Sponsian: The Rediscovery of a Lost Roman Emperor

Object in Focus

15 November 2022–26 March 2023
Hunterian Museum
Admission free

In 1713 a small hoard of Roman coins was allegedly unearthed in Transylvania. Over the following decades, its contents were dispersed amongst collections across Europe, including Dr William Hunter’s.Sponsian gold coin, c.260-c.270 CE (obverse).

Four gold coins lay near-forgotten in cabinets in The Hunterian for over 200 years, until recent analysis at the University of Glasgow overturned long-standing views about their authenticity. Dismissed as forgeries since the mid-19th century, results suggest that these coins are in fact genuine.

Three relate to recognised emperors of the mid-3rd century CE. The fourth depicts Sponsian, a controversial figure previously relegated to obscurity, now rediscovered as a ‘lost emperor’ of the Roman era.

Image: Sponsian gold coin, c.260-c.270 CE (obverse). Bust of Sponsian wearing a radiate crown, facing right. GLAHM 40333.