Archaeologists Discover Treasure of Silver Roman Coins during Excavations of Ancient Serdica in Bulgaria’s Capital Sofia

This treasure of almost 3,000 silver Ancient Roman coins from the 1st-2nd century AD has been found in a clay vessel during excavations of the ruins of ancient Serdica in the downtown of the Bulgarian capital Sofia. Photo: BGNES

This treasure of almost 3,000 silver Ancient Roman coins from the 1st-2nd century AD has been found in a clay vessel during excavations of the ruins of ancient Serdica in the downtown of the Bulgarian capital Sofia. Photo: BGNES

A treasure of 2,976 silver Roman coins from the 1st-2nd century AD has been discovered by archaeologists during the excavations of the ruins of the Ancient Thracian and Roman city of Serdica in the downtown of the Bulgarian capital Sofia.

The silver coin treasure has been found hidden inside a ceramic vessel with a lid in the structures from Ancient Serdica which are being excavated on the square near the St. Nedelya (“Holy Sunday) Cathedral and the Hotel Balkan (formerly the Sofia Sheraton) as part of the efforts for the further study of the Thracian and Roman city and its partial archaeological restoration.

The excavations are being carried out by a team led by archaeologist Assist. Prof. Veselka Katsarova from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.

The treasure of silver coins is the largest collective coin treasure to have ever been found during the excavations of Ancient Serdica, Sofia Municipality has announced.

The coins in question were collected for a period of at least 100 years since the earliest ones are coins of Roman Emperor Vespasian (69-79 AD), and the latest – coins of Emperor Commodus (r. 177/180-192 AD).

There are also coins that feature almost all of the other Roman Emperors inbetween and some of their wives, daughters, or sisters, from the Nerva-Antonine Dynasty (r. 96-192 AD) – including Emperor Nerva (r. 96 – 98 D), Emperor Trajan (r. 98-117 AD), Emperor Hadrian (r. 117-138 AD), Emperor Antonius Pius (r. 138-161 AD), as well as Vibia Sabina (wife of Emperor Hadrian), Faustina the Elder (wife of Emperor Antonius Pius), Faustina the Younger (daughter of Emperor Antonius Pius and wife of Emperor Marcus Aurelius), Bruttia Crispina (wife of Emperor Commodus), and Lucilla (daughter of Emperor Marcus Aurelius and elder sister of Emperor Commodus).

The name of the treasure's owner - Selvius Calistus - was scratched on the outside of the vessel containing the coins. Photo: BGNES

The name of the treasure’s owner – Selvius Calistus – was scratched on the outside of the vessel containing the coins (left). Photo: BGNES

The discovery of the Roman silver coin treasure from Serdica is especially interesting because on the outside of the ceramic vessel containing the coins its (last) owner scratched their name – Selvius Calistus, apparently a Roman citizen with a Greek surname.

Together with the ceramic vessel containing the Ancient Roman silver coins, the archaeologists have also found an ancient clay lamp, archaeologist Snezhana Goryanova, who is the deputy head of the excavations on the St. Nedelya Square, has told the Focus news agency.

She points out that the entire find – and especially the fact that the owner’s name is recorded on it – is especially exciting.

“It is a very emotional moment to see that what you have found is not anonymous but was owned by a specific person who has a name and history. According to our colleague Sharankov (Nikolay Sharankov from the Classical Philology Department of Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski" – editor’s note), the name of this treasure’s owner was Selvius Calistus. It is also possible that the owner may have been a woman because some parts of the inscription are missing," Goryanova explains.

She adds that the vessel itself containing the silver coin treasure was found in Late Antiquity archaeological layers, i.e. the layers dating to the 3rd, 4th, and even the beginning of the 5th century AD but the treasure itself was certainly collected during the 1st and the 2nd century AD.

The newly found treasure of Roman silver coins with Sofia Mayor Yordanka Fandakova and Deputy Mayor Todor Chobanov (right) in the background. Photo: BGNES

Part of the newly found treasure of Roman silver coins with Sofia Mayor Yordanka Fandakova (middle) and Deputy Mayor Todor Chobanov (right) in the background. Photo: BGNES

The Ancient Roman silver coin treasure from Serdica was found in a ceramic vessel with a lid. Photo: BGNES

The Ancient Roman silver coin treasure from Serdica was found in a ceramic vessel with a lid. Photo: BGNES

Silver Treasure 2The silver treasure and the pottery vessels discovery with it have been taken to the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences where experts are working on their further examination and restoration. Once they are done, the finds will be exhibited in the future Museum of Sofia History which is to be formally opened on September 17, 2015, in the former public bath building no far away from the excavation site.

“This [discovery] is an incredible chance to tell the history of the city of Sofia, and to enrich the museum. Let us demonstrate that in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd century Serdica was a very rich city with residents who could afford to amass such valuable treasures," Deputy Sofia Mayor, archaeologist Todor Chobanov, has told the Bulgarian National Radio.

Also check out other recent discoveries from the archaeological excavations of the Ancient Thracian and Roman city of Serdica, today’s Sofia:

Archaeologists Discover 1,600-Year-Old Roman Mosaics from Ancient Serdica in Bulgaria’s Capital Sofia

Archaeologists Discover Massive Roman Building from Ancient Serdica in Bulgaria’s Capital Sofia

Bulgarian Archaeologists Seeking Constantine the Great Statue, Roman Building from Ancient Serdica in Downtown Sofia

Background Infonotes:

The Ancient Thracian and Roman city of Serdica is the precursor of the contemporary Bulgarian capital Sofia. The oldest traces of civilized life in Sofia are from a Neolithic settlement dated back to 5000 BC located in today’s Slatina Quarter. There are also traces of life from the Charcolithic (also known as Aeneolithic or Copper Age) and the Bronze Age. After the Bronze Age the Sofia Valley was inhabited by the Ancient Thracian tribe serdi (some believe them to have been a Celtic tribe) which gave the name to the Ancient Thracian settlement called Serdica or Sardica. The city of Serdica was conquered briefly in the 4th century BC by Philip II of Macedon and his son Alexander the Great. Around 29 BC, Sofia was conquered by the Romans and renamed Ulpia Serdica. It became a municipium, the center of an administrative region, during the reign of Emperor Trajan (r. 98-117), and saw extensive development with many new buildings. It is known to have been the favorite place of Roman Emperor Constantine I the Great who used to say, “Serdica is my Rome". In 343 AD, the Council of Serdica was held in the city, in the 4th century church that preceded the current 6th century St. Sofia Basilica. In 447 AD, the city was destroyed by the Huns. During the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (r. 527-565 AD), a new fortress wall was built whose remains have been excavated and can be seen today. This is when it was renamed Triaditsa. It became part of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018 AD) in 809 AD when it was conquered by Bulgaria’s Khan Krum, and was known by its Slavic-Bulgarian name Sredets until the 14th century when it took the name of the St. Sofia Basilica.

The Sofia Largo is the architectural complex of government buildings in downtown Sofia erected in the 1950s, in the early years of the former communist regime. Regardless of their Communist Era architecture, today the buildings house the most important Bulgarian government institutions and are one of the most famous parts of Sofia’s cityscape. Parts of the ancient city of Serdica, which have been excavated, can be seen in the underpasses and the Serdica Metro Station right next to the Sofia Largo.