A bronze bust of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius is among a unique collection of 2,000-year-old artefacts available to view for the first time this week (April 29) ahead of their sale at Hansons Auctioneers.
The fine bronze bust is part of a collection known as the Ryedale Ritual Bronzes, a group of religious finds discovered by metal detectorists in the Ryedale area of Yorkshire in May 2020.
As well as the bust, which would have been mounted as the head of a priest’s sceptre, the hoard contained an equestrian statuette of the God Mars, a horse head knife handle and a large bronze pendulum. The ‘nationally important’ collection will go to auction in May with an estimate of £70,000-£90,000.
It will be available to view by appointment in London on April 29 - the week that marks the 1900th anniversary of Marcus Aurelius’s birth in Rome, Italy, on April 26, 121 AD. Viewings will also be available in York on May 11 and at Hansons’ Derbyshire headquarters.
Adam Staples, Historica expert at Hansons Auctioneers, said: “The hoard of artefacts was probably buried as a religious offering which marked the closure of a rural shrine or the death of a priest. The artefacts would have formed a suite of ritual implements, to be utilised when performing religious ceremonies and for predicting the future.
“The hoard was taken to York Museum and recorded through the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme.”
Marcus Aurelius became Emperor in March of AD 161 and his 19-year reign was one of relative peace and prosperity for Rome. However, in AD 165 troops returning from Mesopotamia brought with them a virus which swept across the entire Empire – the Antonine Plague.
Now believed to be an outbreak of Smallpox, this ancient pandemic devastated the Roman citizens, with an estimated 10% of the population losing their lives. An accomplished scholar, author and philosopher, Aurelius faced the challenge of the pandemic with his own stoic attitude.
In his book ‘Meditations’ he wrote: ‘How unlucky I am that this should happen to me. But not at all. Perhaps I should say how lucky I am that I am not broken by what has happened’.
Adam said: “He is indeed very lucky not to have been broken by his 1,850 years spent underground. The bust has survived extremely well and is in very fine condition with a glossy green patina. This is a very rare opportunity to own a nationally important group of artefacts.”
The Ryedale Ritual Bronzes are expected to generate high interest and will be available for viewing by appointment in London on April 29, York on May 11 and also at Hansons’ Derbyshire saleroom.
They are the star lot in Hansons’ two-day Historica: Coins and Antiquities Auction on May 20-21. For further details, or to arrange a viewing, please contact Adam Staples [email protected] or telephone 01283 733988.