A Dutch man is currently facing attempted robbery charges for the failed theft of ancient Roman coins from one of Germany’s largest archeological museums.
In 2019, a group of men broke into the Rhineland State Museum with the intention to steal the Trier Gold Hoard, a collection of over 2,500 solid gold coins. While the defendant was apprehended, his two accomplices are still on the run, according to Deutsche Welle.
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The group entered the museum by scaling scaffolding and prying open a window. Inside, they discovered a thick pane of glass reinforced with steel mesh protecting the collection, which proved too difficult to remove. Within three minutes the alarm went off, prompting the thieves to flee.
The man now facing trial was identified by DNA and later extradited to Germany. At a trial this week, the man pleaded guilty to the charges.
The Trier Gold Hoard is one of the best-preserved stashes of Roman Imperial-era coins ever discovered. Weighing around 41 pounds and valued at $11.9 million, it’s one of the largest collections of its kind and a cornerstone of the museum’s collection.
The city of Trier is among the most important historic sites in Germany for Roman archeology. It is home to the Porta Nigra, the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. Constructed from darkened wood and dating to 170 AD, the gate is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site group known as the Roman Monuments, which also comprises the Cathedral of St. Peter and the Church of Our Lady in Trier.
The ancient treasury was discovered during excavation works in the city in 1993, and experts believe it was hidden for safekeeping during a civil war in 196 AD. The coins found may have been worth the annual salaries of 130 Roman soldiers, according to experts at the museum. The faces of these coins bear engravings of the nation’s emperors, military leaders, and members of the imperial family.
The heist helped initiate a reckoning at Germany’s preeminent cultural institutions, which have been accused of having subpar security measures. In 2017, the Big Maple Leaf, a giant cold coin valued at $4.43 million, was stolen from the Berlin Bode Museum. After vandals splashed 68 artifacts exhibits with an oily liquid at Neues Museum, Pergamon Museum, and Alte Nationalgalerie in 2020, Germany’s minister of state for culture, Monika Grütters, called for improved security and demanded the incident be “thoroughly investigated and questioned.”
The Rhineland State Museum has removed the gold hoard from display while museum security is reevaluated.