A new collection of Roman coins has been found in a Swiss orchard, one of the largest among archeological findings of this type.
The ancient coins were found several months ago by a Swiss farmer in Ueken, a small town in northwestern Switzerland. He excavated them by accident while inspecting his cherry trees. He then contacted local archaeological experts, who confirmed the presence of a collection of more than 4,000 bronze and silver Roman coins.
Large troves of Roman coins are often found in Britain. In 2009, a collection of nearly 60,000 rust-worn coins, known as the Frome Hoard, were found in a field in Somerset in 2009. This Swiss collection is also one of the largest ever found outside of the UK, which makes it very special.
The discovery also coincides with a renewed global interest in Rome and Roman history, prompted by the discovery of an intact tomb at the archaeological site of Pompeii in October.
Archaeologists explain that the reason why Roman coins are typically found buried in large quantities may be because they were offered as a ritual gift to the Roman gods.
This was the case for the Frome Hoard, but although the majority of the Swiss coins have been excavated, no definite answers for their original purpose have yet been hypothesized.
Archaeologists have determined that their owner systematically buried them between 270 and 294 AD, and never came back to recover them. The coins were taken out of circulation shortly after they were issued, but the archaeologists estimate that they have been worth between one to two years’ wages at the time. The coins, made of bronze and silver components, have been remarkably well-preserved in the soil.
“The owner must have deliberately chosen these coins in order to hoard them,” Swiss coin expert Hugo Doppler explained to the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation. “Their silver content would have guaranteed a certain value conservation in a time of economic uncertainty.”
Swiss archaeologist Georg Matter was thrilled by the discovery.
“As an archaeologist, one hardly experiences something like this more than once in one’s career,” he told Spiegel Online.
As exciting as the discovery is, though, the Swiss farmer who first discovered the coins won’t be able to keep his find.
"He will likely get a [finder’s] fee," he told Agence France-Presse, "but the objects found belong to the public, in accordance with Swiss law."
The coins will be displayed at the Vindonissa de Brugg Museum, which specializes in Roman history, in the Swiss canton of Aargau.