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Page last updated at 13:50 GMT, Tuesday, 29 June 2010 14:50 UK
Sussex Roman treasure could leave county

The High Weald Hoard
Found in the ground: the High Weald Hoard

By Chris Bennett
BBC Sussex

Once it was imperial silver, destined to be paid to a legionary garrison at the edge of a crumbling empire.

The High Weald Hoard
The hoard was found in 2006 by Tim Symonds
Since then it has been assessed by the British Museum
Now it will go for auction to the highest bidder

Or perhaps it was the nest egg of just one soldier, collected over years and many campaigns, ready for a long-awaited retirement in the Mediterranean sun.

No-one knows too much about the High Weald Hoard. Whether it was hidden or lost, or who might once have owned it.

But, after lying undiscovered for at least 1800 years, it is again firmly at the centre of attention.

It was found by Tim Symonds, from Burwash, as he trudged back from a session with his metal detector.

Roman soldiers
The hoard could have been a legionnaire's life savings

"It was winter. It was about four in the evening, it was getting dark and it suddenly started to pour down. I thought 'to heck with this'," said Mr Symonds.

"I headed straight back to my car. I still had the machine on - the detector - and it went 'beep'. I thought 'Oh no, I can't be bothered'. You know; this will be another nail."

"I dug there and within two or three inches of the surface up came what turned out to be two third century Roman coins," he said.

This would have been the equivalent of a legionnaire saving every sou...for the whole of his working life
Tim Symonds

In fact there were nearly 2000 silver coins in the hoard. One of the coins in the hoard, commemorating the Empress Cornelia is valued at more than £4000.

Another, dating from the period of Empress Tranquillina, is worth £2500.

It has been dated to the third century AD, a troubled period in the Roman Empire.

The old Roman Empire had split into the Eastern and Western Empires.

A Roman cavalry charge
The 3rd century was a troubled period in Sussex

Villas built along the Sussex coast had begun to decline and Fishbourne Roman Palace was destroyed by fire.

Banks were unheard of. Wealth had to be hidden.

"What you did was put your earnings in a crock and bury it," said Julian Porter, curator of Bexhill on Sea Museum.

"We'd love to have them...it gives us something tangible from the period. A hoard like this; we have never come across anything like it before." said Mr Porter.

Two centuries later, the High Weald Hoard is still producing cash-related headaches, because the law says it must be sold to the highest bidder.

Unless £40,000 of modern money can be found to buy it, the coins could be on the move again.

If Bexhill Museum cannot raise the funds, then the hoard could be bought up by someone from outside Sussex.

Tim Symonds, the man who found it almost by chance, is hopeful that it can stay in the county.

"This would have been the equivalent of a legionnaire saving every sou, or whatever they would have called these small coins in Roman times for the whole of his working life, ready to go back to Dacia or wherever he wants to go back to and buy some land."

"I think it's absolutely right that Bexhill should have it. There is nothing like this that has been found around here." he said.

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