Divers Discover Nearly 50,000 Submerged Coins Off the Coast of Italy

A follis of Diocletian, circa 294 CE. (Photo: Valentinian364 via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED)

In ancient days, seafaring was a difficult trade. It led to shipwrecks, and many years later to the discovery of long-lost treasures which once sailed above the waves. The Mediterranean Sea, in particular, is a rich repository of archeological evidence of intense trade routes and devastating warfare over centuries. The latest treasure to emerge is an enormous cache of ancient coins off the Italian coast near Sardinia. Discovered by a diver who noticed a shiny, metallic something, the site has yielded between tens of thousands of coins, making it one of the most significant finds in recent years.

At an undisclosed location in the nearby town of Arzachena, firefighter divers and police divers raised the treasure from its watery grave beneath sand and seaweed. The coins are still being sorted, but estimates of their numbers based on weight range from 30,000 to a whopping 50,000. A video from the Italian Cultural Ministry shows the laborious process of divers retrieving the coins by hand and placing them in bins to be raised to the service. The bronze coins are known as follis, a type of ancient coin which was common in the late Roman and early Byzantine period. According to the Ministry, they are in excellent condition, with even the most damaged still bearing legible inscriptions.

The coins date to about 324 to 340 CE. Constantine I has been spotted, and he ruled the Roman Empire from 306 to 337 CE. He was famous for his conversion to Christianity. Given its breadth, it is unsurprising that the coins were minted at different locations around the empire. According to Luigi La Rocca, the find is incredibly important, demonstrating the “richness and importance of the archaeological heritage that the depths of our seas, crossed by men and goods since the most ancient times, still guards and conserves.” Amphorae were also found nearby, suggesting a shipwreck may have dumped its ancient contents long ago, over stormy seas. If so, the wreck remains to be found.

Divers off the Sardinian coast discovered a cache of ancient bronze coins, known as follis, which may suggest a nearby shipwreck.

h/t: [Smithsonian Magazine, AP]

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Madeleine Muzdakis

Madeleine Muzdakis is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met and a historian of early modern Britain & the Atlantic world. She holds a BA in History and Mathematics from Brown University and an MA in European & Russian Studies from Yale University. Madeleine has worked in archives and museums for years with a particular focus on photography and arts education. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, film photography, and studying law while cuddling with her cat Georgia.
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