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Ancient Hoard of Roman Silver Coins Accidentally Found in Bulgaria

Mezdra, Bulgaria ancient roman coin hoard

By Hubert Walker for CoinWeek ….
Neighbors complained that the yard next door was unkempt and a public nuisance, so the authorities in Mezdra, Bulgaria began to clear the overgrown lot. During the process of uprooting one particularly old plum tree, a cache of well-patinated Ancient Roman silver coins was discovered in the tangle of roots beneath it.

The town, slightly northeast of the Bulgarian capital Sofia, had long been the hypothetical location of an Imperial Roman settlement but archaeologists had not yet found conclusive evidence. The location of the find is not far from the Kaleto Fortress, which is a noted archaeological site inhabited since prehistoric times on through the medieval era. Bronze coins (along with other objects) of the Roman Empire have been found within the fortress itself–including coins of the emperors Domitian (ruled 81-96 CE), Claudius II Gothicus (r. 268-270), and Probus (r. 276-282)–but until the silver coins were unearthed in late August, proof of a settlement had eluded scholars.

The almost 200 coins of the hoard consist of denarii and antoniniani dated to the first and third centuries CE. At the front end of this range are coins representing the emperors Nero (r. 54-68), Galba (r. 68-69), Vitellius (r. 69) and Vespasian (r. 69-79). Silver denarii of the pretender Clodius Albinus (claimed the throne in 193 and again 196-197) and coins of the emperor he fought against, Septimius Severus (r. 193-211) are also present. The most recent coinage included in the cache were minted under the authority of Severus Alexander (r. 222-235).

Some of the coins also feature the portraits of several of the emperors’ wives. Many were minted in Syria and show signs of circulated wear, while others were evidently not used at all and were possibly collected. A portion of the coins is of rare types, though news sources are not more specific at present.

The hoard itself may have been buried to hide the coins from the third-century invasions by the Goths, Germanic tribes who made several inroads into the Roman Empire over the course of several centuries.

A local archaeologist, Plamen Ivanov, said that the 200-year span of coins in the collection demonstrates the importance of the Roman settlement in Mezdra, perhaps even serving as a regional Roman treasury.

The Missing Coins

Unfortunately, there is some controversy regarding the discovery.

When the coins were first spotted, they were contained within a ceramic jar but workers, in an attempt to free the treasure from the root system of the tree, used a pickax and apparently damaged the container. Before it fell apart in his hands, the only man to have handled it intact said it weighed about four to five kilograms.

And while they were discovered in August, the find was not reported to local authorities until two weeks later. At that time, 183 coins were taken to the Vrasta Regional Museum of History. Four more individual coins from the hoard were given over to the museum a few days after the official announcement of the find in mid-September. And it was only after museum experts had enough time to clean and inspect the coins that any were shown to the news media on October 16.

Because of the weight of the original vessel and also because photos taken of the coins on site after the pottery had burst, the museum believes that the hoard actually consisted of about 1,000 coins. The museum has asked locals to return any of the coins they may be in possession of, but police are also investigating.

The Vrasta Regional Museum is now conducting an emergency excavation of the property to find more evidence of the Roman settlement. Work at the site should be finished by the end of November.

It is also not the only example of a Roman coin hoard found in Bulgaria. Another jar of Roman silver was found in the ruins of the ancient city of Serdica in modern Sofia in 2015. Archaeologists have speculated that the 2015 find may have been at the location of the ancient mint of Serdica.

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Hubert Walker
Hubert Walker
Hubert Walker has served as the Assistant Editor of CoinWeek.com since 2015. Along with co-author Charles Morgan, he has written for CoinWeek since 2012, as well as the monthly column "Market Whimsy" for The Numismatist and the book 100 Greatest Modern World Coins (2020) for Whitman Publishing.

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