Coin Hoard Linked to “Sudden Attack” on Ancient City of Phanagoria

In the first half of the 6th century, the ancient city of Phanagoria on the Taman peninsula was attacked and destroyed. Someone who was living in the city at the time frantically tried to hide their coins in an amphora as the buildings were set ablaze around them. That person never returned to dig up their treasure, so it was left for Russian archaeologists to unearth.

The coin hoard is the most recent discovery made by a team of archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences.  KubNews reports that the archaeologists have been excavating an archaeological layer belonging to the  Byzantine period  in the ancient city of Phanagoria for the past three years.

Phanagoria’s Turbulent History

Teian colonists founded Phanagoria around 543 BC, after fleeing their homeland following a conflict with Cyrus the Great. But peace wasn’t assured in the largest ancient Greek city on the Taman peninsula. As a major trade center between the coast of the Maeotian and the southern side of the Caucasus and being as it was the core area of the  Bosporan Kingdom,  Phanagoria had its fair share of enemies.

Phanagoria is an important archaeological site on Russia’s Taman peninsula. ( KubNews)

From the 4th century BC to the 4th century AD, the Bosporan Kingdom was rich and powerful thanks to its trade connections with nomads such as the Sarmatians and  Scythians. Its culture was influenced not only by its Greek founders, but also the people of the Steppes. But in the 4th century AD  Huns razed  Phanagoria. It was rebuilt by its steadfast inhabitants by the end of that century. However, peace still didn’t find the people of Phanagoria, who later fell under Byzantine control. they continued to face attacks by the Huns and Turks for centuries.

Which brings us back to the story of the 6th century coin hoard.

80 Coins, Hidden in a Hurry

According to  Heritage Daily , archaeologists discovered 80 copper staters (a type of coin) in an amphora which was buried in an archaeological layer linked to a fire destroying Phanagoria in the 6th century AD. The coins were minted by Bosporan kings in the late 3rd – early 4th century AD and Vladimir Kuznetsov of the Russian Academy of Sciences  said that even though the coins had been created centuries earlier, they were still used “in the internal market of the Bosporus in the 6th century.” This may have been because the copper-lead coins were much cheaper than more expensive Byzantine gold.

80 copper staters were discovered in the amphora. ( Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences )

The archaeologists believe that the coins were quickly buried when Phanagoria was attacked and burned by either Huns or Turks. Heritage Daily reports that the team found several public and private buildings had been torched at the same time as the coins were buried, leaving “ash, soot, fragments of burnt wooden floors of buildings, broken dishes, and the remains of burnt grain in amphorae in the destruction layer.”

Kuznetsov says that the nature of the coin hoard’s burial itself “speaks of the extraordinary circumstances under which the treasure was hidden – about the sudden attack of enemies. The owner of the coins was clearly acting in a hurry: part of the amphora was placed in a hole and covered with earth.”

Kuznetsov  says “The owner of the coins was clearly acting in a hurry: part of the amphora was placed in a hole and covered with earth.” ( Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences )

Other Interesting Finds on the Taman Peninsula

The 6th century coins are just one example of fascinating  archaeological finds  made on the Taman peninsula in recent decades. The following is a small selection of other archaeological discoveries made in the area:

We can only wonder what else may be revealed as archaeologists continue their work in the region to uncover more secrets of its past.

Top Image: The 6th century coins found at the ancient city of Phanagoria in Russia. Source:  Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences

By Alicia McDermott


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