by Alice Blackwell, BBC:
Silver – not gold – was the most powerful material in the formative history of Scotland in the first millennium AD, yet none was mined here. How did silver become Scotland’s precious metal of choice?
Scotland’s earliest silver arrived via the Roman army, in the form of coins. This was the pay packet as far as the Roman soldiers were concerned.
Local tribes, who received gifts of silver coins, were less interested in the currency value – they couldn’t spend them outside the Roman Empire.
But to them this new material was a symbol of status and Roman favour.
By the late 3rd Century AD, we see a new phenomenon – ‘hacksilver’.
Research undertaken for the National Museum of Scotland’s new exhibition – Scotland’s Early Silver – and some of the new finds we’ll be showing, have led to significant changes in our understanding of the practice.
As the name suggests, we’re talking about silver which has been hacked up – vessels, tableware and other objects.
Previous finds, such as the spectacular hoard unearthed in 1919 at Traprain Law in East Lothian, were originally taken as showing that this was something that ‘barbarians’ did to their ‘loot’.
But, in fact, the initial hacking of silver was done within the Roman Empire.
Silver objects were turned into bullion – fragments carefully cut to standard Roman weight measures and then often folded into handy packages.
Hacksilver was used by the Romans in what we might now understand as a form of frontier diplomacy, whether gifts or bribes to quell a troublesome tribe or even set them against their neighbour.