24 July 2024 The Future is the Product of the Past

Ancient Roman coin thought to be fake -certainly authentic and proves the existence of ‘forgotten’ leader Sponsian, study claims

History is littered with artifacts that were later discovered to be forgeries, but the opposite can also occur. A new analysis of ancient Roman coins that had previously been dismissed as forgeries has revealed that they appear to be authentic, revealing a previously unknown Roman emperor.

Coins that serve as the sole remaining proof of the existence of the fictitious Roman emperor Sponsian have been discovered to be genuine 3rd-century issues.

The coins in question were discovered in 1713 in Transylvania and bear a portrait of a man’s face with the inscription “Sponsian.” That name does not correspond to any known Roman emperor or other historical figures, and this, combined with the crude craftsmanship and mismatched design features, has led historians to dismiss the coins as poorly made forgeries since the mid-nineteenth century.

Carl Gustav Heraeus (1671-1725), Inspector of Medals for the Imperial Collection in Vienna, was the first to document the coins in March 1713. He recorded the acquisition of eight coins found in Transylvania. Another 15 coins that match Heraeus’ description came to light starting in 1730, and scholars believe they were part of a wider assemblage that was sold to a number of different collections over the years, including The Hunterian museum at the University of Glasgow.

Among the four coins from the wider assemblage now in the collection of The Hunterian is one featuring the unknown “emperor” Sponsian. It is designed in the style of coins from the mid-third century, but the design on the reverse is a copy of a Republican-era silver coin from the 1st century B.C. That reverse design would have been close to 400 years old when the Sponsian coin was made. That and other atypical features of the wider assemblage coins have led scholars to peg them as fakes, perhaps the work of a talented forger working in early 18th century Vienna who duped Heraeus.

A forgotten Roman emperor has been saved from obscurity as a coin long thought to be fake has finally been authenticated. Photo: Pearson et.al. Plos One
A forgotten Roman emperor has been saved from obscurity as a coin long thought to be fake has finally been authenticated. Photo: Pearson et.al. Plos One

Now researchers at University College London and the University of Glasgow have investigated the strange coins’ origins more closely.

 The team examined one under powerful microscopes in visible and ultraviolet light, and with scanning electron microscopy and spectroscopy, and compared them to other coins confirmed to be genuine.

This comprehensive analysis revealed that the coin’s surface bore patches of minerals that were cemented in place by silica – evidence of a natural process that occurs when something is buried for a long time. On top of that is a layer of oxidation products, which occur only after something has been re-exposed to air. The coin itself also showed microscopic scratch marks, the kind of wear-and-tear expected from having been in active circulation at some point.

All of these indicators point to the coins being genuine, dating back nearly 1,800 years. Based on their findings, the team devised a hypothesis about who this Sponsian was, how his face ended up on coins, and why we’d never heard of him.

Considering the historical record alongside the new evidence from the coins, the researchers suggest that Sponsian was an army commander in the Roman Province of Dacia during a period of military strife in the 260s CE.

As a result, Sponsian’s name may not have been influential enough on a large enough scale to survive written history. It could also explain the crudeness of the coins.

“Scientific analysis of these ultra-rare coins rescues the emperor Sponsian from obscurity,” said Professor Paul Pearson, lead author of the study. “Our evidence suggests he ruled Roman Dacia, an isolated gold mining outpost, at a time when the empire was beset by civil wars and the borderlands were overrun by plundering invaders.”

The research was published in the journal PLOS ONE.

 University College London

Related Articles

A Roman sarcophagus containing two skeletons was found in Bath, England

29 June 2021

29 June 2021

Stone walls, a Roman sarcophagus, and a cremation burial have been unearthed in a renovation project at the Bathwick Roman...

Egyptian Pharaoh Slain in Battle Because of the Hippos

17 February 2021

17 February 2021

The mummy of Pharaoh Seqenenre Taa II, found in 1880, was re-analyzed. When it was found, the deep wounds on...

200,000-year-old hand axe discovered in the northern part of Saudi Arabia

5 November 2023

5 November 2023

The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) of Saudi Arabia has announced that archeological excavation teams at the Qurh site in...

Archaeologists in Peru discover a mummy tied with 800-year-old ropes

28 November 2021

28 November 2021

On Peru’s central coast, archaeologists discovered a mummy estimated to be at least 800 years old. The mummy’s body was...

Artifacts for sale offered at a Dutch auction house returned to Peru

9 July 2021

9 July 2021

The Dutch government announced in a press release today that the artifacts that were put up for sale at an...

East and West Meeting at the King’s Dinner Table

7 April 2021

7 April 2021

Researchers from Tezukayama University and the Uzbekistan Archaeological Institute reported that a food pantry about 37 feet long and 10...

Ancient Hippodrome, Subject of Ben-Hur Movie, Will Become “Arkeo Sports Park”

8 August 2021

8 August 2021

Ben-Hur, a wealthy prince living in Jerusalem, is a historical figure who struggled for the freedom of the Jews during...

USF team discovers 2,000-year-old Roman house during excavation in Malta

8 August 2023

8 August 2023

A team of researchers and students unearthed a 2,000-year-old Roman house in Malta, complete with a waste disposal system and...

2000-year-old ancient Roman Road, described as the most important in Scottish history, has been discovered

3 November 2023

3 November 2023

A 2000-year-old ancient Roman road was unearthed in Old Inn Cottage’s garden near Stirling, Scotland. The site is located a...

Archaeologists have found seven pairs of Anglo-Saxon brooches in seven graves during an excavation in Gloucestershire

5 April 2022

5 April 2022

Archaeologists have found seven pairs of Anglo-Saxon saucer brooches, one pair in each of seven burials unearthed in an excavation...

The Sedgeford Anglo-Saxon malting complex may be the largest ever discovered in the UK

23 July 2023

23 July 2023

As archaeological excavations resume on a hill in Sedgeford, near Hunstanton, a seaside town in Norfolk, England, now more evidence...

Archaeologists discovered 130 dwellings around the Ringheiligtum Pömmelte monument “German Stonehenge”

15 June 2021

15 June 2021

Archaeologists have unearthed 130 dwellings at an Early Bronze Age monument in Germany, indicating that the ‘Stonehenge’ was once home...

Archaeologists Unearth Roman Archive of Ancient City of Doliche

20 November 2023

20 November 2023

Archaeologists from the Asia Minor Research Center at the University of Münster have uncovered the municipal archive in the ancient...

A sculpture of a snake-bodied Roman-German deity was discovered in Stuttgart

23 April 2024

23 April 2024

A sculpture of a snake-bodied Roman-German deity was discovered at the Roman fort in Stuttgart, Germany. Since the beginning of...

7,000 years ago the earliest evidence for the cultivation of a fruit tree came from the Jordan valley

17 June 2022

17 June 2022

Tel Aviv University and Jerusalem’s Hebrew University researchers have unraveled the earliest evidence for the domestication of a fruit tree....