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Ancient Roman gold coins thought to be ‘fakes’ reveal long-lost emperor

An ancient gold coin long believed to be a fake is genuine and depicts a long-dead Roman emperor, according to a new study.

The coin depicting the Roman Emperor Sponsian was first discovered in Transylvania, in present-day Romania, in 1713 along with a handful of other coins of the same design, researchers including those at University College London have said. .

Coins have been considered “fake” since the mid-19e century, due to their crude and strange design features and confusing inscriptions.

In the new study, published in the journal PLOS ONE

researchers compared the Sponsion coin with other Roman coins known to be authentic.

The latest study is the first scientific analysis of these coins, said scientists, who analyzed the surface of the coins using powerful microscopes.

They found evidence of wear on the Sponsian coin, suggesting it was in active circulation.

Minerals on the surface of the coin were also discovered, which corresponds to its being buried in the ground for a long time.

Deposits on the coins also suggest that they were buried for an extended period before being unearthed.

“Scientific analysis of these ultra-rare coins rescues Emperor Sponsian from obscurity,” study lead author Paul N Pearson said in a statement.

“Our evidence suggests he ruled Roman Dacia, an isolated gold-mining outpost, at a time when the empire was plagued by civil wars and the borderlands were overrun by raiding invaders,” said Dr. Pearson.

After the discovery of Sponsian coins in the early 18th century, they were considered genuine and classified alongside other imitation Roman coins made beyond the borders of the empire.

But attitudes changed from the mid-19th century and they were dismissed as fakes – until now.

Previous studies have suggested that the ancient Roman province of Dacia – an area straddling modern Romania and known for its gold mines – was cut off from the rest of the Roman Empire around AD 260.

Scholars suspect Sponsian to have been a local army officer forced to assume supreme command during a time of chaos and civil war.

He may have protected the military and civilian population of Dacia until order was restored and the province was evacuated between 271 and 275 CE.

Sponsian was likely unable to receive official coins from the mint in Rome, so he may have authorized the creation of locally produced coins, some with his own face, the study suggests.

“We hope not only will this encourage further discussion of Sponsian as a historical figure, but also the investigation of coins relating to him held in other museums across Europe,” Jesper Ericsson, curator of numismatics at The Hunterian at the University of Glasgow, said.

“If these results are accepted by the scientific community, they will mean the addition of another important historical figure in our history,” said Alexandru Constantin Chituță, acting director of the National Museum of Brukenthal in Romania.

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