A stash of Roman gold coins uncovered beneath a theater in Italy last week could be worth millions of dollars, local media have suggested.
Archeologists have said the money dates back to the 5th century, an era marking the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Hundreds of the coins were found hidden in a soapstone jar buried beneath the Cressoni Theater in the northern city of Como, close to Milan, according to CNN.
Italy’s Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities reported the find last week. The coins were subsequently transferred to Milan’s Mibac restoration laboratory, where archeologists and restorers will examine them further. Additional information on the find is set to be released later today.
The Cressoni Theater opened in 1807 and later becoming a cinema before its closure in 1997. Stashed inside a stone urn, the coins were discovered by laborers working on a project to turn the disused theater into apartments.
It sits close to the area covered by the Roman-era town of Novum Comum, established around the 1st century B.C. Many other Roman artifacts have previously been discovered in the area.
Stumbling upon such treasure is unusual. Though authorities have not yet confirmed the value of the discovery, The Local Italy cited national media as suggesting the coins could be worth millions. According to The Times, local archeology superintendent Luca Rinaldi said the treasure’s value is “inestimable,” adding: “We are talking about an exceptional discovery.”
Culture Minister Alberto Bonisoli released a statement noting: “We do not yet know in detail the historical and cultural significance of the find, but that area is proving to be a real treasure for our archeology.” Bonisoli described the find as “a discovery that fills me with pride.”
Archeologists are yet to establish who the coins belonged to or why they were buried. Rinaldi said the discovery was particularly unusual due to the large number of the coins and how well they had been preserved.
“It’s practically an entire collection, unlike anything else ever found in northern Italy,” he said. “Sometimes coins that are found are stuck together but these are all separate, it was like opening a wallet.”
The coins were minted as the Roman Empire—which had ruled over much of Europe and the Mediterranean region for centuries—was in decline. Eventually, the western portion of the empire collapsed under repeated incursions by tribes such as the Visigoths, Vandals and Huns.
The find is the most significant in recent years. Archeologists have previously uncovered even older Roman currency, for example in 2016 when a 2,000-year-old gold coin was found in Jerusalem. Likely minted in 56-76 A.D., the coin bears the face of Nero, one of Rome’s more famous emperors.