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Rare gold coins reveal new Roman emperor

Section: Daily Dispatches

By Aylin Woodwar
The Wall Street Journal
Wednesday, November 23, 2022

A new analysis of rare Roman coins said to have been unearthed more than three centuries ago but long dismissed as forgeries provides compelling evidence that the gold pieces are authentic -- and that the crown-wearing man whose likeness appears on one of them was a real historical figure who ruled as a Roman emperor almost 2,000 years ago.

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"The coins are the only evidence that he existed," Paul Pearson, a University College London professorial research associate, said of Sponsian, the man depicted on the coin. "There's no historical written evidence at all. It's a real thrill to sort of bring somebody back from obscurity."

The research, published today in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS One, suggests that the coins date to the third century and rules out the idea that they are 18th-century fakes, Dr. Pearson added. He is lead author of the new study.

The coins were said to have been discovered in 1713 in the Transylvanian mountains of present-day Romania and found their way into several European collections in ensuing decades. By 1782 four had come into the hands of a Scottish collector who later bequeathed them to the University of Glasgow, where the coins have remained ever since. ...

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