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Roman treasure hoard worth pounds 300,000 found

ONE OF the most important hoards of Roman coins found in Britain was declared treasure at a coroner's court in Somerset yesterday.

The cache, thought to be worth about pounds 300,000, consists of more than 9,000 silver denarii dating from the first century BC to the third century AD. It is of particular significance because it is the first sizeable coin hoard in Britain to be found inside a Roman building.

The treasure was found last August beneath a field on Northbrook Farm in the village of Shapwick, near Glastonbury in Somerset. It had been buried 10 to 20 centimetres under the floor of a Roman villa, which has since been excavated, and is the first hoard in Britain that can be viewed in its proper social and economic context.

The coins were unearthed by 33-year-old Kevin Elliott, whose family owns the farm, and his cousin Martin Elliott, 33, from Melksham in Wiltshire. The men used metal detectors to find the treasure.

At present the hoard is held by the British Museum and owned by the Crown. Its worth will be decided by the Treasure Valuation Committee in January and the Somerset County Museums Service, which wants the coins, will need to raise that sum, which will then be paid to the finders as a reward.

After the coroner's hearing in Taunton yesterday, Kevin Elliott said he had had to be shown how to use the detection device. "Within three or four minutes I found a coin in a gateway," he said. Thirty minutes later, after discovering other coins scattered in the field, the cousins turned up a huge hoard of thousands of similar coins. "My first reaction was to go and get a bucket," said Kevin.

His father, Graham, said the family had been farming the land as tenants for 36 years until they bought it in January last year - allowing them to use metal detectors for the first time. "I was milking at the time and Kevin came and said he wanted a bucket. He was back in quarter of an hour with it full of these coins. He said he wanted another bucket, and I thought it was about time I went to see what they were doing. We filled another bucket from this mass of coins in the ground, it was amazing," said Mr Elliott.

Martin, a welder, said his father built him his first metal detector when he was 10 - and this was his first big find. "The odds of finding something like this in such a short space of time are phenomenal, mindboggling," he said.

News of the find was kept secret by the British Museum and Somerset County Museums Service until the inquest. The hoard, worth the equivalent of about pounds 250,000 in Roman times, is likely to have represented the life- savings of the villa's owner.

Some of the coins are from the first centuries BC and AD and include a special eve-of-battle denarius of Mark Antony, issued with misplaced optimism to his troops just before his defeat at Actium in 31BC. The late second and early third- century coins that make up the bulk of the find are a virtual who's who of Roman corruption, lunacy and depravity.

There are large numbers of coins of Commodus - an emperor who thought he was a god and renamed Rome Colonia Commodiana. There are also about 1,000 coins of another evil emperor known as Caracalla who murdered his own brother and ordered the slaughter of 20,000 other Romans. The hoard also contains some 200 coins of Elagabalus - a transvestite who sought to transform the empire into a monotheistic state and was said to indulge in child sacrifice. He was murdered while visiting the lavatory.