A RARE coin from the reign of ill-fated Roman emperor Vitellius has been dug up in Swindon and could be the only recorded find of the currency in Wiltshire.

The piece of copper alloy is an unusual discovery as he ruled for just eight tumultuous months before being defeated on the battlefield and executed.

Discovered in Wanborough, the coin depicts the emperor in a slightly more flattering light than others, showing his ruddy complexion and flabby cheeks.

Vitellius reigned in 69AD, the year of the four emperors, which was around 200 years before Roman villas sprang up across Wiltshire in a period of prosperity.

The coin, found by a metal detectorist in September, has been noted as “interesting” by the British Museum and registered on its Portable Antiquities Database.

Richard Henry, finds liaison officer for Wiltshire, said: “You don’t see many coins from him [Vitellius], partly because it was the start of the year of the four emperors and also because he wasn’t around for very long.

“There are only 100 coins of Vitellius on the database, so he is not that common at all. In terms of Wiltshire it looks like it could be the only one found so far.”

Finds in Swindon, particularly in Wroughton, have increased over the past 12 months, with a Mesolithic flint knife among the discoveries declared to the museum.

But no other coins of drink-loving Vitellius, whose army was defeated in Italy before he met his end in Rome, have been registered on the database’s Wiltshire listings.

Mr Henry said: “Wiltshire didn’t have any major Roman towns or imperial armies present at that point in time so it came as a bit of a surprise when it turned up.

“In Worcestershire you see a lot of early Republican denarius which is often seen as a link to the campaigns in places like Herefordshire and Shropshire, but you don’t normally see them in Wiltshire.

“In the 4th Century the county becomes an agricultural grain basket for Gaul and Germany and that’s really when you see a huge amount of Roman material coming up. Before that it does happen, but not in the same quantity.”

How the coin ended up in the earth is a mystery, but Mr Henry said: “Usually with Vitellius they don’t stay in circulation that long. Although this coin is corroded in places it’s in pretty good condition. So my suspicion would be it’s been lost quite soon after it was made.”

The coin has been returned to the finder while the British Museum assess whether it should be declared as Treasure Trove.