A large collection of gold coins dating back to late Roman times has been found in St Albans.

The 159 coins, known as solidus, were found on private land in the north of the district at the beginning of this month.

The collection, which is said to be in very good condition, dates back to the end of the fourth century.

It is believed to be one of the largest collections ever discovered in the UK.

The value of the gold is not yet known.

The coins were found scattered across a large area and experts believe they have been disturbed during the last couple of hundred years by quarrying or plough action.

The discovery was made by a team from the district council’s museum’s service.

David Thorold, prehistory to medieval curator at Verulamium Museum, said: "During the period of the Roman occupation of Britain, coins were usually buried for two reasons.

"They were buried as a religious sacrifice to the gods, or as a secure store of wealth, with the aim of later recovery.

"Threat of war or raids might lead to burial in the latter case, as may the prospect of a long journey, or any other risky activity.

"Gold solidi were extremely valuable coins and were not traded or exchanged on a regular basis.

"They would have been used for large transactions such as buying land or goods by the shipload.

"The gold coins in the economy guaranteed the value of all the silver and especially the bronze coins in circulation.

"If you saved enough bronze, you could exchange it for a silver coin.

"If you saved enough silver, you could exchange it for a gold coin.

"However, most people would not have had regular access to them.

"Typically, the wealthy Roman elite, merchants or soldiers receiving bulk pay were the recipients."

Independent experts from the British Museum’s panel will now examine the coins.

Councillor Mike Wakely, portfolio holder for sports, leisure and heritage at the council, said: "This is an exciting find of national significance, and one that our museums’ team is very excited about.

"We hope to have an opportunity to display these coins at Verulamium Museum in St Albans over the coming months, once the formalities have been dealt with."