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Roman Coins Thought for Centuries to Be Fakes Get a Fresh Appraisal


In 1713, a medal inspector noted the acquisition of eight gold Roman coins that had been buried in Transylvania. For centuries, experts believed they were fakes – and poorly made ones.

The coins have an image of an unknown leader and features that differ from other mid-third century Roman coins. But now, researchers who have re-examined the coins, which are in the collection at the University of Glasgow, say they may, in fact, be authentic.

The designs on the coins are irregular for that time period and the man depicted on them, Sponsian, is largely lost to history. The coins include references to “mixed legends and historical motifs,” the experts said.

The study was published Wednesday in the journal PLEASE ONE thinks the coins – and the Sponsian, the man depicted – deserves a second look.

Using state-of-the-art imaging technology, the researchers said they found “deep micro-abrasion patterns” “often associated with coins in circulation over a long period of time.” Additionally, the researchers analyzed land mines, finding what they called evidence that the coins had been buried for a long time before being excavated.

The coins are also “uncharacteristic” compared with counterfeit coins from the time period they were found, the researchers said.

“If the coins are proven to be fake, they would make a particularly interesting case study of antique forgery,” the researchers wrote. “If authentic, they will have clear historical interest.”

The team found that the name Sponsian would not be an obvious choice for imposters centuries later, as he was a little-known figure. It’s hoped the research can bring him back into focus as a minor historical figure. On the coin, he is depicted wearing a crown resembling those worn by emperors.

“Nothing can be known about him for certain, but the coins themselves, along with the provenance recorded by Heraeus, provide clues to his possible place in history,” the researchers said. research written in reference to Sponsian and Carl Gustav Heraeus. It was Heraeus, a medalist for the Imperial Collection in Vienna, who recorded the acquisition of the coins in 1713.

Early writers viewed Sponsian as a historical usurper who was likely to vie for power in civil wars that ended the reign of another emperor, Philip. Now, researchers theorize that Sponsian may have served as the commanding officer of a province during times of military conflict.

Paul N. Pearson, the paper’s lead author, said: “Our evidence suggests that he ruled Roman Dacia, an isolated gold-mining outpost, at a time when the empire was running. besieged by civil wars and the frontier lands ravaged by plundering invaders”. one statement.

A fraudster in Vienna regularly tricked collectors in the 18th century, when the coins were found in Transylvania, or present-day Romania, researchers say.

Blacksmiths at the time used artificial aging methods, such as abrasion, to make artifacts such as coins appear older. The superficial 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 think that these coins are real.

“We propose that the Sponsian series coins be used to pay soldiers and high-ranking officials in gold and silver by weight, which are then exchanged at high prices for common imperial coins. had circulated in the province since before the crisis,” the research article said.

Despite the researchers’ conclusions, some experts see holes in these findings.

In her Literary magazine Times columnist, Mary Beard, professor of classics at the University of Cambridge, pointed to the composition of coins among factors that raise questions about their authenticity. “There is still very strong evidence that they are fake,” she wrote.

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