Iron Age Gold Stater, Isleham

front and back of a gold stater coin

A gold quarter stater of the Atrebates, probably dating c. 60-20 BC and found in the Isleham area, Cambridgeshire.

The coin is uninscribed, bearing no name of any ruler, and is a smaller gold denomination referred to as a quarter stater. Stater is a modern name and not the name a person in the Iron Age would have recognised it by.

The obverse die used to strike this coin appears to have been heavily damaged and as such the design is very difficult to make out. By comparison, the image on the reverse is well struck, displaying a horse prancing right with a flower above its back. It is this feature that gives the type its distinctive name as imagined by Chris Rudd’ the ‘Selsey Dahlia’. Over twenty of these coins and their variants have been recorded by the national Portable Antiquities Scheme, with most being found in Oxfordshire and West Berkshire. Importantly, the Isleham coin reflects the most easterly coin of this type currently recorded, showing that although most coins stayed relatively close regionally to where they were struck, others travelled further. This in itself can indicate trade links and social co-operation or engagement between different groups of people in a period where there are, importantly, no written records to extract information from.

In the Late Iron Age, coins were being produced in regions across most of Britain, with the exception of the extreme Southwest (Devon and Cornwall), Wales, Northwest and Scotland. The example featured is most common in central Southern England, probably struck by a ‘tribal’ grouping referred to as the Atrebates. As such, it represents a non-local coin moving quite some distance from its location of striking, before being lost or deposited by its owner.

The Atrebates in Britain appear to have had their territory centred on West Sussex, Hampshire and Berkshire and it is in these regions where their coinage is most commonly encountered. Coins issued by the Atrebates represent some of the first issued in Britain that are ‘inscribed’ bearing the name of the ruler. Initially ruled by Commius from c. 30 BC to his death in around 20 BC, the kingdom subsequently came under the joint control of his three sons: Tincomarus, Eppillus and Verica.

Tincomarus is probably named in the Roman Emperor Augustus’ Res Gestae Divi Augustus (lit. The deeds of the divine Augustus), presenting himself as a suppliant in c. AD 7, suggesting that he had a more pro-Roman stance than his brother Eppillus, who appears to have ousted him from Britain. Following the death of Eppillus in c. AD 15, Verica appears to have become king at a time when the territories of the Atrebates were being encroached upon by the rulers of the Eastern Region/Catavellaunii under King Cunobelinus.

Despite being recognised by Rome as a legitimate ruler through cultivating a friendly attitude of trade and diplomacy with the empire, in the early AD 40s he was forced to flee to there for protection. It was this event that gave the Emperor Claudius the pretext to invade Britain in AD 43, Verica apparently inciting the Atrebates into fighting alongside the Romans against other British tribes to regain their lost territory.

View the full record on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database

Thank you to the finder for allowing this object to be featured.

This find was recorded by the Suffolk Finds Recording Team, supported by the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

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