Ancient Jar Of Roman Gold Coins Discovered Under Italian Theatre

The gold coins found in the soapstone jar. (Image: MiBAC)

Archaeologists unearthed a pot of gold coins dating back to the 5th century AD under an abandoned theatre near Milan, Italy.

The gold coins, about 300 of them, were found during archaeological excavations in the basement of the condemned Cressoni Theatre in Como, a town located 50km north of Milan. The theatre, opened in 1870 and shuttered in 1997, will be knocked down after archaeologists finalise their investigations, according to The Local.

Around 300 coins were stashed in the jar. (Image: MiBAC)

Unearthed last week, the soapstone jar and its precious contents were sent to a facility in Milan operated by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities. Archaeologists are meticulously working their way through the jar, with about 27 of the coins, each weighing about 4g, having been analysed so far. A gold bar was also discovered, along with two yet-to-be identified objects. The jar dates back to the late Roman Imperial Period, around 300 to 500 AD.

“We do not yet know in detail the historical and cultural significance of the find, but that area is proving to be a real treasure for our archaeology,” explained Alberto Bonisoli, Italian Minister of Cultural Heritage and Activities, in a statement. “A discovery that fills me with pride.”

Speaking at press conference yesterday, coin expert Maria Grazia Facchinetti said the owner of the jar likely “buried it in such a way that in case of danger they could go and retrieve it”.

She said the coins were “stacked in rolls similar to those seen in banks today”, and were engraved with the visages of emperors Honorius, Valentinian III, Leon I, Antonio and Libio Severo, which suggests the coins likely “don’t go beyond 474 AD”. Facchinetti suspects the coins didn’t belong to a private individual, but rather a bank or some other commercial enterprise.

As The History Blog points out, Facchinetti’s interpretation may very well be correct, but the “private individual” theory shouldn’t be ruled out:

The find site is just a few feet away from the forum of the Roman city where merchants, banks and temples would have done brisk cash business. It was also an elite residential neighbourhood, however, so it’s not out of the question that a private individual rolled up his own wealth.

The exact worth of the coins has yet to be determined, but Italian media is suggesting the stash is worth millions of euros.

There’s a fun and fascinating Reddit thread in which coin geeks and history buffs are speculating about the value of the coins at the time they were lost, with most agreeing it was a tremendous amount of money — somewhere between $1.1 million to $2.1 million.

These are just guesses and crude back-of-the-envelope calculations, but regardless, it would seem that someone lost a hell of a lot of money some 1500 years ago.

[MiBAC, The Local, ANSA]

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