Featured The legend (?) of SPONSIANUS

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Ocatarinetabellatchitchix, Jul 26, 2020.

  1. Ocatarinetabellatchitchix

    Ocatarinetabellatchitchix Supporter! Supporter


    Sponsianus. Sponsi what ? The name of a new virus ? A brand of toilet paper ? Not at all. He is an usurper who revolted during the rule of Philip the Arab around 248 AD. The main problem with him is that there are no written records of his name ; nor of his existence. But strangely his coinage is included in the RIC catalogue ( RIC IV, III p.67). So let me tell you the 300 years old story full of mysteries about this almost unknown " Emperor".
    It all started in 1713 in Transylvania (Romania), birthplace of Count Dracula the vampire. Many aurei of Gordian, Phillip and from a certain Sponsianus are discovered in unknown circumstances. They seemed to have a barbarian minting origin by their non-usual style. The description of these coins are : IMP SPONSIANI / C AVG Radiate head of Sponsianus to the right, two togate figures, r. and l. of column, one on r. holding lituus, one on r. holding an uncertain object, on column a statue, bells above, corn ears below. What is very weird is the reverse type which is in fact a copy of a Republican denarius struck in...135 BC !

    The mysterious reverse found on Sponsianus coins.(135 BC)

    Franz Neumann is the first numismatist who wrote about him in Populorum et Regum Numi Veteres Inediti in 1779. He reported about the discovery of many aurei of Gordian, Philip and a certain Sponsianus and believed their origin were certainly barbaric.


    Joseph Eckhel is the next one who included the usurper in his Doctrina Numorum Veterum ( 1796): he listed 5 examples in different cabinets in Germany. He attributes the fabrication of the pieces to some Gothic tribes from the time of Caracalla and also cites several museums or collections which have a specimen of him.


    In 1815, Theodore Mionnet in De la rareté et du prix des médailles romaines wrote :" the barbarian medallion described here is of the same manufacture, and appears to have the same origin as the barbarian medallions of Gordian and Philip the father which were described here above (...) of which there are several examples in the cabinets of Austria".

    Jonn Yonge Akerman also gave a description of Sponsianus the "Emperor" in A Descriptive Catalogue of Rare and Unedited Roman Coins (1834) : "this usurper is not mentioned by any historian; but it is presumed that he assumed the purple about the same period as the two former personage".

    Finally the numismatist Henry Cohen explained in Description historique des Medailles Impériales (1892) about the coinage of Sponsianus :" I look at these pieces as ridiculously imagined and very poorly made modern coins".

    The main problem with the authenticity of Sponsianus' coinage is that almost all examples have vanished over the centuries. There is only a unique poor picture of one of his aurei existing now :

    The one and only existing picture of Sponsianus

    I research online Collections of all Major Museum in the world without any result. Knowing that often not all coins' Collection have been digitalized completely , I asked for the help of the curators of these same museums by writing to them personally; I received only one positive answer from Dr. Klaus Vondrovec, curator of the Vienna Münzkabinet :

    Dear Dominic,
    Indeed two coins are in our collection.
    Unfortunately I have no images; despite the fact, that they are around for a few centuries, those coins are definitely modern forgeries..

    Best Regards rom Vienna,
    Klaus Vondrovec

    So it seems those are the final words for the legend of Sponsianus for now...So please give us your opinion about this mysterious character. Do you believe he is a "made up" Emperor ? Or do you agree with Wayne Sayles who wrote that " the lack of coins should not be seen as evidence that Sponsianus did not actually exist"? I now leave you with one Bulgarian specimen of Sponsianus denarius (?) which come for sale on Ebay from time to time. Is it the real thing or not ???

    Last edited: Jul 26, 2020
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  3. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    Cool write up, @Ocatarinetabellatchitchix


    I had a little fun using Google Translate. I removed letters just to see if there were any root translations.

    Sponsianus = Sponsianus
    Sponsia = Sponsor
    Sponsi = Bride
    Spon = Span

    Nothing revealing, just fun seeing if there were any hidden messages within the name of what one Curator stated was a modern forgery.

  4. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    What does RIC say about this?
    Roman Collector likes this.
  5. Ocatarinetabellatchitchix

    Ocatarinetabellatchitchix Supporter! Supporter

    His aurei are described in RIC as "strange and barbarous".
  6. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    Well... hmmm... that is what people call ME. Maybe I AM rare...
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2020
  7. Ocatarinetabellatchitchix

    Ocatarinetabellatchitchix Supporter! Supporter


    This funerary inscription was found in Rome, but it's dating from the 1st century AD. It seems that SPONSIAN was a very rare name in Roman times.
    Roman Collector, Egry, Ryro and 2 others like this.
  8. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

  9. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    RIC offers no opinion on authenticity?
  10. Justin Lee

    Justin Lee I learn by doing Supporter

    What if that inscription is incomplete??? It is broken on the left after all. What if what's missing on the left is something like VE-Sponsian, MARCUS AUR-Sponsian, or DIO-Sponsian???
  11. NewStyleKing

    NewStyleKing Beware of Greeks bearing wreaths Supporter

    Isn't it a pity that the curators couldn't toddle off and take pictures on their mobile and post them, and whilst they were at it pick them up and have a gander.
    Same with the Museum in Chieti that has the Poggio Picenze Hoard moldering in plain sight.
    At least they were willing to communicate, most will not...too busy....
  12. NewStyleKing

    NewStyleKing Beware of Greeks bearing wreaths Supporter

    Have the other coins in the supposed hoard also disappeared?
  13. Alwin

    Alwin Supporter! Supporter

  14. KIWITI

    KIWITI Well-Known Member

    I like how you trace way back the story of this.
  15. Limes

    Limes Supporter! Supporter

    Great and enjoyable write up! My opinion? Well, there's always room for more emperors or usurpers in my collection. And its not that unlikely that in the more then often troublesome and long existence of the Roman empire an usurper here or there got lost in the history books? :)
  16. Pishpash

    Pishpash Supporter! Supporter

    Love this thread, fascinating :)
  17. Ryro

    Ryro You'll never be lovelier than you are now... Supporter

    Super fun read!
    To many experts that are\were much smarter than I have stated it's a fake for me to refute them. That, the silly reverse being lifted from an RR and the unique inscription style have me passing on this conspiracy theory.
    Pellinore, Alegandron and TIF like this.
  18. Ocatarinetabellatchitchix

    Ocatarinetabellatchitchix Supporter! Supporter

    I have to admit I was surprised by the fast answer of the Münzkabinet of Vienna. The Berlin Museum was also kind enough to write back to me. Marjanko Pilekić answered :
    You are absolutely right our collection is not yet completely online. But we are working on publishing all 500.000 objects one day.
    Unfortunately there is no specimen of these extremely rare (and with many questions connected) coins in our collection. I'm sorry I couldn't be of more help to you.

    No trace at all, but it was difficult to research because the old catalogue didn't give a precise description of the Gordian and Philip's aurei found in the hoard.
    Roman Collector and NewStyleKing like this.
  19. Ocatarinetabellatchitchix

    Ocatarinetabellatchitchix Supporter! Supporter

    Don't start me up with the Big Foot here @Ryro . We could argue about it for hours.

    Roman Collector, Alegandron and Ryro like this.
  20. hotwheelsearl

    hotwheelsearl Well-Known Member

    I myself am more interested in the supposed aurei of "non-usual style"
  21. Ricardo123

    Ricardo123 Active Member

    Forgeries yes, modern...at least 300 years!
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