipolis (1), Antioch, Syria (1), Aradus (1), Babylon (1), Camarina (1), Carmo (1), Centuripae (1), Colophon (1), Commagene (1), Cranium (1), Cyprus (1), Cyrene (1), Deultum (1), Ecbatana (1), Emporiae (1), Ephesus (1), Hierapolis (1), Istrus (1), Macedonia (1), Mamertines (1), Massicytes (1), Nisibis (1), Odessus (1), Pamphylia (1), Pella (1), Philippi (1), Philippopolis (1), Poseidonia (1), Punic-Sardinia (1), Samos (1), Sekaisa (1), Siculo-Punic (1), Tabae (1), Tauromenium (1), Thessalonica (1), Tomis (1), Viminacium (1), Uncertain (5), Uncertain (11),

We can analyse these data from the database. I've already done that for the Alexandrian tetradrachms  in the PAS database and in the process shown why accurate interpretation has significance far beyond just intellectual curiosity: 'Alexandrian Tetras and US Coiney Dishonesty' PACHI Monday, 2 June 2014. I am of the opinion that some, and very probably many, of these finds were modern collectors' losses or possibly modern 'plants' rather than an indication of any substantial coin circulation in Roman times (see the 60 examples now in the database above). 

Those 24 coins from Laodiceia Combusta in the region of Pisidia, central Anatolia were all data imported from the IARCW database, and one (Geta Caesar/Septimus Severus) was found in 'Duffryn' (Newport), and another 23 were of Julia Domna/Septimius Severus, one from 'Segontium', and the rest were from that 'Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog' find. No details are available for the circumstances or date of discovery, or how they are interpreted. The same goes for all but one of the Emisa coins (IARCW data).

One could go through the list and look at where these coins are coming from, and how they are dated... but it seems to me not worth the bother for two reasons. Since we do not know from the database anything at all about the site context (one 'ploughed field' is not equal to the next 'ploughed field' in terms of what it contains and how it got there), using the database as presented, we cannot really make anything except a guess as to whether a single recorded find is part of a contemporary coin scatter or whether it is a modern collectors' loss. I think the latter explanation is more likely for many of them. Secondly, and much more importantly, there are severe doubts as to what the PAS database is showing us anyway.

Take a closer look. I think if we do, we see that the PAS map-making thingy is a piece of crap. The dataset for mapping is 346, not an enormous number. There should be a cluster of 82 coins shown on that map in Wales. That's 82 (23%) of the 346 coins that the database search engine says are there. Count the dots. There are two shown on the map, two of the 82. What's going on?
Look at the totals above. Add up all the given numbers in brackets for the rulers... does it come to 346? Add up the numbers in brackets for the places of issue... do they come to 346? Well, no. No they do not. The total for the number of rulers (including uncertain ones) is 201, not 346. Then again the number of issuing places identified (including uncertain and unidentified ones) is 218, not 346, and not the same as the 201 in the table in the same sidebar from the same search!  So where do these numbers come from? Why is there a discrepancy and what information is missing (and why)? Presenting this material to the public that pay through the nose for it (whether they want it or not) as the results of all the work done for over quarter of a century by the British Museum (no less) and its team, for those millions of pounds, you'd either expect results that match and make sense or at least a transparent bit of accountability, or if they are hiding data from the public, there should be a clear notification of that and an indication of what is not there and why. Why is there neither transparency or accountability here

What is the point of incorporating smart-looking "digital analysis tools" into the public-funded database that do not actually work? The mapping application, as it is, is a gadget, a toy of no use to anyone to do anything useful. so if this part of the PAS database is just for show and does not actually work, how accurate are the results produced by the search engine itself? ARE there really 346 coins of this category in the database? Are the data that are shown representative of what is stored among those million plus records? And with over a million records, who is to ever know? The PAS can just roll out the big numbers and nobody would be any the wiser (including themselves). So what is the point of a database of questionable reliability?  

And what IS this crap at the bottom of the page, that has been there over a decade taking up space just above the British Museum logo ? What is it intended to be used for, who is it intended for and what the blazes does it show? (and if it shows something, why is there nothing anywhere on the webpage that explains that to the user of this website?).

While on the subject of the way the 'data' about individual decontextualised objects is presented on each dedicated page, the maps there I assume are just intended to be totally unusable and uninformative. Which they are. So why are they there at all? The point is, rather than faffing about taking up space with useless peripherals like this, more attention should be being paid to using the British Museum's resources to make the database more reliable and not "just for show". 

*For what it is worth, these are the data for the IARCW finds alone:
Septimius Severus (23), Julia Domna (7), Diocletian (3), Caracalla (2), Maximian I (2), Probus (2), Ptolemy I (2), Ptolemy II (2), Vabalathus (2), Antoninus Pius (1), Augustus (1), Aurelian (1), Demetrius I (1), Geta (1), Hieron II (1), Lucius Verus (1), Marcus Aurelius as Caesar (1), Nero (1), Philip I (1), Trajan (1), Trebonianus Gallus (1), Uncertain - 1st/2nd Century AD (1), Valerian I (1), Vespasian (1).
Laodiceia Combusta (24), Alexandria, Egypt (18), Uncertain (11), Emisa (7), Sicilian mint (3), Carteia (2), Syracuse (2), Agrigentum (1), Athens (1), Carmo (1), Centuripae (1), Commagene (1), Mamertines (1), Massicytes (1), Nisibis (1), Poseidonia (1), Tauromenium (1)

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