A ‘nationally important’ Roman hoard discovered in Ryedale is to go on public display for the first time this week ahead of its auction.

The bronze bust of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius is among a unique collection of 2,000-year-old artefacts which are set to go for between £70k and £90k at the auction next month.

The fine bronze bust is part of a collection known as the Ryedale Ritual Bronzes, a group of religious finds discovered by metal detectorists James Spark and Mark Didlick, 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.

Adam Staples, Historica expert at Hansons Auctioneers, which is handling the auction, 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 stoic attitude.

In Aurelius’ 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.”

At the time of the find James told the Gazette & Herald: “The day was a memorable one. Mark has detected the land for a few years and had the odd Roman find here and there, so there was a potential for some finds, but never in a million years did we expect to find what we did.

“After a slow start we headed to a different part of the field and I came across a large target which when I dug it up I thought it was a lead toy soldier on a horse. Within a foot away I unearthed a large Roman bust and Plumb weight, and the following day Mark unearthed a horse head terminal.”

Julian Evan-Hart, editor of Treasure Hunting magazine, said: “Mark and James have provided an amazing window into the past only made possible by the hobby of metal detecting and the finders’ dedication to it.

“I must add on a personal note that it was, as always, yet another great privilege to be able to be involved with sharing the details of such a marvellous discovery.”

The Ryedale Ritual Bronzes are expected to generate high interest and will be available for viewing by appointment in London on April 29 and York on May 11.They are the star lot in Hansons’ two-day Historica: Coins and Antiquities Auction on May 20 and 21. For further details, contact Adam Staples astaples@hansonsauctioneers.co.uk or phone 01283 733988.