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Ancient Coin Recovery ‘Crowning’ Achievement
By Richard Giedroyc, World Coin News
October 09, 2013

This article was originally printed in World Coin News.
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Perhaps Romania’s national museum was irrationally exuberant in the statement it released? On July 30 a Romania National Museum of History spokesman in Bucharest was quoted as saying, “The recovery of five coins and 14 pieces of jewelry is the crowning of more than two years of efforts made by prosecutors, policemen, and by Romanian and German experts.”

This is one of two spectacular recoveries of ancient coins claimed as being part of Romania’s national heritage that were returned to the Romanian government during July.

All of the coins involved are first century B.C.E. gold “koson” coins attributed to the Dacians, Indo-European forerunners of modern Romania who were at the time in danger of being conquered by the Romans.

During early July 142 koson gold coins reported to have a total weight of more than 1.2 kilograms were turned over to police in Hunedoara in western Romania by a local citizen who according to the local deputy prosecutor general “kept them as a good faith curator.” The coins have been estimated to have a black market value of about $110,000 US. The coins were to be authenticated at the Alba Iulia National Union Museum, then turned over to the national museum in Bucharest.

As important as the recovery of this find may be it is the five koson coins and 14 pieces of jewelry repatriated July 30 that has caused all the excitement. British Museum experts conducted tests on 145 coins in custody, including the five just repatriated, concluding all were part of a Dacian treasure stolen from Sarmizsegetusa, an UNESCO heritage site.

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According to Agence France-Presse information, Horia-Camil Radu of Romania was arrested July 29 on his way to Germany. Radu is charged with “complicity to the theft of cultural goods.” He had been indicted in 2008 in Romania, but fled the country prior to standing trial. The July 30 AFP press release said Radu intended to sell 160 Dacian, Byzantine and Roman gold coins.

Museum Director Ernest Oberlander-Tarnoveanu told AFP the coins and jewels were recovered from a German auction house. In the past six years Romania has succeeded in recovering more than 500 Dacian gold coins and 13 gold Dacian bracelets stolen from archaeological dig sites.

Interpreting the koson gold coins is complicated and open to debate. These are the only known gold coins allegedly minted by the Dacians. The coins are considered to be gold staters, based on their weight. Each carries a Greek legend, however the iconography is Roman. The obverse of each coin resembles an eagle standing left on a scepter as it appears on a silver denarius of M. Iunius Brutus issued in 54 B.C. The reverse depicts three standing figures (two of them holding an ax) dressed in togas as appeared on a denarius of 73 B.C.E. issued in the name of Q. Pomponius Rufus.

According to Monede si bancnote romanesti, published in 1977, there are two generally accepted possible interpretations of the koson coins. The Mommsen hypothesis suggests the coins were struck by Marcus Iunius Brutus to pay Dacian mercenaries within his army. The legend on the coins, within this hypothesis, would be the name of the Dacian king. This is the Brutus who was involved in the assassination of Julius Caesar.

A second theory is that the coins were struck by the Dacian king sometime between 44 and 42 B.C.E. If this theory is true the iconography on the coins is symbolic of how the Romans viewed Brutus as a symbol of civic virtue and of liberty. This theory suggests the Dacian king used his own treasury to strike the coins.

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