A Roman coin previously considered a forgery has now been authenticated. The coin depicts a previously unknown emperor named Sponsian.
A study led by the University College London (UCL) researched a coin housed at The Hunterian collection at the University of Glasgow. They compared the coin with some genuine coins of the same design uncovered in 1713 in Transylvania.
Minerals on the coin’s surface indicated it was buried over a long period of time, then exposed to air. The coin also showed a pattern of wear, suggesting that it was in active circulation during the Roman period.
Previously unknown Roman Emperor
The coin shows a previously unknown emperor named Sponsian. He may well have been a local army officer forced to assume supreme command in the Roman province of Dacia. The province was a territory overlapping with modern-day Romania. Studies suggest the region was cut off from the rest of the Roman empire around AD 260. It was later evacuated between AD 271 and 275.
Lead author Professor Paul N. Pearson (UCL Earth Sciences) was reported in Heritage Daily as saying: “Scientific analysis of these ultra-rare coins rescues the emperor Sponsian from obscurity. 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.”
Curator of Numismatics at The Hunterian, Jesper Ericsson, said: “This has been a really exciting project for The Hunterian and we’re delighted that our findings have inspired collaborative research with museum colleagues in Romania. Not only do we hope that this encourages further debate about Sponsian as a historical figure, but also the investigation of coins relating to him held in other museums across Europe.”
Why are coins so important?
Coinage is a symbol of power and authority. Unable to receive official issues from the mint in Rome, Sponsian appears to have authorised the creation of locally produced coins. They supported a functioning economy in his isolated frontier territory. Some of those featured his face.
There are only four known coins depicting Sponsian. They all seem to originate from the 1713 hoard.