Golden find at Northumberland Roman fort after 40 years of digging

A French dig volunteer at Vindolanda has unearthed a gold coin, the first ever in more than 40 years of archaeology at the fort

The gold coin found at Vindolanda Roman fort in Northumberland
The gold coin found at Vindolanda Roman fort in Northumberland

A star find by archaeologists at a Northumberland Roman fort has conjured up emotions of delight and despair.

After more than 40 years of digging, the first gold coin has been unearthed at Vindolanda.

The coin equates to more than half a year’s wages for a Roman soldier, which would have meant despair for whoever lost it.

But there was delight for French dig volunteer Marcel Albert, who made the find.

Marcel, from Nantes in France, has taken part in the annual dig at Vindolanda for the last six years and is following the footsteps of the Fourth Cohort of Gauls, one of the garrisons of the fort.

Thousands of coins have been found during the Vindolanda excavation but nobody had struck gold.

Marcel summed up his good fortune in one word: “Magnifique.”

He said: “I thought it can’t be true. It was just sitting there as I scraped back the soil, shining, as if someone had just dropped it.”

Marcel Albert, right, with the gold coin he unearthed and Vindolanda's Justin Blake
Marcel Albert, right, with the gold coin he unearthed and Vindolanda's Justin Blake

The coin was found in the late 4th Century level at Vindolanda but bears the image of the Emperor Nero which dates it to AD 64-65. It had been in circulation for more than 300 years before being lost on this most northern outpost of the Roman Empire.

Patricia Birley, director of the Vindolanda Trust, said: “This is a very, very rare find because people would have taken great care of such a valuable coin. Whoever lost it must have devastated.

“It would have been in circulation for so long because it was unadulterated gold and a portable, valuable item.”

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.”

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.

On the possibilities of finding another gold coin director of excavations, Dr Andrew Birley said: “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 this year on April 7 and run until September 19, and involve 500 volunteers throughout the season.

Nero, who appears on the coin, 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 16, on Claudius’s death.

Claudius is thought to have been poisoned by his wife Agrippina, Nero’s mother, to ensure her son’s succession before Claudius’s own son Britannicus, then only 13, was old enough to be considered.

Nero later had Britannicus poisoned and his mother murdered.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer