A LITTLE-known hoard of rare Roman coins, some of which are believed to be almost 2,000 years old, has been donated to a town's historical archive.

The collection, which was unearthed by Richard Frank in Helmsley in 1931 and had been kept by his son, also named Richard Frank, until his death, includes 34 silver Roman denarii, many in good condition, dating from as early as AD69.

A total of 11 different Roman emperors or their wives are represented on the coins, including Marcus Aurelius, who is portrayed in the film Gladiator, Vespasian, Trajan and Septimius Severus.

The coins were identified by Philip Corder, who led the first excavations at the Roman fort at Malton in the 1930s.

Mystery surrounds how the coins came to be hoarded in the town, as other than the remains of one of the most northerly Roman villas in Britain at nearby Beadlam, there is little evidence of Romans settling in the area.

It is believed that the hoard was deposited not much later than AD218 - the date of the latest coin - during the reign of Emporer Severus Alexander, who was assassinated after overseeing the collapse of the monetary economy.

The value of the coins, which have been given to the Helmsley Archive by Mr Frank's family, remains unclear, it is understood the hoard may have been buried as currency depreciated during the third century, before which most Roman coins were struck at Rome.

A Helmsley Archaeological and History Society spokesman said high-value silver currency is "very seldom found lost or scattered on a habitation site because of its increased value".

The archive's custodians Jen and Paul Harris said English Heritage had helped them to store the coins under modern conservation conditions.

Mrs Harris said: "We are delighted to have received this bequest which will be of undoubted interest to Helmsley residents and others.

"Although we have no permanent display facilities for the archive, images of all of the coins and their detailed descriptions can be seen online at helmsleyarchive.org.uk."

Graham Lee, the North York Moors National Park's senior archaeological conservation officer, said apart from the Beadlam villa and crop marks, that could be Iron Age or Roman in fields near Helmsley, the area was not known for its Roman heritage.

He said: "The coins are all part of a bigger picture that has yet to be revealed."