ONE of the largest hoards of Roman gold coins ever discovered in the UK has been found in the St Albans district.

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A metal detectorist made the nationally-significant find of 159 Late Roman gold coins on private land in the north of the district.

A team from the district council’s museums service investigated the site at the beginning of October and confirmed the find. The coins are in very good condition and were scattered across a fairly wide area. Evidence suggests that the hoard was disturbed in the last couple of hundred years due to quarrying activity or plough action.

The coins date to the very end of Roman rule in Britain and there are practically no other comparable gold hoards from that period because after AD 408 no further coin supplies reached Britain.

The coins – called solidus (plural – solidi) – date to the closing years of the Fourth Century. They were mostly struck in the Italian cities of Milan and Ravenna and issued under the Emperors Gratian, Valentinian, Theodosius, Arcadius and Honorius.

David Thorold, prehistory to medieval curator at Verulamium Museum in St Albans, said: “During the period of the Roman occupation of Britain, coins were usually buried for two reasons. They were buried 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.”

He went on: “Gold solidi were extremely valuable coins and were not traded or exchanged on a regular basis. They would have been used for large transactions such as buying land or goods by the shipload.

“The gold coins in the economy guaranteed the value of all the silver and especially the bronze coins in circulation. If you saved enough bronze, you could exchange it for a silver coin. If you saved enough silver, you could exchange it for a gold coin. However, most people would not have had regular access to them. Typically, the wealthy Roman elite, merchants or soldiers receiving bulk pay were the recipients.”

Such finds come under 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 who will determine whether they are to be considered as ‘treasure’ under the Act. The value of the gold coins is not yet known.

Cllr Mike Wakely, the council’s portfolio holder for sports, leisure and heritage, said: “This is an exciting find of national significance, and one that our museums’ team is very excited about. We hope to have an opportunity to display these coins at Verulamium Museum in St Albans over the coming months, once the formalities have been dealt with.”

The museum will be presenting a talk on the Roman gold coins hoard at 7pm on Thursday, November 1. Tickets cost £7 and are available from the museum on 01727 751810, email museums@stalbans.gov.uk.

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