Roman treasure trove reveals wealth of early British tycoon

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ARCHAEOLOGISTS ARE investigating the discovery of gold worth pounds 150,000 that is thought to have been buried by one of Britain's first millionaires.

The inquiry follows the announcement at a Midlands coroner's court that 123 Roman gold coins, dating from the first century AD, had been found. Coroner's courts adjudicate in cases of treasure trove. The find is the largest gold coin hoard from that period uncovered in this country. Initial investigations suggest that the gold - found near Shefford, Bedfordshire - was buried as an offering to the gods by an extremely wealthy, and pious, British aristocrat.

As with the new analysis of sculptures at Bath, reported in The Independent last week, the hoard sheds new light on early Roman Britain.

It reveals the extraordinary wealth of some native Britons, probably the result of huge gifts from the Romans. Half of the coins are in mint condition and probably came direct from the Roman treasury.

The native British upper classes were divided over the Roman occupation. Some resisted it, while others welcomed the "Romanisation" - and were rewarded with increased status and cash by the Imperial authorities. The person who buried the 123 gold coins, enough to cover the pay of a Roman legionary soldier for 11 years, almost certainly came from the latter group.

It is unlikely that even the most pious ancient Briton would have buried all his wealth, so the 123 coins probably represented only a fraction of the individual's fortune. He was almost certain to have been a Romano- British equivalent of a multi-millionaire.

Historians suspect that there were only one or two dozen such wealthy native Britons at that time. Only the top royals of leading tribal kingdoms and ex-kingdoms would have received regular Roman subsidies paid in mint gold coin.

The offering was buried in the pro-Roman Celtic former kingdom of Catuvellauni just a few miles from that tribe's most important centre, a disused hill-fort now known as Ravensburgh, the biggest in eastern England.

Nobody can know for sure who buried the gold, but the leading candidates are Amminius, the last known king of the Catuvellauni, or his son.

The gold appears to have been buried in a Celtic temple complex about AD79, when high-ranking individuals around the empire would have been making sacrificial offerings to the gods to ensure the prosperity of Titus, who succeeded Vespasian as emperor.

The coins, now being studied at the British Museum, have been bought for pounds 200,000 by Luton Museum, Bedfordshire, and will go on permanent display there next year.