The Lost Emperor

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Dubious Roman coins have sparked a debate among historians over their authenticity and the existence of an obscure Roman emperor, CNN reported.

In a new study, researchers in the UK analyzed one gold coin featuring the portrait and the name of the alleged Roman emperor, Sponsian. The precious artifact was part of a hoard of coins reportedly found in 1713 in what is now Romania.

Scholars had previously dismissed the finding as a forgery, citing its unusual style and inscription that did not resemble other mid-third-century Roman coins. They added that “Sponsian” was not a name known to have existed in ancient Rome and there were no other documents to support his existence.

Still, the research team used powerful microscopes and found the coin had traces of authenticity: They discovered patterns of wear and tear, suggesting that the coin had been in circulation. Earthen deposits were also present in the coin, which means it was buried in soil for a long time.

The team noted that the coin was found in what was once the Roman province of Dacia, which was known for its gold mines and mineral resources. Dacia was cut off from the empire in 260 CE.

They suggested that Sponsian came to the fore during a period of civil wars and chaos around the empire, eventually emerging as commander-in-chief to protect the residents of Dacia.

Although the coin provides “clues as to his possible place in history,” other researchers remain unconvinced.

Even so, lead author Paul N. Pearson hopes to start a discussion among historians and archaeologists over whether Sponsian actually existed.

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