Archaeologists have unearthed a cache of sixth-century coins in Phanagoria, an ancient Greek city located in what is today southwestern Russia.
80 copper staters—a type of Greek coin—were found in an amphora buried for centuries in the ashes of a calamitous fire. Researchers think they were stashed in the vessel prior to an attack, likely from the Huns or the Turks, that resulted in large sections of the city being torched.
The discovery was announced by the Russian Academy of Science’s Institute of Archaeology.
“Treasures [like this] are not often found,” said archaeologist Vladimir Kuznetsov, who heads the institute’s now three-year-long Phanagoria dig, in a statement. “As a rule, they are evidence of catastrophic events in people’s lives, as a result of which the one who hid money or valuable items was unable to return and use their savings.”
Kuznetsov added that “the very context of his find speaks of the extraordinary circumstances under which [the objects were] hidden, of the sudden attack of enemies. In a hurry, a resident of Phanagoria hid a bundle with 80 coins in the throat of an old broken amphora that had turned up under his arm and covered the hole with earth.”
The scientist and his team determined that the copper coins were likely minted in the late third or early fourth century, in the Bosporan Kingdom, but continued to circulate as cheaper alternatives to gold currency through to the sixth century. They were pulled from a layer of debris where the remains of fire-damaged wooden floors, dishes, and a broken baptismal font have also been uncovered. The latter object suggests an early Christian basilica was destroyed in the conflagration.
In 2019, at the same site, Kuznetsov found an example of a gold coin made during the reign of Byzantine emperor Justinian I, also lost in the debris of a sixth century fire. With this month’s discovery, the researchers were able to conclude that there were actually two separate fires.
The first likely came about during a region-wide revolt against the Hunnic leader Gord in 528 or 534. The reason for the second, which scientists date to the second half of the century, is a mystery.
“The gold coin of Justinian I found two years ago in Phanagoria serves as proof that the new treasure is associated with the second, late fire of the sixth century. But who exactly—the [Huns] or the Turks—destroyed the capital of the Phanagorian diocese, remains unknown,” the archeologist said.
“The new treasure from Phanagoria is an invaluable evidence of historical events and the economy of the early Middle Ages,” he added.