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Roman Britain

The Existence of Domitianus Confirmed

Edited from BBC News, 25 February 2004

A coin which resolved a mystery surrounding a little-known Roman emperor went on display at a new exhibition at the British Museum in 2004.

The base silver coin, which bore the face of Emperor Domitianus, was found by Brian Malin as he combed a field in Oxfordshire with a metal detector. Only one other such coin exists, showing the face of the man who ruled Britain for just four days, but this find was dismissed as a hoax.

Experts commented that the discovery proved that the earlier coin, which had been found in France a hundred years beforehand, was actually genuine and that Domitianus did in fact exist.

Historians believe that Domitianus was briefly the Roman ruler of Britain, an upstart from the legion who was ousted for treason for daring to declare himself emperor and having the coins made.

The coin was estimated to be worth more than 10,000. It went on display at the British Museum in London at the end of February 2004. Mr Malin, who had been searching for treasure with his metal detector for more than fifteen years, found the coin in a field in April 2003, fifteen kilometres to the south-east of Oxford.

It was in a pot of five thousand other coins, all of which were stuck together and which also bore the heads of various emperors. Dating from AD 250 to about AD 275, they spanned five emperors and a time of great upheaval for the Roman empire.

Richard Abdy, Roman coin curator at the British Museum, said: 'The Roman empire was beginning to fray. Domitianus, it seems, ruled in AD 271 and there was only one coin [known] with his image [on it]. There are references to Domitianus in two ancient texts but they described him as an officer who had been punished for treason.'

Dr Chris Howgego, curator for Roman coins at the Ashmolean Museum, said: 'It is exciting and valuable and interesting. Brian Malin deserves a lot of credit because he did not even delve into the jar, instead bringing it punctually into the museum, and he is rather sweet. He has not once asked about the value - he has asked "how important is this and what can we learn?"'

In line with Britain's treasure trove laws, a coroner's inquest was to be held and an independent panel would decide on the value of the five thousand-coin hoard. The panel would then mediate between Mr Malin and the Ashmolean, which had stated that it was interested in buying the pot of coins.



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