A Roman Gold Coin That Looked Like a Sweet Wrapper - Extraordinary Wiltshire Coin Discovery to be Auctioned

The Licinius I Gold One and a Half Solidus, which is expected to fetch up to £30,000 at Dix Noonan Webb 

14 November 2013

An extremely rare 1,700 year-old Roman gold coin discovered by a metal detecting enthusiast in South Wiltshire is expected to fetch up to £30,000 at an auction in London. Dix Noonan Webb will offer the coin for sale on Thursday, 5 December 2013. It is one of only four known examples of a Gold One and Half Solidus from the reign of Emperor Licinius I.

“This is an incredibly exciting discovery which was made in the most unpromising circumstances,” said Christopher Webb, head of the Coins Department at DNW. “The three other known examples of this type are all in some of Britain’s most famous museum collections."

The discovery by an unnamed metal detecting enthusiast came at the end of a day which until then had been an unmitigated disaster. Even when he came across the coin, he at first thought that it was the gold foil from a packet of Rolos, the chocolates made by Cadbury’s.

“I belong to a metal detecting club that organises Sunday digs mainly in the Wiltshire area,” he said. “However, on that day I was late arriving at the meeting place and everyone had gone. I did not know where the new site was and couldn’t get a mobile phone signal to contact the group so I resigned myself to having wasted my time and petrol. To make things worse, the weather turned nasty and it started raining hard. Heading home, I remembered another site on the way which had not produced many finds for me, but rather than waste the day I decided to head there. Rain is not ideal weather to metal detect in as you quickly get soaked, it becomes hard to read the screen on the detector and the fields turn into mud, making walking hard.”

After an hour and a half of trudging through rain and mud at this site, making a couple of minor finds among a much larger number of shotgun cartridges and drinks can ring pulls, the enthusiast decided to head back to his car. “I had not had a single signal for about 15 minutes when I got a slight response, one that any detectorist will tell you is not worth digging,” he recalled. “However, having had so very few signals for a while, I decided to dig it up. Six inches down I dug out a clod of earth and sticking out of the side was the unmistakable glint of gold. Having dug lots of sweet wrappers up over the years, I thought it was the foil from a packet of Rolos but on pulling it out of the mud I saw it was a coin.”

The metal detectorist realised that it was a Roman coin, took it home and washed it. Further research revealed to be a rare Gold One and a Half Solidus from the reign of Licinius I, who was Emperor of the western half of the Roman Empire from AD308-313 and the eastern half from AD313-324. In 324 he was deposed after losing a civil war with his brother-in-law Constantine I, who ruled the western part of the empire, and the following year was hanged. After his death, all statues of Licinius were pulled down, his laws abolished and many of his coins melted down.

The coin found in South Wiltshire was made at Trier in Germany, then the site of the main mint of the western Roman Empire, around AD313. Just 21mm (0.8in) in diameter and weighing 5.32 grams (0.2 ounces), it has the head of Licinius on one side and depicts him holding a spear standing between two captives on the other. Above is the triumphant slogan ‘ubique victores’ (‘everywhere victories’). Coins like this were struck for the emperor to distribute at special occasions and so it began life as a gift. How it ended up in the South Wiltshire mud will remain a mystery but what is certain is its rarity – the only other known examples are in The British Museum in London, The Hunterian Museum in Glasgow and The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

The metal detectorist observed the requirements of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, the Government project which encourages the recording of archaeological objects found by the public in England and Wales. After it had been photographed and recorded, he decided to keep it in his collection for a time even though he knew it was extremely rare. “I thought no more about it until recently when a friend said he was selling some of his coins and it would be interesting to find out what my coin would be worth,” he said. “Many people mistake metal detectorists as treasure hunters just in it for the money, but most are interested in the history of finds and the real thrill is unearthing something that was last handled centuries ago.”

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