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Gold Roman coin found near Pompeii fetches eye-opening amount at auction

A gold Roman coin celebrating the conquest of Britain by Emperor Claudius — a coin first discovered in 1895 in the ashes of Pompeii — has sold at auction for nearly $22,400. 

The gold coin that marks the conquest in 43 AD was uncovered among the ruins of a suburb a short distance north of Pompeii, SWNS reported this week.

Experts said they weren’t surprised that the coin, connected to two of the most dramatic events of the ancient world, fetched such an eye-opening auction price, the same source noted.

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The “breathtaking” history of the small coin — which has seen intense interest from collectors and museums across Europe — is viewed as even more valuable now that treasure hunting is prohibited in the UNESCO-protected areas surrounding Pompeii, said SWNS.

Preserved beneath mounds of volcanic ash

Antiquarians first found the coin in 1895 beneath mounds of volcanic ash inside the Roman villa ravaged and preserved by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD.

The eruption (and all that ensued) is still regarded as the most high-profile in history.

A gold Roman coin celebrating Emperor Claudius' conquest of Britain was discovered in the ashes of Pompeii — and has just sold at auction for nearly $22,400. 

A gold Roman coin celebrating Emperor Claudius’ conquest of Britain was discovered in the ashes of Pompeii — and has just sold at auction for nearly $22,400.  (SWNS)

The eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD killed over 16,000 residents of the city and its surrounding environs, including the smaller town of Herculaneum and other towns and villages in the region on the Amalfi coast.

The coin was discovered as part of a horde alongside the body of a servant in the wine-pressing room of the Villa della Pisanella in the suburbs of the town of Boscoréale, noted SWNS, a British news service.

The volcanic temperatures of the eruption toned the coin with a distinctive reddish hue.

This particular coin was buried deep enough under the ash that its golden glow was preserved. 

However, this particular coin was buried deep enough under the ash that its golden glow was preserved, said SWNS.  

From the position of the human remains found near the horde — alongside silver tableware inscribed to the lady of the house, Maxima — it was determined that the unidentified man perished while guarding the treasures, the same source noted.

A landscape photo of Mount Vesuvius in Italy is seen in this photo. 

A landscape photo of Mount Vesuvius in Italy is seen in this photo.  (Shutterstock)

The coin is estimated to have been worth the equivalent of some six to eight weeks’ worth of wages for the average Roman soldier, said SWNS.

One face of the coin depicts the triumphal arch of Claudius on the Via Flaminia road out of Rome, topped by an equestrian statue of Emperor Claudius flanked by British battle shields and inscribed “DE [VICTIS] BRITANN[IS] — ‘Triumph over the Britons.’”

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Emperor Claudius launched the Roman conquest of Britain in AD 43, largely completed in the southern half of Britain by AD 87, SWNS noted. 

Roman historians record Claudius as receiving the surrender of 11 British tribal chieftains.

The coin was passed down through generations of a family. 

The first recorded sale of the coin came in 1898.

That’s when the coin celebrating British defeat at the hands of Romans was bought by Englishman Sir Samuel Bagster Boulton, a vice chair at the London Chamber of Commerce, said SWNS.

The coin was passed down through generations of the Boulton family through Sir Samuel’s children — one of whom survived the sinking of the RMS Lusitania in May 1915.

The family sold its collection of Boscoréale coins in 1942 to London coin dealers Spink — and the coin in question was then sold for nearly $600 today to the present vendor’s family, where it’s remained since, SWNS reported.

A man walks past the statue of Ephebos inside the museum Antiquarium in Pompeii, southern Italy, Monday, Jan. 25, 2021. The city was destroyed in 79 A.D. by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. 

A man walks past the statue of Ephebos inside the museum Antiquarium in Pompeii, southern Italy, Monday, Jan. 25, 2021. The city was destroyed in 79 A.D. by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.  (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

But the coin was finally sold at another Spink auction for the first time in more than 80 years to a private collector.

Gregory Edmund, the Roman coin adviser at Spink, said, “If you were to combine the two most dramatic events of the ancient world into one object, this would be the dream combination,” SWNS reported.

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He added that while “its discovery is hardly bathed in the rigorous archeological disciplines we would demand today, and have since rightfully legislated the world over to enshrine, the pure theatrical romance of finding Roman gold leaves little to anyone’s imagination … Few objects could ever resonate so emphatically as this.”

“Few objects could ever resonate so emphatically as this.”

He also said, “Historical fact and romantic fiction are wedded together in this object. To actually stop and comprehend what this coin has played witness to: from the very hands that crafted the Roman invasion of Britain, to being buried by the volcanic ash of the most famous natural disaster of the ancient world.”

He noted, “It is truly breathtaking,” SWNS also reported.

Today, Pompeii and the other villages and towns that were decimated by the Vesuvius eruption are protected as world heritage sites.

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Said Edmund, as SWNS reported, “I am not at all surprised that bidders fought like modern-day gladiators to own this treasured heirloom of antiquity — their first opportunity to do so in over 80 years. I am very glad to see the infectious passion of the winning bidder who reveres the cultural significance of this object first and foremost as its next privileged guardian.”

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He added, “If only this coin could talk, what more could it tell us?”

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