Roman gold coin
A rare Roman gold coin found by a metal detectorist in a field in Kent in March 2019.

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The gold aureus, dating from the brief reign of Allectus (AD293-296), was found by a metal detectorist earlier this year and sold to a private collector on the phone at Dix Noonan Webb’s June 6 sale.

Offered with a £70,000-100,000 estimate, the buyer fought off competition in the room, on the internet and on the phone.

It is thought to be the first Allectus gold coin found in more than 50 years. There are only 24 aurei of Allectus known with a total of 19 different obverse dies recorded. Many depict the war galleys that were key to his brief rise to power in Britannia.

Rebel empire

Little is known about Allectus (his name in Latin translates simply as chosen or elected) but he was treasurer to Carausius, an officer in the Roman navy who seized power in Britain and northern Gaul in 283. Allectus celebrated the new ‘independence’ of Britain by assassinating Carausius and assumed command himself, governing a rebel empire through two fleets controlling the English Channel and the North Sea. Constantius launched an invasion to depose him in September 296 that left Allectus dead on a battlefield, probably at Silchester.

It is thought the coinage minted by Allectus was demonetised and melted down after his death, as none has been found in later hoards.

The anonymous metal detectorist, who found the coin with his brother, previously said: “I had permission to be on the land [a newly ploughed field close to a Roman road near Dover] by the owner – at first we found bits of old tractors and shotgun cartridges, but after 45 minutes I found the coin. I initially thought it was a half sovereign, but I gently sprayed it and it started to gleam. 

“I contacted the British Museum, who asked me to take it to show to their expert, Dr Sam Moorhead. He was able to confirm that the coin matches another in the British Museum collection [found at Silchester in the 19th century].”

Following the sale he said: “We expected it to sell for a little over estimate, but not five times the estimate! We are sharing the money with the farmer, who is also thrilled!” 

The £460,000 hammer price is the highest price for a coin sold by DNW. Five years ago the auction house sold a Roman coin minted during the reign of Augustus Caesar for a hammer price of £400,000 on September 22, 2014.

Christopher Webb, director and head of DNW’s coin department, said: “This is the most expensive coin that we have ever sold at Dix Noonan Webb – as well as being one of the world’s most expensive Roman coins, it is the most money ever paid for a coin of Allectus and it is now the most valuable Roman coin minted in Britain to have been sold at auction.”