We are more likely to question events that will happen in the future than those in the past. However, it turns out that the course of history can change and “new” personalities enter it – with their small or big roles, which connected and predetermined entire processes.
An ancient gold coin proves that a third-century Roman emperor, whom historians had dismissed as a non-existent and fictional figure, actually lived.
The coin with the face of Sponsianus was discovered more than 300 years ago in Transylvania, once part of the Roman Empire
Over the years it was believed to be a fake and the coin was locked away in a museum cabinet.
Now, scratch marks visible under a microscope prove it was in circulation 2,000 years ago, the BBC reported. Experts are amazed by the discovery.
“We have reached an emperor that historians had written off the course of history. However, we believe that this man existed and had his role in the course of time,” commented Prof. Paul Pearson of University College London.
The gold coin was discovered in 1713 and until the middle of the 19th century was perceived as original. However, its provenance was then questioned and numismatists at the time suspected that it might have been produced by forgers because their designs were too crude.
The final blow came in 1863, when Henry Cohen, leading coin expert at the National Library of France, had to decide on a large catalog of Roman coins.
He stated that the coins bearing the Sponsian face were not only “modern” forgeries, but also badly made and “ridiculously contrived”. Cohen’s colleagues agree with my statement, and the emperor loses his place in the scientific catalogs.
In the present, however, Prof. Pearson came across the Sponsian coins while doing his research for a book presenting the history of the Roman Empire.
Pearson contacted the Glasgow University Museum, where 4 gold coins are kept in a cabinet, and asked if he could examine them with his colleagues.
A special ultraviolet light, a scanning electron microscope and infrared spectroscopy were used to examine the coins. The analysis reveals patterns of deep microabrasion, which is characteristic of coins that have been in circulation for a long time.
The scientists found that the scratches and patterns on them correspond to scratches that occur when carried in purses. Chemical analysis also showed that the coins had been buried in the soil for hundreds of years. The new evidence strongly suggests that the coins are authentic.
Who is Sponsian?
Historians are now faced with the question of who exactly Sponsian was.
Researchers believe that he was a military commander who was forced to crown himself emperor of the most remote and hard-to-defend province of the Roman Empire, called Dacia – a vast area on the Balkan Peninsula, mostly in present-day Romania.
Archaeological studies have established that Dacia was cut off from the rest of the Roman Empire around 260 AD when there was a pandemic and civil war.
Surrounded by enemies and cut off from Rome, Sponsianus probably assumed supreme command in a time of chaos, protecting Dacia’s military and civilian population. “He concentrated on gold mining at a time when the frontier areas of the Roman Empire were threatened and overrun by invaders,” said Paul Pearson, quoted by the Guardian.
“In order to create a functioning economy in the countryside, they decided to mint their own coins,” says scientist Jesper Eriksson. This theory would explain why the coins do not resemble those of Rome.
“The arguments for the existence of the Sponsian are convincing. The end of the third century was a period of turbulence and unrest and becoming an emperor was not particularly difficult,” said a historian from the University of Glasgow.
After establishing that the coins were authentic, scientists believed they had discovered a lost Roman emperor and contacted experts at the Bruckenthal Museum in Sibiu, Transylvania, which also held such a coin.
It is part of the will of Baron Samuel von Bruckenthal, the only Saxon who ruled Transylvania – between 1777 and 1787.
He also studied the coin before he died, and the story goes that the last thing he did was write a note saying “genuine.”
Historians at the Bruckenthal Museum considered the Sponsian coins to be forgeries, but changed their minds after research in the UK.
The discovery is of special interest for the history of Transylvania and Romania, even for the history of Europe.
If the conclusions of the research are accepted by the scientific community, it means that another important figure will re-enter history and the passage of time.