A unique collection of 2,000-year-old artefacts found in Ryedale has just sold for £185,000.

The Ryedale Ritual Bronzes, a group of religious finds discovered by metal detectorists in May 2020 went under the hammer at Hansons Auctioneers today (Thursday).

The items were described as a 'priceless lot', with the auctioneer describing the sale as of huge importance.

"It is an honour and a privilage great to handle this lot which has not been seen for 1,800 years."

As well as a bronze bust of Emperor Marcus Aurelius - made famous in the movie Gladiator - 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, 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 per cent of the population losing their lives. An accomplished scholar, author and philosopher, Aurelius faced the challenge of the pandemic with his own stoic attitude.

In his 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.”