Archaeologists Discover a Huge Stash of Medieval Coins in Hungary
Ongoing excavations at a rural spot near the village of Újlengyel in central Hungary recently struck gold, both figuratively and literally. Archaeologists armed with powerful metal detectors found a buried treasure of approximately seven thousand silver and four medieval gold coins in Hungary, hidden centuries ago by unknown individuals. This is the largest collection of old coins ever unearthed in Pest County, which surrounds Hungary’s capital city of Budapest.
Ferenczy Museum Center sponsored supervised excavations in the area in the hope of uncovering more buried treasure and coins in Hungary. This time they literally struck gold! (Ferenczy Museum Center)
Motivated to Keep Digging: Multiple Discoveries of Coins in Hungary
The find was extraordinary, but not all that surprising. In 2019, the same archaeologists found a smaller cache of 150 medieval coins in Hungary at this otherwise unremarkable location, 30 miles (48 kilometers) southeast of Budapest, reports Hungary Today. It was this discovery that motivated them to continue looking in the area, which apparently was a popular destination for Hungarians who had a reason to hide their money in the late Middle Ages.
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This most recent discovery occurred in late December 2020 and was announced on January 11th by officials from the Ferenczy Museum Center in Szentendre, Hungary, which sponsored the excavations under the leadership of Balázs Nagy, the museum’s resident numismatist.
The vessel that contained the coins was found buried less than one-meter-deep (3.28 ft) in a farmer’s field. At some point, the vessel had been busted open by the blade of a plow, causing the coins to spill out into the surrounding earth. But unfortunately for the farmer, the coins remained hidden below the surface of the ground, where they stayed out of sight until the archaeologists arrived with their metal detectors.
The discovery in Újlengyel of hidden coins is a spectacular find, comprising seven thousand silver and four gold medieval coins in Hungary. (Ferenczy Museum Center)
The oldest of the coins was a Silver Denarius bearing the image of Lucius Verus, who was the co-emperor of the Roman Empire from 161 to 169 AD (Hungary was a part of the Empire at that time), while the youngest set of coins were issued during the kingdom of Louis II, who ruled Hungary from 1516 to 1526. Based on the latter finding, the archaeologists concluded that the coins must have been buried either during Louis II’s reign or shortly thereafter.
Most of the coins are commonly issued types and are around in relative abundance even today. But one of the coins is extremely rare and valuable. That is a Vatican-issued denarius from the reign of Pope Pius, who served from 1458 to 1564.
At the time the coins were hidden in the earth, they would have represented a modest but still notable fortune. The stash would pay for a luxury car by today’s standards, and would have been enough to purchase seven horses in Hungary during the late Middle Ages. Excavations will continue in the area, and the archaeologists are hopeful that other similar discoveries will soon follow.
The Hungarian coin discovery included four medieval gold coins. (Ferenczy Museum Center)
The Ottoman Empire in Hungary
The reason why the coins were buried at Újlengyel remains a mystery. The Ferenczy Museum Center archaeologists speculate that the coins may have been hidden by those who were fleeing the invading troops of Suleiman the Magnificent, the immodest ruler of the Ottoman Empire who launched a massive invasion of Hungary in 1521. This is a logical deduction, given that the last of the coins included in the buried stash were issued during Louis II’s reign, which ended with Suleiman’s crushing victory over the Hungarians at the Battle of Mohács in 1526.
But the conclusion is far from definitive. In the waning days of Hungary’s Jagiellonian dynasty, of which Louis II was the last representative, Hungary was torn by internal strife. As anarchy descended, nobles conspired against nobles while they all secretly plotted against the king. A major peasant rebellion had been crushed by the nobles in 1514, but this created yet more divisions and helped turn Hungary into a bubbling stew of discontent and looming insurrection. The disturbing results at the Battle of Mohács only added to the disarray, as the former kingdom of Hungary split into three parts with two separate kings, while an independent principality was declared in Transylvania.
In such a chaotic environment, paranoia would have been running rampant, and not unreasonably. Nobles worried about conspiracies directed against them might have had reason to squirrel away some of their funds, and peasant groups marshaling their resources to launch a new rebellion might have wanted to do the same. The fact that more than one stash of coins has been found at different spots in the same area proves the coin burying wasn’t a one-time, spontaneous event, but an actual plan of action that likely involved multiple parties.
If the money was in fact buried by parties fleeing Suleiman’s forces, this would have likely happened sometime between 1526 and 1541. It was only in the latter year that the Ottomans were finally able to permanently occupy the Hungarian capital at Buda (the original name for Budapest) and smash the final bit of Hungarian resistance, although the Ottoman forces were constantly moving about through the region in the years leading up to their final triumph.
Many valuable archaeological finds are unearthed by farmers ploughing their fields. (Ferenczy Museum Center)
Archaeology Progresses One Turn of the Plow at a Time
One interesting aspect of this new coin discovery was the damage done to the money’s container by the farmer’s plow. Over the years there have been many valuable archaeological finds unearthed on agricultural lands all over the world, and in some instances it seems that farmer’s plows have helped bring artifacts up to or closer to the surface.
Conversely, there have likely been other instances where valuable treasures were pushed further down into the earth by powerful agricultural machinery, leaving them too deeply buried to ever be discovered. In the end the outcome is all a matter of luck, and in Hungary it seems that luck was on the side of the Ferenczy Museum Center treasure hunters.
Top image: Motivated by the discovery of other coin stashes in this otherwise unremarkable location in Hungary, the archaeologists set out to find more armed with metal detectors. Source: Ferenczy Museum Center
By Nathan Falde
Bunting, T. (N.d.) “Battle of Mohács” in Britannica. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/event/Battle-of-Mohacs