Monday, 7 December 2009


There is strong evidence that, centuries before the Romans came to Caerwysc, which is thought to be the name Exeter then bore, the ancient British who were living there were trading with Continental merchants. Seaworthy merchant ships were carrying cargo up and down the channels of the Estuary a hundred years or more before the year dot.

Professor Hoskins, in his "Two Thousand Years in Exeter", describes the exciting find of coin in the city two hundred years ago which still provides the best evidence for this ancient trading:

"In the year 1810, a considerable number of Hellenistic coins - that is, coins of ancient Greek types from the eastern Mediterranean- were found in the Broadgate while workmen were digging at a depth of twenty feet. These coins, the largest discovery of their kind yet made in this country, could be dated as belonging to the third, second and first centuries before Christ.

"This discovery was so remarkable and unexpected that many scholars refused to believe the evidence. Two distinguished numismatists in 1907, examining them again, decided that the coins had been planted on the site to cause confusion, or that some private collection had been lost there. In any event, they decided that the coins were not evidence for the existence of a trading settlement on the site of Exeter at that early date.

"Since they wrote, however, two things have happened to alter the picture. In the first place, other Hellenistic coins have been found in Exeter, and secondly, many more have been found at various places along the south coast of England - for example, at Penzance, at Mount Batten (now part of Plymouth), and near Poole Harbour in Dorset. We must therefore accept the conclusion that there was considerable trading between the Mediterranean countries and southern Britain a century or two before the birth of Christ, and that Exeter (under some other name,) was one of the places engaged in this trade."

Professor Hoskins believed that cattle and hides were the goods most likely to have been shipped from Exeter to the Continent and that the ships came from'such places as Rouen in Normandy'.

For some hundreds of years then local men watched from the high land and from the Estuary's bogs and banks and reed beds as these trading ships came and went with the tides. And only then came the Romans!

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