East Harnham hoard

Rare Roman treasure found on a farm

From: The Salisbury Museum

This hoard contained 4,000 Roman coins dating from 293 AD. It was discovered in 1871 by a farmer – with a little help from a cow! Hoards are collections of items that have been hidden, often buried, for a variety of reasons.

What are hoards?

Hoards are collections of items that have been hidden, often buried in pots or jars, for a variety of reasons – for safe keeping, offerings for the gods or even thrown away because they were considered worthless. These have included weapons, pans, jewellery, musical instruments and large numbers of coins. 

Thanks to a cow…

The East Harnham hoard was discovered in 1871 by a local farmer after ‘an old cow had most fortunately trodden upon the spot where the coins had been deposited by the original owner.’

Coins and usurping emperors

The East Harnham Hoard dates from 293 AD, the year of the death of Emperor Carausius. He was a Roman military commander who had usurped power and declared himself Emperor of Britain and Northern Gaul in 286 AD. (Officially, an emperor had to be recognized by the Senate to be considered legitimate.)

One of the first things a usurper did was issue coins – to symbolize his authority and publicise his image. Roman mints were able to get coins into circulation quickly, even for rulers who were in power for a short period of time.

East Harnham Hoard – legitimate emperors!

This hoard contained 4,000 Roman coins, but with very few showing usurper emperors, such as Carausius. These hoards are sometimes referred to as ‘legitimist’ hoards, thought to have been used as a method of decreasing the values of the coins of usurpers.

This suggests the hoard belonged to someone who did not support Carausius.

Roman coins on display at Salisbury Museum.
East Harnham Hoard on display at The Salisbury Museum
Five Roman coins from the Bowerchalke Hoard.
Roman coins from the Bowerchalke Hoard, also at The Salisbury Museum.

Why were hoards hidden and left?

People have hidden hoards for thousands of years. Treasures from the Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman times have all been found. They are often a good indicator of potential unrest during these time periods, when people would feel the need to hide their most important belongings.


Often hidden with the intent to go back and collect, hoards may have been left in the ground due to the death of the hoarder, forgetfulness or misplacing. The increase in metal detecting has led to many hoards being discovered, including over 1,200 Roman hoards such as the East Harnham hoard.

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