The treasure of golden coins of Abritus

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THE LARGEST FIND OF GOLDEN COINS IN BULGARIAN LANDS FROM LATE ANTIQUITY

Abritus is known to have been among the settlements in the Roman Empire without a mint of its own. That is why the coins found in its territory undoubtedly prove that the population of the city participated in the trade practices in the empire and indirectly confirm the assumption that active handicraft production took place there. The strategic position of the castle – on the road between the seaside and the Danube River – additionally supports that
Usually proofs of commercial life in peaceful times, coin finds also provide valuable information for the periods of military conflicts and invasions. In this regard series of finds in the area of ancient Abritus undoubtedly confirm the war between the Romans and the Goths of 250 – 251 when emperor Trajan Decius and his son Herennius Etruscus were both killed in the battle around the city. The coins in question are denarii, Antoniniani and aurei found near the villages of Osenets, Lipnik, Rakovski, Krivnya, Poroishte, the town of Loznitsa and in Abritus itself.

Two more treasures add up to the mentioned finds. The first one was discovered in 1952 in the territory of the village of Dryanovets some 15 km from the town of Razgrad and contains 18 golden coins (aurei) and 540 silver coins (denarii and Antoniniani). The earliest coins date back to the reign of Emperor Septimius Severus (193-211) and the latest ones to the reign of Emperor Trajan Decius. The second treasure was unearthed 30 years later in the village of Ezerche some 20 km away from Razgrad and consists of 248 silver coins (denarii and Antoniniani). The earliest of them date as far back as the reign of Emperor Vespasian (69 – 79) and the latest ones again belong to the Trajan Decius and his wife Herenia Etruscilla.

In the period from 4th to the 6th century times of thriving and decline alternated in Abritus: the city was destroyed by the Visigoths in 376 – 378, by the Huns in 447 and by the Ostrogoths in 487. The castle was restored after each of these invasions. Therefore, it is easy to explain why the largest treasure of golden coins from the late Roman Empire found in Bulgarian lands was located namely in Abritus. Besides, it is the third largest treasure of the age after the finds of Chemtou, Tunisia (1648 solidi) and Scikàncsi, Hungary (1439 solidi).

The 835 golden coins weighed around 4 kg. They were minted in the 5th century in honour if the following emperors and empresses: Theodosius II (402 – 450) – 5 pieces; Marcianus (450 – 457) – 56 pieces; Pulcheria (wife of Marcianus) – 1 piece; Leo I (457 – 474) – 296 pieces; Verina (wife of Leo I) – 4 pieces; Zeno (474 – 475; 476 – 491) – 437 pieces; Basiliscus (475 – 476) – 24 pieces; Basiliscus with his son Marcus (475 – 476) – 10 pieces; Julius Nepos (474 – 475) – 1 piece; Leontius (484 – 488, usurper) – 1 piece. Thirteen of the coins of Emperor Zeno were minted in the mint of Thessalonica, the solid of Julios Nepos – emperor of the Western Empire – was mint in Arelat, and the one of Leontius the usurper – in Antioch. The rest of the solidi were produced in the mint of Constantinople.

The coins were probably hidden during the events in 487: the riot of the Goths – Foederati who had settled around Novae (modern day Svishtov) led by Theodoric (future Theodoric the Great) and their subsequent march to Constantinople. All coins of the treasure are of the type of solidi weighing 4.55 g introduced by Constantine the Great around 309-312. That type remained in circulation during the existence of the Western Roman Empire and Byzantium. According to experts in numismatics its successors were the French sou, the Italian soldo, the Spanish sueldo and the scilling.

One important feature stands out - circulation signs have been scratched on quite a few of the coins in the find – graffiti, which proves that the coins circulated intensively and some of the solidi were cut in half with a sharp item – to check the gold content of the coin core.

Careful observation of the coins from the treasure gives curious visitors of Abritus Museum the unique chance to trace how pagan symbols of supreme authority were interwoven with Christian symbols and how from a Roman Emperor the ruler gradually turned into an autocrat who was placed and anointed by God. And unlike the inhabitants of the ancient hosting city he would have the right to mint a coin of their own.