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Burebista and the hoard find from Sarmizegetusa of 1998 - a finding story


Dear friends of ancient history

The Koson staters, and perhaps their history and problems, are widely known. Less well known is that gold staters of the Mithridatic Lysimachus type were found together with them, which are at least as interesting historically. I would like to report about them here.

In 2004 I acquired the following gold stater:

AV - gold stater, 8.30g, 20mm, 0°.
        minted 44-42 BC in Tomis
Obv.: Head of the deified Alexander r., with royal taenia and Ammon's horn,
         behind dot and monogram, in the curls behind the head a monogram (X).
Rev.: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩ[Σ] - ΛΥΣΙΜΑΧΟΥ (both from top to bottom).
         between them Athena Nikephoros seated left, in chiton and himation with Corinthian helmet
         (with bush) and aegis, on the outstretched right Nike left. wreathing the name of the king,
         the left leaning on the shield; in the background the lance
         in the left field ΘΕΜ, under the seat TO, point in front of the knee, under the throne lying
         trident l., above and below a dolphin
Ref.: a) AMNG I/2, 2480, Taf. XXI, 6 (ex. from London, same die, also with the X in the curls!).
            2nd class. Rough style, portrait reminiscent of Pharnakes II, dated by Regling to 89-72
            BC. Not struck by Mithradates himself.
        b) Mithridates VI de Callatay p.141, this D4/R1 (same die) 
        c) Moushmov 1785 (picture at with same die)
EF, mint state

This stater corresponds to the Lysimachus type Triton III, 1999, lot 476, p.97 (typical the X in the curls behind the head).
The alloy used for these Lysimachus types is similar to that used for the numerous Koson staters with monogram. It consists of fine gold with silver (up to 5%) and copper (up to 0.30%). This was probably the gold circulating in the Balkan region during this period (Constantinescu).

History of the Lysimachus types:
The oldest document in which the Lysimachus types are mentioned is by Wolfgang Lazius, published in 1598, but which he had already written in 1551. In it he describes how the treasure was found in the waters of the river Sargetia, in a vault that was destroyed in the upper part by the roots of a tree. Fishermen are said to have discovered 40,000 gold coins there. Most of them bore the name of the Thracian king Lysimachus ("magna ex parte Lysimachi Thraciae regis Graecam inscriptionem ostendebant") in Greek. Subsequent searches by the authorities uncovered several thousand more coins.

Also from the 16th century is a fragment of a sermon by Mathesius Sarepta, who mentions this event in 1554. He was even able to examine some coins himself and identified them as coins of the Lysimachus and Koson type. He described these in detail. 

Ascanio Centorio describes this episode somewhat differently in a work from 1566. For him, it was heavy rains and floods that uncovered the treasure. This happened near the ruins of a Dacian city near Devna. According to him, it was a huge amount of coins, he estimates it to be more than a hundred thousand! But his description is accurate: "on one side was the image of Lysimachus and on the other a Victoria".

It is known that these coins were called "heathen coins" at the time and were regarded as medieval forgeries. Constantin Preda is still of this opinion in 1998!

Over the centuries, more and more of these coins were discovered, isolated or in hoards. From the beginning of the 19th century there is a document containing a detailed description of a Lysimachus type. This coin had on its reverse 'tridens cum delphini [...] in area monograma ΘΕΜ[...] intra sellam ΤΟ' (Winkler 1960).

The find story from 1998:
In the meantime, the discovery story has been clarified. It happened as follows:
In August 1998, 2 treasure hunters, D. Baci and M. Mihăilă, found a huge hoard of about 3600 staters of the Mithridatic Lysimachos type near Sarmizetegusa Regia in the Oresti Mountains in Romania, as well as some staters of Pharnakes II and some of Asander as archon. This took place at a place called "Şesul Căprăreţei lângă cărare (Plain of the Goat - near the path)". These coins were illegally dug up and put on the international market. However, we know that some of these coins (including the coins of Pharnakes II and of Asander) were still in Romania at the end of 1999, because they were seen in the house of Traian Stănilă at that time, but not afterwards.

After these coins became known to the public, an intense debate began. In order to disguise their origin, the finders had given different places where they were found.

In September 1999, Harlan J. Berk and Donald Macdonald wrote in the auction catalogue Triton III about the recent appearance of these coins:
"Over the summer of 1999, two important groups of gold staters, presumably from recent finds, came onto the market. One contained posthumous Lysimachos staters and the other was a small group of Pharnakes II and Asander staters. No find spot is known, nor do we know if the coins represent one hoard, two hoards or more."

At that time, the circumstances of the find were not yet known and several sites were discussed.

History of the hoard from 1998:
Harlan J. Berk wrote about my coin "It is an imitation of a gold stater of Lysimachus (323-281 BC), minted to pay the Thracian mercenaries that Brutus recruited for his fight against Octavian and Marcus Antonius".
Another interpretation was that they had already been minted under Mithradates VI in 88-87 BC during the 1st Mithradatic War.
Today, however, the most probable theory is another:

The Lysimachos staters were minted in Tomis, Istros, Kallatis and Byzantium. So they all came from the western Black Sea coast. There they began their journey, which took them to Sarmizetegusa Regia, more than 600km away. It was a hoard of a small amount of staters of Pharnakes II and Asander as archon from the western Black Sea coast, which Burebista had conquered (Why not from Olbia?), mixed with thousands of staters of the Mithridatic Lysimachus type. It probably dates from 46 BC and was made after Burebista's campaign from Olbia to Apollonia Pontica. We can see that we can only learn more if we deal with Burebista and his time.

Excursus: Burebista and his time

Burebista (d. c. 44 BC) was the first king of the united state of the Dacians. Partly by force, he united the Dacian tribes and became their king in 82 BC. He built the fortress of Sarmizegetusa Regia. Sarmizegetusa Regia, also known as Sarmizegetusa (not to be confused with the Roman colony Ulpia Traiana Augusta Dacica Sarmizegetusa) was a military base and the capital of the ancient Dacian Empire until its destruction in 106 during the Second Dacian War of the Roman Emperor Trajan.

Burebista is mentioned in Strabo as Byrebistas and Boirebistas and in Jordanes "Getica" as Buruista. Through conquests he considerably enlarged the Dacian heartland. Between 55 and probably before 48 BC, he conquered the Greek coastal cities on the Black Sea from Olbia in the north to Apollonia Pontika in the south. At the height of his power, his empire stretched from the middle Danube to the Black Sea. In the Roman civil war, he sided with Pompey. After the defeat of Pompey, Caesar planned a campaign against the Dacians, but this was prevented by his death.

In 44 BC, Burebista himself fell victim to a conspiracy of Dacian nobles and the Dacian Empire disintegrated into 4 partial kingdoms.

I have added the following pics:
(1) Statue of Burebista in Orastie (Roamata, Wikimedia)
(2) Historical sitee of Sarmizegetus Regia (Lysy, Wikimedia). Numerous finds from archaeological excavations in the region point to a settlement dating back to the Neolithic period. The entire archaeological site is protected as a historical monument under Law No. 422/2001, passed in 2001.
(3) Map of the Dacian Empire at the end of Burebista's reign ca. 44 BC (Curtisimo, Cointalk)

(1) Strabo, Geographika
(2) Jordanes, Getika
(3) Wikipedia

(1) Regling,  AMNG  I/2,  1910
(2) Der  Kleine  Pauly
(3) Lucian Munteanu, Some Remarks Concerning the Gold Coins with the Legend ‘ΚΟΣΩΝ’, in N. Holmes (ed), Proceedings of the “XIV International Numismatic Congress, Glasgow 2009”, I, Glasgow 2011.
(4) Lucian Monteanu, Quelques considerations concernant les decouvertes des monnaies d'or de  type Lysimaque dans la Dacie intra-carpatique, in Ethnic Contacts and Cultural Exchanges North and West of the Black Sea from the Greek Colonization to the Ottoman Conquest, Iaşi,  2005
(5) Emanuel Petac, About the Sarmizegetusa Hoard from 1998 and the Possible Chronology of Burebista’s Campaign to the Black Sea Border, Notae Numismatica, Tom XIII, Krakau 2018
(6) Bogdan Constantinescu et al., Archaeometallurgical Characterization of Ancient Gold Artifacts from Romanian Museums using XRF, Micro-PIXE and Micro-SR-XRF  Methods,  2012
(7) Constantin Preda, Ein neuer Vorschlag zur Chronologie der Koson-Münzen, in Stephanos Numismatikos 1998, herausgeben von Dr. Ulrike Peter, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften.
(8) Judit Winkler (1960), ‘Note despre colecţia monetară a lui Dániel Lészay’, Studii şi Cercetări de Numismatică 3, pp. 451-64.
(9) "A beautiful Gold Stater... of Brutus?", Curtisomo, Cointalk

I hope you enjoy this article


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