Roman coins considered for centuries to be fakes are subject to a new evaluation
In 1713, an inspector of medals documented the acquisition of eight gold Roman coins that had been buried in Transylvania. For centuries, experts believed they were knockoffs – and poorly made, at that.
The coins featured the image of an otherwise unknown leader and features that differed from other mid-3rd century Roman coins. But now researchers who have re-examined the coins, which were in a collection at the University of Glasgow, say they may in fact be genuine.
The design on the coin was irregular for the period, and the man depicted on it, Sponsian, has been largely lost to history. The coins included references to “failed legends and historically mixed motifs”, experts said.
Research published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE posited that the coins — and Sponsian, the man depicted — deserved another look.
Using modern imaging technology, the researchers said they found “deep micro-abrasion patterns” that were “typically associated with coins in circulation for a long period of time.” Additionally, the researchers analyzed soil deposits, finding what they called evidence that the pieces had been buried for a long time before being unearthed.
The coins are also “uncharacteristic” of forgeries from the era they were found, the researchers said.
“If the coins turn out to be counterfeits, they would provide a particularly interesting case study in antique counterfeiting,” the researchers wrote. “If they are authentic, they would be of obvious historical interest.”
Sponsian’s name would not have been an obvious choice for forgers centuries later because he was an obscure figure, the research team found. He hoped the research might bring him back into focus as a minor historical figure. On the coin, he is shown wearing a crown like those worn by emperors.
“Nothing can be known of him with certainty, but the coins themselves, together with the provenance recorded by Heraeus, provide clues to his possible place in history,” the scholars wrote in reference to Sponsian and Carl Gustav. Heraeus. It was Heraeus, inspector of medals of the Imperial Collection in Vienna, who documented the acquisition of the coins in 1713.
Early writers viewed Sponsian as a historical usurper, who potentially attempted to seize power during the civil wars that ended the reign of another emperor, Philip. Now scholars speculate that Sponsian may have been a provincial commander during a time of military conflict.
“Our evidence suggests he ruled Roman Dacia, an isolated gold-mining outpost, at a time when the empire was plagued by civil wars and the borderlands were overrun by raiding invaders,” said Paul N. Pearson, the article’s lead author. A declaration.
A fraudster in Vienna frequently duped collectors in the 18th century, when the coins were found in Transylvania, or present-day Romania, the researchers said.
Forgers of the time used artificial weathering methods, such as abrasion, to make artifacts like coins appear older. Surface scratches and soil deposits led investigators, including Dr Pearson, professor of earth sciences at University College London, to determine that the treatment appeared natural, leading them to believe the pieces were genuine.
“We suggest that coins of the Sponsian series were used to pay senior soldiers and officials in gold and silver by weight, then exchanged at a high premium for regular Imperial coins that were already circulating in the province before the crisis,” the research paper said.
Despite the researchers’ findings, some experts saw holes in the results.
In her Times Literary Supplement column, Mary Beard, professor of classics at the University of Cambridge, highlighted the composition of the pieces among the factors that raised questions about their authenticity. “There is still very strong evidence that these are fakes,” she wrote.