Scientific discussion

Some remarks on the re-evaluated Sponsianus coins

In recent weeks there was an intensive wave of publications in multiple languages announcing the sensational re-evaluation of numismatic material, proving the existence of the usurper emperor Sponsianus. Predominantly given were no indications that could have informed the broader public that the proposed reconsideration is, at this stage, not decisive.
To stimulate scientific discussion, it is crucial to give a platform, also to arguments addressing the issues connected to such a historical reconstruction.
Here, follow some considerations of Prof. Aleksander Bursche and Dr. Kyrylo Myzgin, leading experts in the area of Roman gold coinages from the period of the so-called soldier emperors and the topic of ancient coins counterfeits:

Opinion of A. Bursche and K. Myzgin concerning Sponsiani gold

We are pretty sure that the all-known Sponsiani gold coins (or better medailles using terminology from that time) as well as Gordianus III and Philippus known from different collections in Europe, reached them at the same time i.e. in the 18th century, are forgeries from the period.

Most arguments were presented in the contribution by Münsterberg in 1923 (in German) and by Bursche 1998, 25-29 (in Polish, unfortunately). In practice, the current authors omitted many arguments presented in them and did not engage in polemics with them.

In brief in 11 points:

1. These pieces (as the ones with the names Gordianus and Philippus) were cast. No original Roman gold from the 3rd century AD was cast. Even Barbarian coins from that period were struck.
2. The weights of individual pieces (Sponsianus, Gordian and Philippus) are much too diverse and have no connection with the Roman weight system (as always multipla have). Also, barbarian imitations of Roman aurei do not exceed 7 g in weight and almost always are pierced.
3. The obverse legend in genitive form (IMP SPONSIANI) is rather unusual for Roman coins (should be nominative: IMP SPONSIANVS or brief form), but typical for products from the 16th-18th centuries.
4. The style of the lettering is different from the letters on the original coins. Even local usurpers who ruled for a few weeks (e.g. Quietus, Julianus II) struck their coins in good style
from high-quality gold.
5. The iconography of the Sponsianus pieces is completely unusual for the 3rd-century coin. On the other hand, the corona radiata (radiate crown) at the obverse and the way of presenting it, is typical for 18th-century forgeries. On the reverse, there is a clumsy imitation of the Republican coin (RRC 242/1; 243/1). Furthermore, it seems to us almost impossible to use in the 3rd-century AD image from a republican coin minted in 134 BC. There are no examples of such a combination either in barbarian imitations or in official coinage. Silver Republican coins from the 2nd century BC were far more accessible to the 17th-18th century collector than to the moneyer of the 3rd-century crisis in the province of Dacia.
6. The coins appeared at least in 5 European collections i.e. Vienna, Glasgow, Paris, Gotha, Sibiu (German Hermanstadt) and Herzogenburg (near Vienna) in the 18th century, often in
the same set, with gold bearing the name of Gordianus and Philippus. No one such piece is known from finds made without a doubt in the 19th, 20th and early 21st centuries (metal detector
era!), despite 95% of 3rd-century Roman gold has been found in that period. If they are originals, even one new piece would have to be found in the last two hundred years.
7. The name Sponsianus could have been seen and noted in an inscription in Rome by any nobleman having classical education during his “grand tour” or a person working for him. Sponsianus medailles/forgeries received alleged provenance and context along with gold of the emperors Gordianus and Philippus, by the way also cast forgeries. In Siebenbürgen some famous hoards have been found in this period, which is why such provenance has been chosen. By the way, the presence of the title IMP from Latine imperator (emperor) in the legend of Sponsianus pieces and the absence of AVG from Augustus (typical for Roman emperors in 1st-3rd c. AD) is completely understandable from the perspective of the territory of Habsburg Empire’s competitors to the Augusti of the Wettings dynasty.
8. All these pieces were purchased for sums much higher than the value of gold. So a profit was, without doubt, the reason for the production of these forgeries.
9. We are not specialists in analytical methods, however, 93% of gold (as for the analysed Sponsianus piece) is much too low for original Roman gold, even from the late 3rd century AD, as well as Barbarian imitations (made from local gold) and is very typical for forgeries.
10. We are not sure whether the coins taken for comparison are correctly selected. From a methodological point of view, it should be first of all 3rd-century aurei with known provenance/find spot and 18th-century cast copies.
11. On what basis do the authors date the time of wear of the coins?

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