By Colin G. F. Thomas
subject of the Durotriges
a little ambitious. However, the coins of these pre-Celtic tribes do
certain fascination. These coins cannot be dated to any recognized time
at least not accurately, but a period of mid 1st
to mid 1st
Century AD seems to be common. Unfortunately a more defined dating
not, at this stage, possible.
Durotriges people are steeped in
mystery even though it is known that they existed and also known where
resided. The county of Dorset in southern England and the western part
Wiltshire and eastern part of Somerset seem to have been the boundaries
these people, with their main centre situated in what is now known as
is speculated that the word Durotriges
is derived in part from the Latin depicting water and people – hence –
of the water or those who lived near the water.
of the Durotriges have no known text
on them nor do they represent figures of human beings and this makes it
more difficult for the numismatist to identify and catalogue. One
however is quite common on the said coinage. A stylized disjointed
usually, but not always, appears on the reverse of a great number of
course other Celtic coinage depicts such figures but the Durotrigan
coinage appears to be of a cruder manufacture. Many are
struck in debased silver – billon staters – but gold and silver coins
Castle, Britain’s largest hillfort, was built prior to the period of
of the Durotriges, but was manned by
them as a major centre of activity. Today, over 2,000 years later, the
still stands as a testament to the abilities of those people. It covers
area with terraced levels and moats guarding the apex of the structure.
would have been a very easy place to defend and indeed battles have
Excavation in recent
burial sites in the vicinity where warriors had fallen in battle
obtain a complete story of the Durotriges
people would require a great deal more study. Precious little
exists and the coinage is, arguably, the main media by which study can
undertaken. Pottery, as in Roman times, has been found and it is known
potteries had been established to the east at Porchester and the north
Ilchester but of course the main centre of pottery production was at
where such items are still produced today. Much investigation needs to
but, as stated previously, the disjointed horse marks a distinctive
the coins relating to the Durotriges.
this in mind, one can only speculate about the origins of the hillside
Uffington in Berkshire. This massive carving, similar in design to the
as mentioned, stretches an incredible 114 metres by 40 metres high and
have had some significance to those who painstakingly made it. Perhaps
horse was an indication that religious ceremonies had taken place.
only three references have been found relating to the Durotriges.
The first was a mention made by Ptolemy the chronicler in
a history written almost 200 years after the tribes ceased to exist.
curiously, there are two written references on Hadrian’s Wall in the
England. It is believed that these people were mainly farmer gatherers
up arms when the Romans invaded in 43/44 AD. Their weapons,
could not match the might and power of the Roman war-machine. Armed
swords, spears and sling-shots they fought a battle against the mighty
ballister and many ballister-bolts have been found to suggest a
the people whose weapons were inferior. After this time, it seems that
people simply no longer existed. In excavated burial sites, a strange
has been found whereby the Durotriges
buried their dead in round graves. Those skeletons found, in almost all
were crouched in a foetal position, knees drawn up to the chin and
lying on the
right side. Some had weapons with them and many had the bones of
the skeletons suggesting food deposited for use in the after-life. And
pre-supposes that a kind of religious background existed and that they
believed in an after-life.
chroniclers have referred to these people as Celts but still others
appellation. The coins found, and there have been a number of caches
discovered, range in weight so another aspect of identification gives
numismatist more headaches. From study of the billon coinage a range of
3.8 grams to 5.5 grams is common. With no known written language,
hasten to add that some have ‘OMO’ on them, it is frustrating when
solve the mysteries of these people. Without text we do not know the
leaders or the chieftans who may have ruled these people. Such
hidden from the researcher. It is known that the Durotriges
inhabited hill forts, as previously
was Hod Hill where the onslaught of the Romans is clearly evident. It
imagined that the main focus of the attack was aimed at the chieftan’s round house, a
stone walls with thatched roof. Other members of the tribe would have
wooden walled structures. Many sites had many round houses within the
boundaries, the perimeters of which were guarded by high fences of
steaks driven into the ground.
is known about these people is the fact that a mint had been
Hengistbury Head on the southern coast. Oddly enough the word hengis is an old Saxon word for
stallion. Store pits have been found cut into the chalk hillsides.
would have been used to stash food for the winter months. Their food
of various breads made from wheat or barley, dried or salted meat,
such meat as horse and even dog. Cabbage and parsnip were a common
They did have woven clothing and although no such items have been found
England there have been discoveries of ‘hanging stones’ used to stretch
on the weaving frame whilst in production. Clothing from this period
however, been discovered in Denmark and is in a remarkably good state
preservation. Iron bars were also used as currency, iron being a
commodity. It is assumed that these iron bars were graded by weight.
what can we learn from studying the coins of the Durotriges ? The images
that appear on these coins must have some significance and meaning. I
believe that the symbols on these coins are just patterns used just
they look nice or symmetrical. They have not, I suggest, been
the marks on these coins represent a counting mechanism or the
some event or do they reflect a division of the year or the seasons?
disjointed horse depict a deity, something to be revered or worshipped?
the button forms show a harvest where harvest might refer to wealth?
ears of wheat may count for a healthy cache of food, again meaning
This, of course, is just speculation but it is interesting to imagine
meaning of the symbols on these coins stand for something vital to the
who produced them. Could these people have copied signs from the night
what value was put on these coins one might inquire.
Courtesy of Brian Beresford of the Havering Numismatic
Courtesy of Mike
(a) The standard
crook” divides the “wheat ears”.
Courtesy of Mike R.
(b) The text OMO can
seen in this example.
Courtesy of Mike R. Vosper.
The 3 coin photographs
were taken by
Mike Vosper in England. He has studied over 1,300 of these Durotriges
coins and has listed quite a number of them including
their various weights etc., (a) (b) and (c) are just three of the coins
by Mike and catalogued by him.
previously stated, to fully understand the Durotriges
people more study needs to be undertaken. Precious little
evident and the coinage, as in many cases throughout history, could be
factor in delving into the lives of these people. It is known that
apart from a
mint established at Hengistbury Head, a well established trading
centre existed. Merchandise
Europe by boat supplied various commodities not available locally. It
was by no
means a one way trade as pottery, mentioned
previously, could be
for items needed. To date, and I stand to be corrected on this
statement, no Durotrigan coinage has been found
outside the immediate area occupied by these people. There are, to
reports of this distinctive coinage having been found in Europe. Did
exchange hands for these commodities or was barter the media used in
? It would appear that the said coinage remained in England and was
in the Dorset area. And this is rather surprising considering that the
Uffington horse, earlier mentioned, could have been the inspiration for
disjointed horse design on coinage. Certainly the effigy carved on the
in Berkshire was done long before the Durotriges
established themselves in the Dorset area. Speculatively, was this
by these people and copied on to the coinage and who were the mint
the time ? The coinage leaves us with more questions than answers.
The Uffington Horse in Berkshire
This picture was taken c 1938 and
the figure has undergone certain chnages since that date
Forts Maiden Castle
Badbury Pilsdon Pen
Banbury South Cadbury
Hambledon Hill Battlesbury
Note:- The main horde of coins found were discovered at Badbury, Hod
Hill, Maiden Castle and south of the city of DForchester, and on the
Isle of Weight. Over 800 coins were unearthed at Badbury
Artifacts Ballister Bolts
Iron bar currency Sling Shot
Stones Evidence of post holes
Round House evidence Skeletons - Male, female
& Children Stag Antler Tools
Weaving Stone Weights Brooches
Weapons Animal Bones
is perhaps sad that bodies of these people, other than skelatal remains
that is, have not been unearthed. How much more would researchers
figures similar to those of Tollund Fen Man, Grauballe Man, Lindow Man
Elling Woman been discovered. These
bodies were well preserved and date back to the time of the Durotriges
Carbon dating has placed these incredible finds between the years
290BCE and 119CE,
the precise time span pre-mentioned. Re-construction of facial features
of these bodies has created for the historian and student alike a focal
by which real interaction between the past and present can intermingle.
that these people actually walked this earth over 2000 years ago is a
thought and the Durotriges people are no exception to this scientific
observation. What was it like to live in those times ? How did they
one another ? What was their everyday lives like, what were their
issues of the day ? How did they interact with neighbouring tribes ?
an issue and at what age was it considered to be old ? Certainly those
skeletons that have been found were not old by today’s standards,
to 40 years at most when in the 21st century one can expect
double that figure.
have come from history, from Greece, Rome, Egypt, Europe and Saxon
frustration exists when none such has emerged from the Durotriges
seems that a dark veil has descended on this period. The remaining
places these people in a period which is still, to this day, as
said, bathed somewhat in mystery and speculation but nonetheless
can gain comfort from the fact that the said coinage is there for
and maybe one day someone will break the code which is evident on the
The Search for the Durotriges”
‘Romantic Britain’ by
‘The Celts’ by Peter
‘Written in Bones’
‘The Celts – History and
Treasures of an
Ancient Civilization’ text by Daniele Vitali
‘Swanage and South
‘Britain BC’ by Francis
‘Seahenge’ by Francis
‘Coins of the England
Kingdom’ by Spink
‘The Coins of Great
Thorburn & Grueber (1905)
– DVD production ‘In
and Heroes’ presented by Michael Wood
My sincere thanks to my good
Beresford and to Mike Vosper.