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Thursday, October 1, 2020

Hacksilver use in pre and post-coinage antiquity

 The Capheaton Treasure, an important Roman silver hoard dating to the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE found in the village of Capheaton in Northumberland in northeast England was discovered in 1747.  Sadly, most of the treasure was melted down soon after it was found.  Of the six objects that remain, now in the British Museum, it is thought they originally composed a temple treasure of ornate silver vessels, four of them the handles of silver skillets and two objects that once formed the base and a fitting for a silver vessel. These pieces appear to be remnants of hacksilver that was common among the Vikings but may have also been used by the Romans in their dealings with Pictish tribes.

Hoards of hacksilver are also well known in pre and post-coinage antiquity, in European and Near Eastern contexts. The Cisjordan Corpus (c.1200-586 BCE) is the largest identified concentration of pre-coinage hacksilver hoards. The widespread adoption of Greek silver coinages by c. 480 BCE appears to have developed first out of cooperative relations between Greeks and Phoenicians, then partly as a competitive, culturally consolidating response to earlier Phoenician expansion and domination of silver trade, which had been conducted with hacksilver.  Archaeologists have used analyses of lead isotope ratios in hoards of the Cisjordan Corpus found in southern Phoenicia to associate them with the Sharadana tribes of Sardinia establishing evidence of a trading link between these cultures.  Another interesting tidbit, the name of the ruble, the basic unit of modern Russian currency, is derived from the Russian verb рубить ('rubit'), meaning "to chop", from the use of hacksilver by the Rus, described by Ahmad ibn Fadlan visiting the Volga Vikings in 922 CE.

The largest and most ornate remaining handle of the Capheaton Treasure depicts the Roman goddess Minerva above a temple scene of a seated figure of Mercury, Dionysus with a companion, and flanking figures (Zeus and Hera?) below. I photographed it at the British Museum in 2008:




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