Coins Dug Up in Georgia Expose Dirty Work of Legendary Legio X Fretensis
Archaeologists in Georgia have discovered a hoard of ancient coins, which had symbols punched into their faces long after they were created. When the researchers learned the nature of the symbols, they knew they were hot on the heels of the legendary Roman Legion - Legio X Fretensis - “Tenth legion of the Strait”.
Named after the Strait of Messina, or “Fretum Siculum” in Latin, the Legio X Fretensis (Tenth legion of the “Strait”) was a renowned Roman legion that was established by Emperor Augustus in 41 BC. Known for their crucial role in various military campaigns across the Roman Empire, Legio X Fretensis was known for its highly disciplined, and battle-hardened soldiers. As such, the legion's emblem depicted a bull, symbolizing strength and ferocity.
Now, bronze coins bearing the emblem of the Legio X Fretensis have been discovered at the Roman fort of Apsaros, in the ancient region of Colchis near the modern-day village of Gonio, in present-day Georgia.
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Countermark by the Legio X Fretensis with the number X inscribed in a circle detail on the Antioch coin unearthed in Apsaros. (naukawpolsce)
‘Countermarking’ For Financial Control
Before we begin this story, one must first know what “countermarking” means, in the context of ancient Roman coinage. The term refers to the creation of additional marks, including distinct symbols, letters, or numbers, on existing coins. Countermarking validated, or modified the value of a coin, and it was most often carried out by authorities or individuals attempting to regulate currency circulation.
Countermarking extended the lifespan of existing currency, in a much more cost-effective manner than melting, or recalling. And because countermarking was prevalent during periods of monetary instability, the discovery of revalued coins provides archaeologists with valuable insights into the historical context of Roman coinage. In this case, the discovery of countermarked coins in Georgia has provided evidence of the movements of the Legio X Fretensis.
Archaeologists from Poland and Georgia at the Asparos fort in Gonio-Georgia. (naukawpolsce)
Raiders of the Holy City
According to a report in Naukaw Polsce this story begins around 70 AD in Jerusalem, when the Holy City fell under siege by the Legio X Fretensis, in conjunction with the V Macedonica, XII Fulminata, and XV Apollinaris. The raiders ultimately destroyed the Second Temple, and X Fretensis went on to lead the assault on the Herodium, and the famous siege on one of the last strongholds of resistance at Masada.
An article in Heritage Daily explains that historical texts record the X Fretensis being garrisoned in Judaea (20 BC), Syria (AD 6-66), Jerusalem (AD 73 to late 3rd century AD), and Aila (late 3rd century AD). The archaeologists in Georgia began to realize what they had discovered when analysis determined that most of the coins came from Syrian Antioch and Judea, and that they were all ‘countermarked’. Dr. Jaworski, from the Faculty of Archaeology at the University of Warsaw, confirmed that the symbols and letters on the countermarks “belonged to the Legio X Fretensis”.
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Lost Wages of the Most Iconic Roman Warriors
Regarding the origins of the coins, Dr. Jaworski said they “likely originate from the treasury of Judea.” It is speculated that after the sacking of Jerusalem the stash of coins were transported by the X Fretensis to the Roman fort of Apsaros. The professor said that because coins “were not minted locally at Apsaros,” the legionnaires used their own countermarked coins for making day to day purchases like bread and wine.
Dr. Jaworski thinks the coins were transported when the legion was on its way to campaign against the Parthians, during the reign of Emperor Trajan, at the beginning of the 2nd century AD. During the reign of Emperor Trajan, Legio X Fretensis played a crucial role in his ambitious campaign to expand Roman territories, and this meant conquering Parthia, an ancient empire from a region corresponding to present-day northeastern Iran, eastern Iraq, and parts of Turkmenistan.
Legio X Fretensis won several major engagements against the Parthians, against all odds, and having applied their renowned discipline and tactical prowess they are remembered in military history as one of the most iconic Roman battle groups. And this is why the new evidence of their maneuvers, the coins, is so important to archaeology.
Top image: An AI generated Roman Legion, representative of Legio X Fretensis. Source: Noel Cook/ Adobe Stock
By Ashley Cowie