Who is this “false” Roman emperor who is making headlines among historians? – Evening edition Ouest-France

Long considered a fictional character, a recent scientific study of the coins confirms the real existence of the Roman emperor Sponsian around AD 260. He is said to have been a commander of the army of Roman Dacia, a province cut off from the rest of the empire, thrown into chaos by civil war and neighboring invasions. Explanations.

A new Roman emperor, named Sponsian, may soon enter the history books. Until now considered a fictional character, the scientific study on coins bearing his likeness, published on November 23, 2022 by researchers from University College London and the University of Glasgow in Scotland, United Kingdom, has reshuffled the cards.

Four coins bearing Sponsian’s name and image were reportedly discovered in Transylvania, in today’s Romania, in 1713. Experts thought these coins were genuine before dating back to the mid-19th century.

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The reason ? Their design was considered crude, their inscriptions confusing and approximate, a far cry from the quality of traditional Roman coins. They were considered the work of a fraudster who wanted to attract collectors. In 1863, Henry Cohen, the leading coin expert at the National Library of France, declared that they were forgeries “modern”, that they were badly done and “ridiculously imagined”, reports the BBC, British radio and television.

Scratches testify to the circulation of these coins

But Professor Paul Pearson of University College London, who led the research, noticed something: In one photograph he noticed scratches on the surface of the coin. Potential proof of its circulation and authenticity. With the help of Jesper Ericsson, the numismatic curator at the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow, where the coin was locked in a cabinet with three other coins from the original hoard, they undertook its scientific examination.

A powerful microscope confirmed the presence of scratches, signs of wear, caused by its circulation. Minerals, more specifically sulphate crystals, have also been identified on the surface of the hoard. They show that the objects have been buried for hundreds of years and then unearthed.

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“I think we’ve established with a very high degree of confidence that they are authentic,” Professor Paul Pearson told the British newspaper The Guardian , adding that the question of Sponsian’s identity was “more speculative”.

Sponsian, an army commander forced to crown himself emperor

Scientists suggest that Sponsian was an army commander forced to crown himself emperor in the isolated Roman province of Dacia. This territory, which straddles present-day Romania, was cut off from the rest of the empire around 260 AD by frequent incursions by hostile neighboring peoples (Sarmatians, Goths and Carpi) according to archaeological studies. A pandemic and civil war capped it all off.

Sponsian would then assume the command: “He took the title of imperator – supreme military commander – which was reserved for the emperor […]. In the absence of real power from Rome, he took command at a time when it was needed”the research director said. And this until the province is evacuated between 271 and 275.

“Our interpretation is that he was in charge of maintaining control of the military and civilian population because they were surrounded and completely isolated,” Jesper Ericsson said in remarks reported by the BBC. As a result, Sponsian inherited the title of usurper in defiance of Roman authority while it was his “imperium could be considered a local necessity”, the researchers write in their study.

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Why did you produce these rudimentary pieces? To create a functioning economy as the external supply of coins ended around AD 260. Dacia, valued for its gold mines, normally shipped ingots to Rome where they were turned into coins. In these troubled times, production would have been rudimentary in-house, hence their raw appearance. Sponsian probably stamped them with his portrait to establish her power and authority over him.

A step forward for the history of Transylvania and Romania, and of Europe in general

The find is of particular interest for the history of Transylvania and Romania, according to the interim director of the Brukenthal National Museum, Alexandru Constantin Chituta, notes the specialized media ScienceDaily. “If these results are accepted by the scientific community, they will mean the addition of another important historical figure to our story. For that of Transylvania and Romania in particular, but also for that of Europe in general. »

For Dr Atrastos Omissi of the University of Glasgow, who was not involved in the research, their work is ” awesome “ : “I think they made a very convincing case for the existence of Sponsian and the fact that he was a real emperor”told the Keeper.

Richard Abdy, curator of Roman and Iron Age coins at the British Museum, is more skeptical. “They went to the end of their imagination, he declares. It’s a circular test. They say because of the piece there is a person, and therefore that person must have done the piece. »

The four gold coins analyzed by the researchers are on display at the Hunterian Museum of the University of Glasgow, while another is kept at the Brukenthal National Museum in Romania. Jesper Ericsson hopes that this scientific and historical breakthrough “it will not only encourage further discussion of the historical figure of Sponsian, but also the search for pieces related to him in other European museums. »

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