It’s an unfortunate reality that the ancient coin market is frequently plagued by unethical or outright illegal behavior.
The incentives for fraud are strong because of high coin values and difficulty in tracking relics that were produced many centuries, even millennia, ago.
In one case of triumph, a rare silver denarius coin from the Roman Empire has finally been recovered after being stolen more than 30 years ago.
An Accidental Discovery Suddenly Goes Missing
In 1985, a construction project in the city of Alijó, located in the northern part of Portugal, uncovered a surprising discovery. A clay pot found during the routine expansion work happened to contain 65 coins.
The coins dated to about 69 C.E., making them nearly 2,000 years old. They were silver denarii coins from the Roman Empire. The silver denarius was one of the most important coins of the ancient world, enjoying widespread use across the empire.
However, shortly after the discovery was made, the coins were stolen. For more than three decades, none of them were recovered.
Thanks to the keen eye of an expert, at least one of these ancient artifacts is finally back in its proper place.
Historian Provides a Break In the Case
In retrospect, the reason that the coins were never recovered was because whoever stole them quickly unloaded the ill-gotten haul at a small marketplace across the border in Spain. In all likelihood, the 65 coins were also split up and sold separately to further avoid detection.
Fast forward to the present day. An auction catalog for a sale of various coins in Madrid, Spain caught the eye of a History professor at Porto University in Portugal. By chance, he recognized a listing for one of the long-ago stolen coins.
The Judicial Police (abbreviated PJ in Portuguese) responded to the tip from the historian and recovered the coin before it was auctioned. The starting bid was €7,000 (approximately $8,750) but likely would have realized a much higher hammer price if bidding had proceeded.
Photographs taken of the original find in the 1980s confirmed that this silver denarius indeed came from the stolen cache. This also helped authorities separately track down nine more of the stolen coins.
The coin was minted during the tumultuous “Year of the Four Emperors” in ancient Roman history. Although it may have been marketing hyperbole, the coin was described in the auction catalog as “one-of-a-kind.”
Subsequently, this coin was returned to Portugal’s ministry of culture and will go to a museum in the city of Braga. It is considered to be part of the “national historical and archaeological heritage” of the country, according to a report by the English-language periodical The Portugal News.
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