Roman treasure hoard worth £300,000 found

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

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

The hoard, thought to be worth about £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 hoard was discovered last year by Martin and Kevin Elliott, local men who were using metal detectors, - but news of the find was kept secret by the British Museum and Somerset County Museums Service until the coroner's inquest. The treasure was unearthed near the village of Shapwick - buried 10 to 20 centimetres under the floor in the smallest room of a Roman villa. The building appears to have been the centre of an agricultural estate.

The hoard, worth the equivalent of about £250,000 in Roman times, is likely to have represented the life-savings of the villa's owner.

The small room in which the coins were found was probably a storage area and may have had a simple beaten earth floor, perhaps covered by a mat. It seems likely that the villa owner used the earth under the floor surface as a virtual safe for his accumulated profits of his farm.

The villa appears to have been a Romanisation of a native British farmstead which had flourished in late Iron Age times.

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 are a virtual who's who of Roman corruption, lunacy and depravity.

There are, for instance, large numbers of coins of Commodus -- the emperor who thought he was a god, renamed Rome as Colonia Commodiana and renamed the months of the year to immortalise his own self-awarded titles.

There are also about 1,000 coins of another evil emperor known simply as "The Cloak" (later as Caracalla) who murdered his own brother and ordered the slaughter of 20,000 other, often high-ranking, Romans.

Somerset County Council hopes to buy the material to put it on display at the County Museum in Taunton.

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