Februarius 2758 auc - January 2758  
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Roman Villa at Estrees-sur-Noye

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Roman Coins

Legio XX Adlocvtio

Latin: Lesson #2



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Roman Coins

Coinage has always been a facinating subject in the history of the Roman Republic and Empire. Coinage brought into being a great step forward in economy and the ability to buy and sell on a greater scale and with more accuracy in value as never before. As coinage became more and more popular the designs on coinage began to replace that of animals and scenes with that of important personages, and in Rome for a good part of the coinage minted, that meant the Emperors.

Coinage also means convienience in carrying and using one's personal or commercial treasure for the things in life that are needed or desired, and it would seem that the same convienience extends to all or most of mankind either inside or outside the borders of the political entity that which may be rersponsible for them. Discoveries of Roman coin outside the boundaries of the Roman Empire are facinating finds, because of the fact that they are solid usually dated evidence in being. Stories of such supposed finds have been reported in such places as China, Sri Lanka, India, and Afghanistan and even in the more Western of areas, like Russia and Sweden.

If the finding of these coins is indeed authentic (and not some kind of hoax) then the imagination may soar with new ideas regarding the travels of unreported Roman adventurers seeking new areas in the world to conquer. Or, it may simply mean that merchant traders using these coins as a compact means of carrying value journied into far regons quite outside of the Roman influence for the purpose of trade carrying such coin for the value they possesed either intrinsically or in thier uniqueness.

In the early part of the 20th century, an archaelogical excavation on the Southeast coastof Iceland unearthed a Roman antoninianus which had been struck for the Emperor Probus in the years AD276-282. The site of the excvation was a farm whose building foundations were dated to the times of pre-Norse settlers prior to AD930. Later in 1923 , another coin (Diocletian - AD284-305) was found on a beach about 20 kilometers or so from the town of Bragdavellir which was not far from the first find. In 1933 a third coin (Aurelian - AD270-275) was uncovered at the same site as the first coin. These coins had been struck in the imperial mints at Rome, Mediolanum, and Lugdunum. The first two being in Ialy and the last in Gaul. The coins are now to be found in the National Museum of Iceland (Reykjavic). These three coins were unearthed by serious excavators and were found under controlled conditions which were believed to be a completely legitimate enterprise.

An antoninianus of Diocletianus, AD 284-305, found at Hvalnes in 1923. The reverse shows the god Jupiter holding Victoria.

The question, therefore is in what manner did this Roman coinage from the third century get to the island of Iceland which was supposedly uninhabited and is close by the Artcfic Circle? There are four theories which are mainly extant:

The first that Vikings who arrived in Iceland in AD 865, brought with them coinage both contemporary and ancient in thier purses.

The second thory is that some Celtic peoples brought these coins with them when they sought refuge from Viking invaders sometime after AD790 -- seventy years before the arrival of the Vikings in Iceland. (1)

An antoninianus of Probus, AD 276-282, found at Bragdavellir in 1904. The reverse shows the temple of Venus and Roma.

The third and, of course, most facinating by far for Nova Roma, of the four theories, is that the Romans reached Iceland in the late 4th century. Theodosius a Roman General (later Emperor, Theodocius I, AD 379-395) pursued the last of the invading Picts from Britannia in AD 363 and followed them around the Island of Britain. It is suggested that he might have reached Iceand , which was then known as "Thule" during this expedition. A Roman poet, one Claudius Claudianus (d. AD 404) wrote in one of his lyrics the below line:

--"Theodosius's adventurous oars broke the surface of the northern seas------What avail against him the eternal snows, the frozen air, the uncharted seas?------Thule was warm with the blood of Picts--". He furhther boasted in his writings, that for Romans "--to visit Thule and explore it's one dreaded wilderness is but a sport--" (2) Claudianus has provided the ony existing report of this northern chase or expedition, and some scholars are certain that such may well be a fable rather than a fact. Still, it remains within the realm of possibility since nearly 700 years prior to that time, Pytheas of Massilia (Marseilles)who was an explorer and astronomer sailed first to the Isles of Britain, then on North past the Orkney's, Shetl;and's and Faroe's to Iceland itself, an -- "icy land on a frozen sea", which m,ay have been Iceland, and which he named "Thule." Thare is much skepticism regardingb this voyage, as well, some historians stating that what he saw was the southern coast of Norway. But his observations and astronomical calculations for the latitude of "Thule (Iceland??)" are fairly accurate.

An antoninianus of Aurelianus, AD 270-275, found at Bragdavellir in 1933. The reverse shows the sun god Sol with a bound captive at his feet. The word Oriens in the legend, meaning the East, refers to the sun.

The fouth and by far the least credible theory is the one regarding traders. During this period two items which the North had to offer were much sought after in the Empire. The first was walrus ivory which was worth it's wieght, it is said, in gold, and walrus hides which provided the best ship's rigging known to ancient sailors. Other trade goods which were desirable were; seal oil, polar bear skins, narwha tusks, bird down, and sea eagles (falcons). Perhaps Roman Traders came ashore for fresh water, and food replentishment before returning, and used coins to trade with the natives for personal trade items. Support for this idea is noted in the maps drawn by the Roman geographer, Ptolemy, which show the island of Thule (called then "Thile")in almost the accuate location of today's Iceland north of Scotland, (3)

Whatever the truth of the means by which these artifacts arrived in Iceland, thier presence ceretainly demonstrates the long lasting influence of one of the greatest empires the world has ever known.

(1) Nelson S. Gerard, "The Icelandic Heritage," Saga Publications, Winnepeg, Canada, 1968;

(2) M. Platnauer (Trans.), "Claudian," Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, Cambridge , Mass, 1922;

(3)"Mappa Mundi"(map of the known world) in, "Cosmography, Maps from Ptolomy's Geogtaphy", intro. by L. Pagani. Magna Books, England, 1990, Pages 1 and 11.

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