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Ancient coin could provide proof a Roman emperor existed after all

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An ancient emperor thought to be made up could be real after all, according to researchers who’ve analyzed an ancient coin bearing his face.

There are four coins on display at the University of Glasgow: one bears the visage of the Emperor Gordian III, two of Emperor Philip and one features Sponsian, said Professor Paul Pearson from the University College London.

The Sponsian coin was found over 300 years ago in 1713 in Transylvania, or present-day Romania. Sponsian has barely a footprint in history and was deemed fictional by historians long ago, Pearson said.

According to Pearson and his team of researchers, the coins contain elements that match authentic Roman coins, suggesting Sponsian was a real emperor after all.

The four gold coins on display at The Hunterian. Top, left to right: Sponsian, Gordian III. Bottom, both Philip I/II.

“We know absolutely nothing about the emperor Sponsian from any sort of historical record,” said Pearson. “The only evidence that someone of that name ever existed is the coins, which bear his image and name and title.”

To learn more, he and his team analyzed the coins using modern techniques, including a powerful microscope. It’s the first time the Sponsian coin has been looked at using powerful microscopes in visible and ultraviolet light, and with scanning electron technology.

The findings were published the findings in PLOS ONE, a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

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The Sponsian gold coin.

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If he did exist, who was Emperor Sponsian?

First things first, Pearson stressed one thing about Sponsian. “Nobody is claiming he ever ruled in Rome,” he told USA TODAY.

Researchers believe he was a military commander in the Roman province of Dacia, which overlapped with modern-day Romania, and was known for its gold mines.

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