(ORDO NEWS) — Long thought to be a fake, a gold coin has turned out to be genuine and depicts a missing Roman emperor named Sponsianus, according to a new study.
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The Sponsion coin (pictured above) held in the Hunter Collection at the University of Glasgow (The Hunterian) was among several others of the same design discovered in Transylvania in present-day Romania in 1713.
They have been considered forgeries since the mid-19th century due to their crude, odd design features and messy inscriptions.
Scientists compared the coin to other Roman coins held by The Hunterian, including two authentic ones. The result delighted scientists and historians.
The scientists found minerals on the coin’s surface that were consistent with being buried in soil for an extended period of time and then exposed to air.
The minerals have been cemented with silica, a cementation that naturally occurs over a long period of time in the soil. The team also found signs of wear indicating that the coin was in active circulation.
Lead author Professor Paul N. Pearson (UCL Earth Sciences) said, “Scientific analysis of these ultra-rare coins is saving Emperor Sponsian from oblivion.
Our evidence suggests that he ruled over Roman Dacia, an isolated gold-mining outpost, when the empire was engulfed in civil strife and the frontier lands were overrun by plundering invaders.”
Coinage has always been an important symbol of power and authority in human history.
Recognizing this, and unable to obtain official issues from the mint in Rome, Sponsianus is supposed to have authorized the issuance of locally produced coins, some bearing his face, to support a functioning economy in his isolated frontier area.
When the coins were discovered in the early 18th century, they were considered genuine and were among other imitations of Roman coins made outside the empire. However, since the middle of the 19th century, attitudes have changed.
The coins were considered fakes due to their appearance, which became the generally accepted view until the 21st century.
Rome, Dacia, Romania and Moldova
The Roman province of Dacia, an area that intersects with modern Romania, was a region prized for its gold mines. Archaeological research has established that the area was cut off from the rest of the Roman Empire around 260 AD.
The current study is the first case of scientific analysis of sponsored coins. The research team used powerful microscopes in visible and ultraviolet light, as well as scanning electron microscopy and spectroscopy.
Only four coins bearing the image of Sponsian are known to have survived to this day, all apparently from the 1713 hoard. High magnification microscopic analysis revealed evidence of authenticity.
Jesper Eriksson, curator of numismatics at The Hunterian, said of the work, “It was a really exciting project for The Hunterian and we are delighted that our results have inspired joint research with colleagues from a museum in Romania.”
Alexandru Constantin Chituta (Chituță), interim manager of the Brukenthal National Museum, said: “For the history of Transylvania and Romania in particular, as well as for the history of Europe in general, if accepted by the scientific community, these results will mean the addition of another important historical figure.”.
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