Fictious Roman Emperor Proven to be Real
Ruins from Roman Dacia, where Sponsianus ruled. (Source: Romania Insider)
The historical record is always incomplete, a puzzle that lacks all its pieces. Kings and the civilizations they ruled over can be swept away by time, their existence only attested by a scrap of paper or a small artwork. Sponsianus was one such figure, a claimant to the throne of the Roman empire, but whose only trace in the historical record are a small number of coins that bear his likeness.
Until recently, it was widely accepted that Sponsianus didn’t exist at all, that he was the invention of a eighteenth century Transylvania coin forger. The coin in question was discovered in 1713, but was later deemed a fake and was eventually locked away in storage at the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow. It seemed that Sponsianus was to be forgotten from history entirely, the few coins stamped with his image locked away. Until now.
More recent research spearheaded by Paul Pearson of University College London has uncovered proof that the coin is the genuine article. A microscopic examination of the coin revealed scratches indicating it was well worn. Along with a chemical examination that showed the coin had been buried for hundreds of years before being dug up, this provides definitive proof that it isn’t a fake.
Much remains unknown of Sponsinaus or his time ruling over Dacia, the outer Roman province where the coin was found. It’s likely nothing more will ever be known about the man, but he’s been saved from being shuffled off as simply a fictional character invented by a coin forger. It goes to show that in historical research, the line between reality and invented mythology can be a blurry one.