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Coins missing from Bulgaria hoard

Coin collectors may not be happy with laws regarding coin finds and who has the rights to them, but what happened recently in Bulgaria demonstrates that hoard finds should be excavated by professionals, not by amateurs.


A group of what is believed to have been as many as 1,000 ancient Roman coins initially encountered in a ceramic jar was discovered in August in Mezdra, Bulgaria. Local authorities discovered the coins while clearing a lot. The coins, reported to be silver, were found in a ceramic jar in a tangle of roots below a plum tree. Workers broke the container with an ax while trying to free it from the roots.

The individual who allegedly is the only person to have handled the jar prior to it having been broken claimed it weighed four to five kilograms or about 8.8 to 11 pounds. Initially only 183 coins were given to the local Vrasta Regional Museum of History. Four more coins were surrendered to the museum a few days later.

Photographs of the entire hoard as it appeared immediately following the jar having been broken suggest the find is much larger. While the museum asked local citizens to return any of the coins they may have, police have begun an investigation. The government has an ownership interest to archaeological finds in Bulgaria. Unfortunately, there is a large and well-organized black market for antiquities as well. It is commonplace for antiquities to be smuggled from Bulgaria into other countries where the antiquities are then given what is generally accepted to be a legal paper trail.

The local museum began emergency excavations of the area of the find almost as soon as its existence was learned. Archaeological study of the site was to be completed by the end of November.

The coins in museum hands were cleaned and cataloged, then unveiled to the media on Oct. 16. The museum identified the coins as ranging from the reign of Roman Emperor Nero between 54 and 68 C.E. to that of Severus Alexander, who ruled from 222 to 235 C.E.. The coins consist of silver denarii and antoninianii or double denarii. Other emperors in whose name coins were issued include Galba (68-69), Vitellius (69), Vespasian (69-79), Domitian (81-96), Clodius Albinus (usurper in 196-197), as well as their wives. Many of the coins were minted in Roman Syria.

Vrasta archaeologist Plamen Ivanov suggested the range of coins found indicates Mezdra may have served as a regional Roman treasury. The recently discovered coins were found near the Kaleto Fortress, an important archaeological site inhabited for thousands of years. Mezdra is northeast of Bulgaria’s capitol, Sofia, and is suspected of being an Imperial Roman settlement. Bronze composition coins of Roman Emperors Domitian (81-96), Claudius II Gothicus (268-270) and Probus (276-282) have been previously found in the fortress.

The site of Kaleto Fortress has been occupied for about 7,000 years, this being from the Chalcolithic to the Middle Ages. It is believed to be the site of a Roman second century C.E. fortress. A pagan cult center followed during the third century, but the Romans and the later Byzantines used the site between the fourth and sixth centuries.

This is the second large Roman hoard to have been discovered in recent years in Bulgaria. During 2015, a hoard of 2,976 silver denarii were found in a ceramic vessel at Saint Nedelya Square in Sofia. The name of the owner of the ceramic is inscribed on that vessel. No information was immediately available regarding if the name of the owner of the Mezdra vessel has survived.

This article was originally printed in World Coin News. >> Subscribe today.

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