Massive Roman Denarii Hoard From the ‘Vandals’ Last Stand’ Found
Polish archaeologists have uncovered a treasure trove of Roman denarii coins. They date from the first and the second century BC, and they probably belonged to a member of a Germanic people who lived in the area at the time. The coins are providing experts with an insight into a dramatic period when desperate people made their last stand before invaders.
The coins were found on farmland near Cichobórz, Hrubieszów County, not far from Lublin in 2019. They were unearthed completely by chance, being revealed by agricultural equipment that was churning the soil. They were found by Mariusz Dyl, a farmer who was out looking for antlers that were shed by deer. He spotted coins that had been scattered over the churned field and knew they were very old. Mr. Dyl quickly contacted the Hrubieszów Museum.
The field where the denarii coins were found after being churned up by farm equipment. (Stanisław Staszic / Muzeum Hrubieszow )
He and a group of archaeologists returned with volunteers to the site and “they discovered another 137 coins,” reports The First News . The coins were scattered over many meters. But by following the trail, they were able to identify the original location of the treasure.
In total 1753 silver coins were found, and they are all Roman denarii. According to the Hrubieszów Museum website, the find is “the largest treasure from the Roman period in the Lublin region and one of the largest found so far in Poland.”
The Roman denarii coins found in the Lublin region are one of the largest treasure trove finds in Poland ever. (Stanisław Staszic / Muzeum Hrubieszow )
Depictions of Roman Emperors
The coins weigh over 12 pounds (5kg) and they bear the portrait of Roman emperors. They have depictions of rulers from “ Emperor Nerva (96-98 AD) to Septimius Severus (193-211 AD),” reports the Hrubieszów Museum . Mr. Dyl has been widely praised for his prompt reporting of the find, which probably saved many of the coins from being lost.
Treasure Owned by Vandals
The First News quotes Andrzej Kozłowski from the Archaeology Institute in Lublin as stating that “this treasure will be the crown of Polish archaeology.” The hoard of coins would have been quite valuable at the time, but they would not have been worth a fortune. The local museum director Bartłomiej Bartecki told The First News that “you couldn't buy a village for this, but it was not a small amount, especially for barbarian tribes.”
Archaeologists think that the denarii coins were abandoned in the last stand of the Vandals before fleeing the area after conflicts with the Goths at the end of the second century AD. (Stanisław Staszic / Muzeum Hrubieszow )
Based on the evidence, the experts believe that the coins were probably originally owned by Vandals. They were a Germanic people who lived in this part of Poland during the Roman Empire. They possibly acquired the denarii by trade or by serving as auxiliaries with the legions. It is theorized that the Vandals abandoned them as they were pushed from the region by the Goths, sometime around 200 AD.
Evidence of Brutal Fighting
The original container that held the coins has not survived, but it was probably a wooden casket or a leather bag. Whatever it was, it was adorned with rivets made of silver, as eight of them have been discovered at the site. The archaeologists believe the fact that the coins were abandoned, and that no one came back to retrieve them is significant.
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Vandal cavalryman, c. AD 500, from a mosaic pavement at Bordj Djedid near Carthage. ( Public domain )
This is because the abandoned treasure adds to the evidence that the Vandals were pushed out of the area with great violence. These coins were abandoned by the owners because they were fleeing for their lives. This is backed up by other archaeological finds from the period.
First News reports Mr. Bartecki as stating that the displacement of the existing occupiers by the Goths “didn’t happen without fighting. From this period, we know of numerous Vandal cemeteries, where warriors were buried with ritually destroyed weapons.”
Last Stand of the Vandals
Some believe that the treasure marks the place where the Vandals made their last stand before the Gothic onslaught. Kozłowski is quoted by The First News as saying that “it seems that this is where the Vandals lost the means to continue fighting.” The discovery suggests that they no longer had enough soldiers to continue the war and therefore, abandoned their homeland and never returned.
Later, the victorious Goths moved into modern-day Ukraine, where they established a powerful kingdom. They played an important role in the downfall of the Roman Empire. The Vandals also played a role in the Fall of Rome. In the 5 th century AD they invaded Gaul, made their way through Spain and eventually created a kingdom in North Africa. They later attacked and devastated the city of Rome, before they were conquered by the Byzantines in the 6 th century AD.
The coins are now the property of the local museum. They are expected to be analyzed by a group of experts from the University of Warsaw, which will take up to twelve months. The museum is unable to put the coins on public display due to the current COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic. Instead, they have launched a virtual exhibition that will soon be available online. A publication based on the hoard of coins is also planned.
Top image: 1,753 Roman denarii coins were found in total spread out over Mariusz Dyl’s farm near Lublin and they have been described as “the crown of Polish archaeology.” Source: Stanisław Staszic / Muzeum Hrubieszow
By Ed Whelan