By Hubert Walker for CoinWeek ….
Late last week, construction workers in the town of Tomares, a suburb of the southern Spanish city of Seville, discovered a hoard of almost 1,323 pounds (600 kg) of ancient Roman coins.
According to city planner Lola Vallejo, workers were performing routine work on water pipes near Zaudín Park in Tomares when they noticed “irregular terrain” in one of the ditches they had excavated. At a depth of about one meter (slightly more than one yard), the workers uncovered 19 amphorae – clay vessels used to carry or store grain, wine, olive oil and a wide variety of other products – of a small type that was specifically used to store treasure.
The vessels–10 of which were intact–were brimming with coins. Describing the scene, a spokesman for the Andalusian Department of Culture said that the coins and their containers were “deliberately concealed underground with a few bricks and a ceramic filter”.
Much like other nations rich in cultural and historical artifacts, Spanish authorities follow a protocol when such a discovery is made. Work was suspended, and archaeologists assisted by the Andalusian government began to investigate and remove the amphorae from the site.
The Archaeological Museum of Seville (Museo Arqueológico de Sevilla) is now in charge of the find.
The Romans maintained a presence in Spain and the Iberian Peninsula for approximately 600 years, from the beginning of the Second Punic War in 218 BCE to the early fifth century CE, when a Germanic tribe known as the Visigoths succeeded in forcing a Roman withdrawal.
In fact, the country of Spain gets its name from the Roman province of Hispania.
The coins recovered last week–unusually homogenous in type for such a large find–date to the late third and early fourth centuries CE. Most (but not all) feature the emperors Maximian (ruled 286-305) and Constantine I (“the Great”; ruled 306-337) on the obverse.
Each emperor’s coinage would have found its way to the Iberian provinces for different reasons. Maximian led Roman expeditionary forces into Spain against North African raiders between 296 and 298 but later retired to Massalia (modern-day Marseilles) in Gaul, where he died under suspicious circumstances in 310; Constantine reunited the Eastern and Western portions of the Empire after a period of rebellion.
A variety of images of a mostly allegorical nature grace the coins’ reverses.
The money is believed to have been intended either to pay soldiers and civil servants or to pay imperial taxes.
The coins–almost all of them covered in a green, coppery patina–are in exceptional condition considering their age. The lack of wear leads experts to conclude that they were freshly minted and had yet to enter circulation. They were most likely minted in the eastern part of the Empire (in Greece, Asia Minor or the Middle East, et al.) and imported into the area.
The majority of the coins are made of bronze, though a small number are silver-plated.
Ana Navarro Ortega, head of the Archaeological Museum in Seville, said that the find is “unique for Spain” and possibly the world. As such, she has consulted with colleagues from institutions in Britain, France and Italy, who all emphasize the importance of the find for the academic study of the historical period under consideration.
The museum’s Cultural Department says that no coins like the ones recovered last week already reside in their collection. Once the site investigation is complete and the coins have been processed, they will go on display in a permanent exhibit.
And while Ms. Navarro would not give a more precise estimate, she was willing to state that the “priceless” treasure was worth at least “several million euros”.
The exact number of coins has yet to be counted.
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