World Coins

UK metal detectorist find, Roman gold solidus in London auction

A rare gold coin of Roman times found by an anonymous metal detectorist is coming to auction.  

Dix Noonan Webb will offer the coin at auction Sept. 17. It is estimated to realize £10,000 to £12,000 ($12,069 to $14,483 U.S.).

The long-time metal detectorist's best ever find, a Roman gold solidus of the Emperor Constantine I in About Uncirculated condition, was dug up June 7. The coin was found during his first time searching the field, at Wanstrow in Somerset. The site is close to a Roman road once used for transporting mined lead ore.

Using a secondhand metal detector, a Nokta Fors Core, which is manufactured in Turkey, he saw that the field had a curious unnatural shape to it. Detecting carefully in this spot he found a Roman brooch and several pieces of lead ore. Then at a depth of nearly one foot he discovered the gold coin. The find was then recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database by the local finds liaison officer who realized it was the first one of this type to be found in Britain.

After having the coin returned, the finder and the landowner agreed to auction the coin.

DNW’s Antiquities specialist, Nigel Mills, said: “The coin is a magnificent example of a gold Solidus minted in 313 to 315 at Trier, the capital of Gaul. This was a new denomination introduced by Constantine in 310. On the obverse is a laureate portrait of the emperor, which had been the tradition for over 300 years but was about to change with a new headband called a diadem in 324. For the first time there is a break in the legend above the Emperor’s head, symbolising a clear path to heaven from Constantine. He also stopped using the old Roman pagan gods on the reverses of his coins.”

He continues: “On the reverse is an extremely rare portrayal of Constantine riding his horse in battle holding a spear and shield with two fallen enemy soldiers below. It commemorates his great victory over Maxentius at Milvian bridge outside Rome on Oct. 28, 312. 

This is where Constantine adopted a new military standard of the Chi-Rho or Christogram — these are the first two letters in Greek for Christ “XP” hence the importance of this victory for Constantine and Christianity. 

The British Museum has a similar example in its collection but with different spacing in the reverse legend. No solidus of Constantine with this reverse has sold for many years. 

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