Press Release - Rare gold coin unearthed at Vindolanda

Vindolanda Trust - Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Roman site of Vindolanda, with an active archaeological research programme which has been ongoing for 43 years, is used to remarkable discoveries – notably the world famous Vindolanda writing tablets which hold the title of Britain’s top archaeological treasure.

With a vast array of finds from 300 years of Roman occupation on this site the discovery of a gold coin had previously alluded 2 generations of archaeologists, that was until 3rd June 2014.


Volunteer Marcel Albert, from Nantes, France, who has been taking part at the Vindolanda dig since 2008, described his discovery simply as ‘magnifique’, and with the knowledge that although 1000’s of coins had already been discovered at Vindolanda but none of them were gold he said ‘I thought it can’t be true, it was just sitting there as I scrapped back the soil, shining, as if someone had just dropped it’.

The well worn coin was soon confirmed by the archaeologists as an aureus (gold coin) which although found in the late 4th century level at Vindolanda bears the image of the Emperor Nero which dates the coin to AD 64-65. This precious currency, equating to over half a years’ salary for a serving soldier, had been in circulation for more than 300 years before being lost on this most northern outpost of the Roman Empire.


Deputy Director of Excavations, Justin Blake said ‘my first find at Vindolanda nearly 20 years ago was a coin, but because of their scarcity I didn’t think for a moment that I would ever see a gold coin unearthed at the site; it was an absolutely magical moment for the whole team’. With discoveries such as this it is unsurprising that volunteers from across the globe strive to be a part of this fascinating dig. Other highlights from the 2014 excavation season so far include beads, brooches, rings, leather shoes, arrowheads, pottery and a gaming counter and as the team are only half way through the season it is probable that there is much more still to come.

It is anticipated that this rare coin will be put on public display at the Vindolanda museum once it has been fully researched and documented. When asked about the possibilities of finding another gold coin Director of Excavations, Dr Andrew Birley noted ‘you actually have more chance of winning the lottery than finding a gold coin on a Roman military site so this is a special and very likely one - off find.

Excavations started on 7th April and run until 19th September and involve 500 volunteers throughout the season.


Photos attached:

Deputy Director of Excavations Justin Blake (Left) with Marcel Albert (Right) holding coin.

  • Close up of Nero Coin front and back

For further information please contact:

Sonya Galloway, The Vindolanda Trust, 01434 344277

Notes to editors:

Vindolanda Charitable Trust

The Vindolanda Trust is an independent archaeological charitable trust, founded in 1970. The Vindolanda Trust does not receive any annual funding and relies on the visitors to both Roman Vindolanda and the Roman Army Museum to fund its archaeological, conservation and education work.

Roman Vindolanda and the Roman Army Museum are both situated in the heart of the Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site, Roman Vindolanda is just to the north of the village of Bardon Mill and the Roman Army Museum is next to the village of Greenhead.

Roman Vindolanda is regarded as the most exciting archaeological site in Europe with its wealth of archaeological remains and ongoing excavations. Vindolanda is home to the world famous Vindolanda Writing Tablets, voted as Britain’s top archaeological treasure by the British Museum, these thin hand written wooden notes have revealed an astonishing amount of first hand information from the people who lived at this site 2000 years ago.

Our archaeologists will be working on site Monday to Friday each week (weather permitting) from 7th April until 20th September 2014 – so visitors can come along and talk to the archaeologists and watch as the story of Vindolanda continues to be discovered.

For further information visit or telephone 01434 344 277

Emperor Nero – Supplied by Prof. Anthony Birley

Nero was to become not only the best known but the most notorious and most hated of all the Roman Emperors. Adopted by his stepfather the Emperor Claudius in AD 50, Nero became Emperor himself in 54, aged only 16, on Claudius' death. Claudius is thought to have been poisoned by his wife Agrippina, Nero's mother, to ensure her son's succession before Claudius' own son Britannicus, then only 13, was old enough to be considered.

At first Nero was dominated by his mother but by the next year started to push her into the background and took the initiative in having his stepbrother Britannicus, still a rival, poisoned. For the next few years he remained popular and was content to follow the advice of his main counsellors, who included the philosopher Seneca, his former tutor. A turning-point came in AD 59, when he had his mother murdered, as she was now regarded as a threat. Nero had been married since AD 53 to his stepsister Octavia, Claudius' daughter, whom he hated and in AD 62 divorced her so as to marry the beautiful Poppaea.

Nero's actions as murderer of his mother, brother and wife, were already enough seriously to dent his popularity with his subjects and to ruin his reputation with posterity. But in AD 64, following the Great Fire of Rome, which many thought he had started deliberately, needing other scapegoats he found them in the Christians, including St Peter and St Paul. They were hunted down, convicted of arson and burned to death in a spectacularly hideous ceremony. Not surprisingly the Christians ever after regarded Nero, the first of a series of Emperors to persecute them, as the personification of evil, the "Beast" of the Book of Revelation or even the Antichrist. But for pagans the Christians were a deeply suspect and unpleasant sect.

In any case, Nero now needed to reconstruct the ruined city, and this gave him the chance to build a vast new palace, which he called the "Golden House". Of course he was badly sort of funds and in one desperate but vain move he sent treasure-hunters to the province of Africa where a charlatan claimed to have located the lost gold of Queen Dido. An easier source was to grab temple treasures and to confiscate the property of his enemies. There was a major conspiracy against him in AD 65, resulting in the execution of those who were involved or were thought to have been,, one being the enormously rich Seneca. Whatever the source of the bullion, his treasury began issuing gold coins in greater profusion than ever before––but with the weight markedly reduced. This fitted the image he was now projecting, a new Golden Age, with his Golden House and in AD 66 a "Golden Day", proclaimed when the Parthian prince Tiridates, after travelling hundreds of miles from Iran, was formally crowned by Nero as King of Armenia. Ignoring further conspiracies as well as unrest in the provinces––of which Britain had been the first to rebel in AD 60 under the legendary Boudica, followed late in 66 by the Jews––Nero took off for a tour of Greece, where he competed in and won first prizes in all the traditional games and indulged his passion for acting and singing in public. But after his return in 67 the pressure mounted, open rebellion in Spain and Gaul was too powerful to resist and the actor-Emperor committed suicide in June AD 68, thus ending the dynasty founded a century earlier by his ancestor Augustus.

Hated by Christians and Jews and by the aristocracy he may have been, but Nero remained popular in Greece, which he exempted from all taxes, and throughout the Greek-speaking east––and also with the common people of Rome, in spite of their suffering in the Great Fire, for he was fondly remembered as the great showman. This positive recollection of Nero persisted and even increased in the late Roman Empire, and not only the plebeians but the aristocracy, many of whom were still fervent pagans, happily commemorated the man regarded by Christians as the Great Persecutor.


Serena C. commented on 19-Jun-2014 10:07 PM
Wow! What a magnificent find! I can't wait to see it in the museum the next time I am at Vindolanda!

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