Gold coin proves fictional Roman emperor was real

A coin from the Hunterian’s collection said to show a Roman emperor named Sponsian (University of Glasgow)
A coin from the Hunterian’s collection said to show a Roman emperor named Sponsian (University of Glasgow)

A recently discovered ancient gold coin has proven the existence of a Roman emperor many thought to be fictional.

The coin belonged to a third-century emperor named Sponsian and bore his portrait.

It was found more than 300 years ago in Transylvania, Romania, but dismissed as a fake artefact.

When it was first discovered in 1713, at first, experts deemed it genuine. But during the mid-19th century, some suspected that it was a forged coin given its crude design.

In 1863, Bibliotheque Nationale de France’s coin expert, Henry Cohen, concluded that it was definitely not authentic.

However, when Professor Paul Pearson, from University College London, came across photographs of the coin, he suspected that the verdict may have been incorrect.

He contacted the Hunterian Museum at Glasgow University, where the coin was kept in a cupboard, and examined it under a powerful microscope. His research found that scratch marks on it displayed 2,000 years of wear and tear.

Chemical analysis also confirmed that the coins had been buried in soil for thousands of years, according to the Hunterian Museum’s curator of coins Jesper Ericsson, meaning someone couldn’t have faked them more recently.

Explaining his discovery, Pearson told the BBC: “What we have found is an emperor. He was a figure thought to have been a fake and written off by experts. But we think he was real and he had a role in history.”

The discovery has led many to wonder who Sponsian was. Some historians think he was a military commander who was forced to crown himself as emperor of a Roman province called Dacia.

Archaeologists have already established that Dacia was cut off from the Roman Empire around 260 AD in the midst of a pandemic and civil war.

They are speculating that, perhaps, Sponsian’s leadership was a consequence of the enemy forces’ pressure and the lack of support from Rome. Ericsson explains that the province was eventually evacuated between 271 AD and 275 AD.

Ericsson explains: “Our interpretation is that he was in charge to maintain control of the military and of the civilian population because they were surrounded and completely cut off,” he said. “In order to create a functioning economy in the province, they decided to mint their own coins.” This would explain their crude appearance.

The discovery was published in the journal Plos One.