What is regarded as one of the largest Roman gold coin hoards ever
found in the United Kingdom was discovered in early October.
The hoard of 159 late Roman gold solidus coins, found by an
anonymous metal detectorist on private land in the north of the
district of St. Albans in Hertfordshire, was announced Oct. 16 by
While larger hoards have been discovered in the United Kingdom,
those have been composed predominantly of bronze or silver coins, or
sometimes both, with few if any gold coins included.
The hoard dates toward the end of Roman rule in Britain. It
comprises predominantly coins of Roman emperor Honorius (A.D. 395 to
423) and his brother Arcadius (395 to 408), a Byzantine ruler, but at
least three other rulers are represented, including Theodosius, the
two brothers’ father. All but one of the coins are in Extremely Fine condition.
A team from St. Albans City & District Council’s Museums’
Service investigated the site at the beginning of October and
confirmed the find. The coins were scattered across a fairly wide
area. Evidence suggests that the hoard was disturbed in the past few
hundred years by quarrying activity or ploughs.
Practically no other comparable gold hoards of this period have
been found, according to David Thorold, prehistory to medieval curator
at Verulamium Museum in St. Albans. After 408 no additional coin
supplies reached Britain.
Thorold said that during Roman occupation of Britain, coins were
usually buried either as a religious sacrifice to the gods, or as a
secure store of wealth, with the aim of later recovery. “Threat of war
or raids might lead to burial in the latter case, as may the prospect
of a long journey, or any other risky activity.”
The gold solidus was not a commonly encountered coin for most
users of Roman coins, due to its extremely high face value.
“They would have been used for large transactions such as buying
land or goods by the shipload,” Thorold said. “Typically, the wealthy
Roman elite, merchants or soldiers receiving bulk pay were the recipients.”
Most coins in the 1,600-year-old hoard were struck in Milan (117
pieces), but 11 each were struck in Ravenna and Trier. Other mints
represented in the hoard are Rome (seven examples), Constantinople
(three), Thessalonica (three), Lyons (two) and Sirmium (one), with the
mints of four coins unknown until further cleaning, according to Thorold.
Ninety-five coins were struck under Honorius, while 42 are from
the reign of Arcadius. Other rulers represented include Valentinian II
(11 examples), Theodosius (seven) and Gratian (one), with three
unknown and requiring further cleaning, according to Thorold.
Finds such as the coin hoard are governed by the Treasure Act
1996. The next stage is for the British Museum’s panel of independent
experts to examine the coins and make their report to the coroner (a
local official who decides such cases), who will determine whether
they are to be considered as ‘treasure’ under the act.
If the hoard is declared treasure, the local museum will have a
chance to raise the money to pay for the hoard that will be
distributed to the anonymous finder (the finder usually shares the fee
with the landowner, if they are not the same). The value of the coins
has not yet been determined.
Councillor Mike Wakely, who is responsible for “sports, leisure
and heritage” matters on the St. Albans City and District Council,
said he hopes the find will be displayed at the local museum as the
treasure is declared and the formalities sorted out. “This is an
exciting find of national significance, and one that our museum’s team
is very excited about,” he said.
The museum will host a presentation about the hoard on Nov. 1.
Most of the coins have been identified by the numbering system
employed in Volumes IX and X of The Roman Imperial Coinage,
by Harold Mattingley and Edward A. Sydenham, and Thorold said the
museum hopes to be publishing the full details soon.
For more information about the museum, telephone it at (011) 20
1727 751 810 or direct email to email@example.com. ■