A rich deposit of follis, a bronze coin introduced around 294 AD with the monetary reform of the former Roman emperor Diocletian, dating back to the first half of the 4th century AD was discovered in the sea of the north-eastern coast of Sardinia, in the territory of Arzachena.
According to an initial evaluation, based on the overall weight of the find, the number of large bronze coins would be between 30,000 and 50,000, e.g. even more than those found in 2013 in the United Kingdom, in Seaton Down, Devon, when a metal detectorist discovered 22,888 follis. Apart from the coin hoard, fragments of amphorae of African origin and, in smaller numbers, of oriental production have also been identified.
The finds were discovered by an Italian diver who noticed something metallic at a shallow depth, not far from the coast. The following day the underwater archaeological unit of the Superintendency of Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape of Sassari and Nuoro together with the Carabinieri of the Cultural Heritage Protection Unit of Sardinia and the Carabinieri Underwater Unit of Sardinia carried out an initial examination in the sea area. The Diving Unit of the Carabinieri of Cagliari and that of the Fire Brigade of Sassari, together with the State Police, the Financial Police and the Port Authorities also took part in the underwater investigation.
It turned out that two zones of dispersion of follis existed in a large sandy area between the beach and the underwater seagrass. The find suggests that shipwrecks might be preserved nearby.
The coins are in an exceptional state of conservation. Only four pieces are damaged, although still legible. They span from 324 (Licinius’ coinage) to 340 AD and come from almost all the mints of the empire active in that period with the exception of Antioch, Alexandria and Carthage.
The restoration and conservation of the coins will allow us to broaden and deepen our knowledge about the context of the finds.
According to Luigi La Rocca, official from Sardinia’s archaeology department: “The treasure found in the waters of Arzachena represents one of the most important discoveries of numismatic finds in recent years and highlights once again the richness and importance of the archaeological heritage still preserved in our seas, crossed by men and goods since ancient times. An extraordinary but also very fragile heritage, constantly threatened by natural phenomena and human action, for the protection of which the Ministry, through the action of its central and peripheral structures, has developed extraordinary recovery and conservation methodologies and effective techniques and implemented innovative evaluation strategies”.