Saturday, 17 November 2012

Proculus, a British Museum comment on the find

Interestingly the Daily Mail published a British Museum opinion on the Proculus coin by Roger Bland today (16th November 2012):

"But coin specialist and renowned academic Roger Bland, who is Keeper of the Prehistory and Europe Department of the British Museum, disagrees that the coin is genuine.

He said:

'I don't believe any coins of Proculus were ever made and this one is probably a 15th century forgery.The only source for our knowledge of him is a controversial history book, written at the end of the 4th century AD, much of which was made up.

It says that there were 30 tyrants who all vied for control of the Roman Empire when things got a bit messy in the late 3rd century AD and lots of people were declared Emperor. Many of these 30 tyrants never had coins made, which is a sign of a true Emperor.But in the Renaissance, when coin collecting was fashionable, people thought these men should have had coins so they made them. This coin has been made from the same dye, or mould, as another in the Munich Museum, which is widely believed to be fake.There is no context to this find either - only single coins, not hoards, have been found so their provenance is difficult to assess. Unless someone finds a hoard of these coins, I'm going to remain very sceptical that there were ever any coins made for Proculus.'
But coin specialist and renowned academic Roger Bland, who is Keeper of the Prehistory and Europe Department of the British Museum, disagrees that the coin is genuine.'
He said: 'I don't believe any coins of Proculus were ever made and this one is probably a 15th century forgery.
'The only source for our knowledge of him is a controversial history book, written at the end of the 4th century AD, much of which was made up.

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Tuesday, 13 November 2012

A Proculus coin from Yorkshire

 The newly discovered coin of Proculus
Just as the British soil gave us the second known coin of the third century Gallic usurper Domitianus II five or six years ago now (and coming from a secure archaeological context thereby confirming the authenticity of the first specimen) now we have a new rarity from the same period.

A coin of Proculus, only the second recorded, has been discovered by a metal detectorist on land near Stamford Bridge in North Yorkshire. I understand that it has been properly recorded by the Yorkshire Museum in York.

Obv: IMP C PROCVLVS AVG, radiate, cuirassed bust right
Rev: VICTORIA AVG, female figure standing left, holding wreath and sceptre

Proculus is recorded in the Historia Augusta as a short lived usurper under the Roman emperor Probus c.280 AD, establishing himself in Cologne after the Alemanne had invaded Gaul. When Probus moved against him he went over to the Franks who, shortly afterwards, delivered him into the hands of Probus.

Judging by the style of the coin it is not the product of any of the established mints. Its crude appearance, the sketchy look and the V on the reverse rendered as U, has more in common with the local radiate imitations that were prevalent in the north western provinces of Europe and Britain at the time. It might say something about the areas under the control of Proculus.

Both known coins are apparently from the same dies, again symptomatic of a very brief issue (compare this with the 50 obverses and 54 reverses recorded by Gilljam of the VICTORIA AVG coins of Laelian, a usurper that survived probably three or four weeks). 

 The first recorded Proculus coin
The first example, from an unknown find spot, came to light in a German auction hosted by Bankhaus Aufhauser in 1991 (lot 640, auction 8, 9-10 October 1991).

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Heroes of the Soviet Union and the crash of De Havilland Flamingo R2764

Blue plaques
[Click on photo to enlarge]
On  my birthday this year we had taken the day off to go to the Roman town of Aldborough in North Yorkshire. Unfortunately the museum doesn't open on week days. Driving back home though the village of Great Ouseburn to York I noticed two blue plaques adjacent to each other. This aroused my curiosity so stopped the car to read them.

They commemorate an aircraft crash from 1942, a De Haviland Flamingo, incidentally an aircraft type I had never come across.  The passengers were Russian officials who had flown from the USSR to Dundee and then to London as part of a mission to link Russia with the Allies, rather than the Axis powers, prior to transporting Russian officials  involved in the negotiations.

There is a very informtive website with many photographs and a presentation about the events at the link below:

Reproduced from that site is the text below but PLEASE visit the site for much more information and photographs of these events.

"A few weeks before the flight that took the USSR’s Minister of Foreign Affairs to the USA, the same crew of the PE-8, under the command of Major Asyamov, undertook a training flight from Moscow to Britain, with the aim of checking how safe it was, and whether it were really possible. It has recently come to light that the PE-8 plane also carried 2 Russian Scientists (Kasatkin & Sevastianov) and Stalin’s personal translator, Vladimir Pavlov for discussions with the British Government.   It was above Great Ouseburn in Yorkshire, on 30th April 1942 there was a terrible accident that almost changed the course of WWII.

On 29th April, after flying continuously for more than 7 hours, Asyamov landed the bomber at the military airport at Tealing, a big RAF base not far from Dundee, Scotland. Immediately, the plane on a secret mission was surrounded by curious British pilots and engineers. RAF men were very interested in the Soviet PE-8, not least because the best British and American long-range planes were not up to the same technical level as the TB7, especially during the first half of WWII. The RAF didn’t have anything of the same class.

The crew was transferred to London, but their holiday there was short. The day after they arrived, the crew, in response to many requests from their British colleagues, planned to return to the military airport at Tealing to provide an excursion on the Soviet plane, and also to have a look at the new military technology being developed by the RAF in East Fortune. But only one member of the crew could fly. Pusep and Asyamov, as Pusep recalled, decided who would go on the excursion by drawing straws. Fatefully, it was Asyamov who drew the long straw. Co-pilot Pusep was to stay in London and attend the 1st May celebrations being held by the Soviet Embassy together with the Military Mission in London.

After having inspected the British aircraft at East Fortune, the DH95 Flamingo (number R2764, No. 24 Air squadron based at Hendon), and its 6 passengers, including Asyamov, gathered for the return journey to London. There were no portents of the coming tragedy. The weather forecast was for sunny and practically still weather. Following inspection and readying of the aircraft for flight, the Captain took off for London at 4.25pm. It should be noted that the captain of the British plane was one of the most experienced pilots the RAF had. At the time of the accident Pilot Officer I. Ramsay had clocked up 3755 air hours piloting different types of planes. During his career he had piloted aircraft carrying famous passengers such as Prince Bernhard, Lord Sherwood, Sir Archibald Sinclair, and Lord Louis Mountbatten. The 24th Air Squadron was reserved for undertaking internal flights and as a rule carried VIPs including members of the royal family and members of the Cabinet.

Above Yorkshire, the right engine exploded. According to the report drawn up by the commission that investigated the accident, the passengers did not manage to use any of the life-saving equipment: all the parachutes were untouched. There was no chance of survival. The aircraft fell from a height of 600 metres (2000 ft) not far from the village of Great Ouseburn, between the towns of Easingwold and Knaresborough in North Yorkshire. The blast from the stricken craft was so powerful that parts were scattered for up to 3 miles around the crash site. The joint Soviet / UK commission under Chief Inspector Vernon Drown found the following: “The cause of the accident was an internal defect in the engine, its destruction and the subsequent ignition of fuel vapour, which led to the disintegration of the wing”. According to another version: “a snapped connecting rod broke the crank case. Parts of the connecting rod and the crank case pierced the fuel tank. Inside the wing, the fuel vapour mixed with air and ignited, which blew the wing to bits.”

The four crew members of the Flamingo and all the passengers died as a result of the accident. In total, the tragedy took the lives of 10 men. They included: Major Sergei Asyamov, members of the Soviet Military Mission to the UK: Assistant to the Head of the Military Mission on Aviation issues Colonel Grigory Pugachev, Assistant Military Attache Major Boris Shvetsov, Secretary to the Military Mission Peter Baranov, Officer Francis Wilton, Officer Kenneth Edwards, Pilot Officer Iain Ramsay, Sergeant James Smith, Sergeant Alan Stripp and Engineer James Lewis.

Because of the highly secret nature of the operation, the British press did not report these tragic events at the time. No information on the crew and members of the Soviet mission could be found in the British archives or the archives of the Imperial War Museum. It is likely that these documents are still sealed away as “Secret”. There was nothing in the media about these events."

Another good site with remnants from the crash site, biographies of the occupants of the aircraft and associated photographs is:

Sunday, 7 October 2012

The extinct silphium plant

Several months ago a small (15mm) Greek bronze coin came my way that has resisted identification until now (thanks to Dane Kurth). It turns out is a coin from Cyrene in Cyrenaica with the helmeted head of Athena on one side while on the other are two stalks of the silphium plant emerging from a single base (BMC Cyrene 202-3).

It is, for me, the silphium plant that is of interest. The exact identity of silphium is unclear. It is commonly believed to be a now-extinct plant of the genus Ferula, perhaps a variety of giant fennel. It was used in classical antiquity as a rich seasoning and also as a medicine. It was the essential item of trade from the ancient North African city of Cyrene, and was so critical to the Cyrenian economy that most of their coins bore a picture of the plant. The valuable product was the plant's resin.

Many medical uses were ascribed to the plant. It was said that it could be used to treat cough, sore throat, fever, indigestion, aches and pains, warts, and all kinds of maladies. It has been speculated that the plant may also have functioned as a contraceptive, based partly on Pliny's statement that it could be used "to promote the menstrual discharge". Many species in the parsley family have estrogenic properties, and some, such as wild carrot, have been found to work as abortifacients (chemicals that terminate a pregnancy). Given this, it is quite possible that the plant was pharmacologically active in the prevention or termination of pregnancy.

The cause of silphium's extinction is not entirely known. Overgrazing combined with overharvesting may have led to its extinction. It may be that when Roman provincial governors took over power from Greek colonists they over-farmed silphium and rendered the soil unable to yield the type that was said to be of such medicinal value. Theophrastus reports that the type of ferula specifically referred to as "silphium" was odd in that it grew only in the wild and could not be successfully grown as a crop in tilled soil. Pliny reported that the last known stalk of silphium found in Cyrenaica was given to the Emperor Nero "as a curiosity".

Monday, 24 September 2012

Lordenshaws hill fort, Northumberland

Lordenshaws fort from the air

A couple of weeks back Val and I went to Northumberland with friends. Whilst there my friend, Rich, and I ascended Lordenshaws, a hill outside Rothbury in Coquetdale, to the Iron Age hill fort.

Rich on the banking with the western entrance

Google Earth clearly shows the plan of the fort with the successive banks and ditches. The outermost defensive ditch has a diameter of around 140m and is one of the best preserved features of the site. In the South and South East this ditch has been disturbed by later development but to the North the ditch has a very steep V shaped profile and is up to 2.5m deep and up to 9m wide.

 Looking out from the eastern entrance marked by the large stones

There are two gates or entrances aligned east and west. The western entranceway is the least well preserved though there are still several larger boulders marking it. The Eastern entrance is 3m wide and there are some facing stones visible. Where this entrance cuts through the second defensive mound there are some prominent stones still standing 0.8m high.
 Stone lined hut depression outlined by heather

Inside the fort there are a series of stone lined depressions which although rather small are the remains of dwellings.

 Neolithic cup and ring marked stone

Outside the west gate and a short distance away is a rock outcrop covered with cup and ring markings. They are significantly older than the fort and date to the Neolithic period. Sadly the meaning of such engravings has long been lost.

 Hut depression adjacent the cup and ring stone with a track heading to the western entrance

Yet again, adjacent to the cup and ring stone, are the remains of two dwelling depressions that again probably date from the Iron Age.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Ezekiel Spanheim

Last December I acquired at auction the last and greatest edition of Spanheim’s Disputationes de usu et pr√¶stantia numismatum antiquorum (London and Amsterdam, 1706-17) not realising that the copy I had bought was an extremely large paper printing of the work. As a consequence the two volumes remained on the living room floor until recently as there was just nowhere to put them.

The two books are comprised of thirteen discourses addressed to his friend Ottavio Falconieri, a Roman antiquary, represent the seventeenth century peak of classical numismatics. 

Spanheim meticulously (and not without digressions) records every image and inscription shown on
ancient coins that could be made out.

Each of the volumes is prefaced with a fine engraving of a portrait; one is Spanheim himself, the other is Prince George, later King George I of the United Kingdom but who was then ruler of the Duchy and Electorate of Brunswick-L√ľneburg (Hanover) in the Holy Roman Empire.

Ezekiel Spanheim was born at Geneva, the eldest son of Friedrich Spanheim the Elder. After 1642 he studied philology and theology at the University of Leyden, and in 1650 returned to Geneva to be Professor of Rhetoric at Geneva.

In 1656 Spanheim became tutor to the son of Charles I Louis, Elector Palatine. Political theory led him into a diplomatic career. The Elector sent him in 1661 to Rome to investigate intrigues of the Roman Catholic Electors. After his return in 1665 the Elector employed him as ambassador at various courts, finally in England where after 1679 he was charged also with the affairs of the Elector of Brandenburg. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1679. [1]

In 1680 he entered the service of electoral Brandenburg as minister of state. As ambassador of the Great Elector he spent nine years at the court of Paris, and subsequently devoted some years to studies in Berlin; but after the Peace of Ryswyk in 1697 he returned as ambassador to France where he remained until 1702.

In 1702 he went on his final diplomatic mission as the first Prussian ambassador to England. He died in London on November 7th, 1710 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The Totley Tunnel

 The other day I found myself on a train from Sheffield to Grindleford in the Peak District to meet a work colleague for a site visit. The journey is only short, however, after leaving Totley and Dore station the journey is in complete darkness due to passing through the Totley tunnel, 3 miles and 950 yards long. You emerge from the tunnel at Grindleford station.

The tunnel opened officially on 10 August 1893 and it is believed that when it was constructed the two ends of workers were only 4½ inches apart laterally with only 2¼ inches difference in level!

The geological make up of the ground under the route of the tunnel made the boring extremely difficult indeed. A the worst point, 2,250,000 gallons of water A DAY were seeping into the tunnel from the bedrock, forcing the workings to be inspected by boat.

Many labourers were brought in to help with the work. They arrived with their wives and families. Accommodation was provided in huts built around the shafts and many lodged in houses in the area. It was quite common for dozens of people to share a house and living conditions were generally disgusting. Many homes were without water, and raw sewage ran into the gardens.

At Totley the incomers actually outnumbered the local residents. The navvies’ fondness for drink, poaching and gambling - prize-fights and horse races were laid on at Owler Bar - boosted the local crime rate alarmingly, keeping the police and courts very busy. In their defence, it was acknowledged that working conditions were appalling, accidents were a common occurrence and it was difficult to keep enough labourers on the payroll. A working day was one of three 8- hour shifts and in mid-1889 the pay was 3s 2d per week.

Searching the internet there are stories of a large chamber in the tunnel, the purpose of which is unknown. You can tell when you pass it on the train due to the pressure change, it makes you believe you are leaving the tunnel but you are not. It may have been for storage during the construction, although there are more fanciful stories of wartime storage and it even housing a signal box (although that would have been no use whatsoever).