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What's Nero doing at East Wear Bay?

Updated: Jan 11, 2022

Our season at East Wear Bay starts in 6 months and we have had a steady trickle of people signing up - including a few lucky few who were bought gift certificates as Christmas presents. We have been busy these last few months with processing and storing the finds from the 2016 season, plus we've had a visit from a specialist interested in the quern stones (more on that on a different day).

We have begun the long process of cataloging our finds, and I would like to share a number of artefacts over the coming months that really sum up the site at East Wear Bay. Today I want to show you this fantastic Roman coin:

Archaeologists love coins because they are able to be dated to a small time period, sometimes they even have a date written on them (a most helpful thing indeed!).

This coin is from the later part of the reign of the infamous Emperor Nero. We know it's Nero because it's written on the left hand side of the coin - plus he has a pretty recognisable face. The other words written on the edge of the coin coin are 'CAESAR' and 'AVG' (which is short for Augustus); both are Imperial titles signifying his status as a Roman emperor. The Romans didn't have a single word for emperor, instead they used multiple titles to show their power. The final three letters visible on the coin are 'IMP' which stands for imperator, yet another title, and the basis of our word emperor.

Dating the coin is relatively straightforward as history tells us that Nero lived from 37AD-68AD, and his coins were minted from 54AD until 68AD. Another clue for more accurate dating lies in the title imperator. We know Nero added that title to his name in 66AD placing the coin somewhere between the dates 66AD and 68AD.

So what can this coin tell us about the people living at East Wear Bay around 66AD? The date of the Roman conquest of Britain is given officially as 43AD, yet the first Roman Villa on the cliff isn't constructed until c.90AD. Archaeologically speaking the population of East Wear Bay continued manufacturing querns and maintaining their settlement as they had always done. Although they would have been under Roman military control, it doesn't seem to have directly impacted the settlement. However, changes are afoot and we can see this in the currency the population is using. Previously British coins had been minted by individual tribes, each having their own symbols and related to small (relatively speaking) geographical areas. Now they are using currency which is in use throughout the whole Roman Empire. This Roman coin is telling us that there has been a shift from power being held locally by tribal leaders to one of unified Roman rule.

W​e will never know what the people living in the settlement at East Wear Bay thought of this but elsewhere in the country there were rebellions and revolts against the Romans - perhaps the most famous being Boudicas' revolt in 60/61AD. Whilst we haven't found evidence of violence for this time period at Folkestone, it seems that trade has begun to decline, and the overall wealth of the population was not what it had been even a generation before.

If you want to know more about Nero and his coins then check out the Portable Antiquities Scheme website:

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