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Oldest Roman Coin Found

The Story of the oldest Roman coin ever found near Lanark.

The discovery of this coin is amazing. It only happened after Nisbet Lawrie cleaned his spade, a week after he dug it up at the nearby Roman Fort of Castledykes. Fortunately Nisbet remembered where it had been found so it can be given a grid reference using G.P.S. Nisbet’s discovery is remarkable as it is a denarius of L. Valerius Flaccus and it was struck in 108/7 B.C. in Rome. How it got to Scotland is interesting. After all it was struck over 180 years before the Romans arrived in Scotland.

Was it brought to Scotland as a keepsake or was it just in the pay chest along with other more modern coins of the Imperial era. Given its condition it was certainly good enough to remain in circulation. It is not unusual for Republican era coins to be found on roman sites in Britain but the majority of these are of the wars between Mark Antony and Octavian (the future Emperor Augustus). Thousands of legionary denarii issued by Mark Antony ended up in the Imperial coffers after the battle of Actium (32 B.C.) They remained in use for up to two hundred years, but to find an early Republican denarius is very unusual.

The coin itself shows a draped bust of Victory on the reverse and on the obverse there is a figure of Mars carrying a trophy. Before the figure of Mars is the Cap of the Flamen on a stand and behind a grain ear.

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The Flamen in Ancient Roman religion was the high priest of the cult of Mars. The Flamen was a patrician (a senior senator) who had to get married through a special ceremony called confarreatio. This involved a special cake of spelt being prepared for the marriage. This is the reason for the ears of wheat on the coin. So the coin celebrated the wedding of the patrician Valerius Flaccus. Therefore it is likely that the coin was kept by a senior officer of Senatorial rank to remind the officer of his vows. One can imagine that he might have spent a long time looking for his precious keepsake! There is also another interesting part to the story and that is that Valerius Flaccus did not actually become consul till 100 B.C.

Who was Valerius Flaccus? He was a moneyer as well as being a Flamen. He was praetor about 103 B.C. The job of praetor involved being a magistrate, who was both a magistrate and a field commander of the Roman army. Then he rose to being a consul with the famous Marius, though he made little impact in this post.

In 97 B.C. Flaccus was censor and enrolled Italians to support Marius. He was then Princeps in 91 B.C. Later as he supported Sulla instead of Marius he became an Interrex – supervising elections till Sulla took on the post of Dictator in 82 B.C. His final post was Magister Equitum (Master of the Horse). He held this in 79 B.C.

What of his significance then in the 1st Century A.D. In the reign of Vespasian there was a poet called Gaius Valerius Flaccus, he was connected with L. Valerius Flaccus on the coin. He was a Roman poet who flourished in silver age of poetry under Vesponian and Titus. He lived till 90 A.D. and was alleged to have been a friend of the Poet Martial. He is recorded as being in charge of the Sibylline books in Rome.

Here below is a VF very fine condition coin of the same mould:

His only surviving work is the Argonautica dedicated to Vespasian on his setting out to Britain at the time of Claudius’ invasion of Britain. This book was written during the siege of Jerusalem A.D. 70 in the second year of Vespasian’s reign. But he did not complete it till 79 A.D., the year of the explosion of Vesuvius. The poem is an epic one and is modelled on Vergil’s Aeneid. It is about Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece. But the overall purpose of the book was to stress Vespasian’s achievement sin securing roman rule in Britain and opening up the ocean (Atlantic) to navigation. So this coin represents a really interesting insight to the history of Scotland.

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