Hoard of 5,500 Roman-Era Silver Coins Unearthed in Germany

The coins were buried in what is now the city of Augsburg around the third century C.E.

silver coins
The coins span the reigns of Nero (54 to 68 C.E.) to Septimius Severus (193 to 211 C.E.). Andreas Brücklmair / Kunstsammlungen & Museen

Archaeologists in Augsburg, Germany, have discovered a huge collection of more than 5,500 Roman coins dated back to nearly 2,000 years ago.

The coins “are denarii, the standard silver denomination during the first through early third century [C.E.],” Stefan Krmnicek, a numismatist at the University of Tübingen, tells Live Science’s Owen Jarus.

Weighing in at a total of 33 pounds, the find represents the largest single hoard of ancient Roman silver ever found in Bavaria, Ancient Origins reports. Researchers found the trove in an old riverbed while conducting excavations ahead of construction of a housing complex. 

Augsburg, located about 40 miles northwest of Munich in southern Germany, started out as a Roman military camp built under Emperor Augustus between 8 and 5 B.C.E., notes the History Blog. The camp grew into the town of Augusta Vindelicorum, which later became the capital of the Roman province of Raetia.

As Sebastian Gairhos, head of Augsburg’s archaeology department, says in a statement, the money was probably buried outside the city in the early third century and washed away by a flood hundreds of years later.

He adds, “The coins were thus scattered in the river gravel.”

The treasure was worth 11 to 15 times the annual salary of a common soldier (between 375 and 500 denarii).

oil lamp
Other discoveries made at the site include an intricate oil lamp whose handle is shaped like a crescent moon. Monika Harrer / Stadt Augsburg

“This amount of money must have been enormous by ancient standards,” Krmnicek tells German broadcaster ZDF, per a translation by Arkeonews. “It [was] certainly not owned by someone who belonged to the lower social pyramid, [but rather] people who were active in the military or in trade.”

The oldest coins in the cache were minted under Emperor Nero (reigned 54 to 68 C.E.), while the most recent date to the time of Septimius Severus (reigned 193 to 211 C.E.). Rare coins from the reign of Didius Julianus, who ruled for just two months before being killed in 193 C.E., also appear.

“Augsburg’s rich history has now become even richer,” says Mayor Eva Weber in the statement, adding that the find offers more evidence of the city’s significance within the Roman Empire.

Excavations in the river bed have previously yielded a number of discoveries, including weapons, tools, jewelry and dishes, as well as an intact bronze oil lamp whose handle is shaped like a crescent moon. As the city announced in June, the finds suggest that Augsburg was the oldest Roman base in Bavaria. The artifacts provide evidence that women lived in the camp and that its earliest residents came from across the Roman Empire, including Italy, Spain, North Africa and southern France. 

During the Roman era, the Raetia province, which included portions of present-day Austria, Switzerland and Germany, was significant for its strategic position, per Encyclopedia Britannica. Raetia controlled two important highways—one connecting Italy with the Danube River and the other between Gaul and the Balkan Mountains. This meant the province could block routes that invaders from the north might use to attack Italy.

The city is planning a temporary exhibition of the coins, along with other discoveries from the Roman era, between December 17 and January 9. Researchers are continuing to study the coins, seeking information about their history and former owners.

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