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Sponsianus: Gold coin provides clues to mysterious rulers

2022-11-24T10:51:02.721Z

Researchers know of only one portrait of Emperor Sponsianus on a gold coin - and it was long considered a forgery. But now there is evidence that the ruler could actually have existed.



Enlarge image

Researcher with Sponsianus coin

Photo: Picture Unit / University of Glasgow

The world does not know much about the man who was called Sponsianus.

To be more precise, she knows next to nothing if it weren't for this coin, a so-called aureus.

It was discovered in Transylvania in 1713, in the remains of an outpost in the furthest corners of the former Roman Empire.

The gold piece, weighing around ten grams, shows the image of a man with a crown.

As a so-called usurper during the reign of the Roman Emperor Philippus Arabs around the year 240, he is said to have claimed the highest office in the state and possibly also held it for a short time - if he ever existed.

Because the professional world had doubts about this for a long time.

No other tangible evidence of the life and work of the mysterious Sponsianus was known.

And after the renowned numismatist Henry Cohen of the French National Library classified the coin in 1863 as a modern counterfeit with a "ridiculous" depiction of the supposed ruler, the matter seemed settled.

Sponsianus would therefore never have existed.

But the way it looks now, he has it.

At least the traditional assessments of coin experts are not tenable, reports a team led by Paul Pearson from University College London in the specialist journal »PLoS One«.

The experts had taken a closer look at the coin and other pieces of money that had once been found with it.

Among other things, they examined the surface with high-performance microscopes.

From the researchers' point of view, the analyzes show that the coin was in circulation for a long time.

This was the only way to explain the observed scratch marks on the surface.

Deposits, on the other hand, proved that the piece of gold had been buried in the ground for many hundreds of years.

Even with the usual cleaning of coins in museums, which was also the case for the aureus in question, characteristic adhesions would remain.

Rulers in turbulent times

"We are unable to come up with a scenario that is even remotely plausible that could explain the wear patterns overlaid by solidified earth deposits in any way other than that they are products of antiquity," the researchers conclude.

This would make it clear that Sponsianus must have elected himself ruler in fairly turbulent times.

His dominion, the Roman region of Dacia in what is now Romania, may have been cut off from the rest of the empire at the time.

There were mines promising wealth and more or less flourishing agriculture and forestry.

At the same time, the area was always threatened by attacking Germans.

The ruler could hardly have held out under these conditions for long.

In any case, the Romans - then under Emperor Aurelian - relinquished control of the region in frustration in the 270s.

"There are other examples of regional emperors," researcher Pearson told the Guardian about the - probable - Sponsianus.

If Roman emperors are allowed to bestow the title on themselves, "he was a Roman emperor."

Adrastos Omissi of the University of Glasgow, who was not involved in the research, spoke of a "really convincing argument for the existence of Sponsianus and for the fact that he was a real emperor".

In the late third century, in a time of turbulence and unrest, the bar for an emperor was "very low."

Richard Abdy from the British Museum was more skeptical.

Pearson's team "let their imagination run wild" and fell victim to circular reasoning.

“They say that because of the coin there is the person, so the person must have made the coin.”

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Source: spiegel

All tech articles on 2022-11-24

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