Roman coins found in Japan

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The mysteries of science: Archaeologists have uncovered Roman coins in a 13th century Japanese castle in Okinawa.

An X-ray analysis of the dime-sized coins showed some were embossed with Roman letters and possibly the image of Emperor Constantine I and a soldier holding a spear. Several others dated from a later period — the 17th century Ottoman empire.

Researchers were left scratching their heads about how the coins ended up at the castle in faraway Okinawa, which was built sometime in late 13th or early 14th century and abandoned about 200 years later. It was once the residence of a feudal lord, whose wealth was linked to regional trade but he was not known to have had business ties with Europe.

It is likely that the coins were obtained as curiosities by someone living at the castle, but the specific circumstances remain unknown.


  • Garry

    17th century coins found in a castle abandoned by the 16th century? Either it was abandoned later, or their definition of abandonment is pretty loose.

  • Wayne

    “World-coins” are not my thing….give me American (silver) coinage from 1860-1945, any day of the week! (copper is nice as well, but it’s a reactive metal; stick with silver or gold coinage, they will eventually turn color (as in toning), but they won’t turn green on you!)

    A little more info on this find, but not a whole lot more info—

  • Localfluff

    It’s not so strange at all. Coins back then were made of gold or silver and retain their purchasing value forever. Even a thousand years later on the other side of the world (that’s why gold and silver are sound monies, while paper and electrons are not). The article says that the oldest coins are from 300-400 AD. That’s when Rome was at its peak. And after that Rome remained an Asian empire for a thousand years. Not so strange that gold and silver traded through the Persians, Indians, Chinese and the Koreans to the Japanese. With time, most gold and silver has been recast, otherwise the spread of coins would’ve been much more common, and ancient trade routes easier to explore.

  • Tom Billings

    Given that humans moved around,

    It is no wonder that they brought coins with them, or were paid for going.

    Given that so much silk moved West, it is no oddity that coins moved East.

  • wayne

    Yes, very interesting & not all that surprising, but… it is exciting.

    Again, not an ancient-coin guy myself. But would agree with ‘fluff & Tom as to the survivability of gold/silver coinage & the general pervasive movement of our ancestors around the World.

    As for Japanese Castle’s, —I’ll defer to Garry 100%. (tangentially thinking aloud– what is the deal with eating-Cat’s in parts of Asia?)

    I enjoy “antique-y” items myself (Americana 1920-1945), including American silver coinage.
    (Not a hard-metal nut, don’t have “bags-of-silver” in the Bunker– but highly enjoy Standing Liberty quarters, Walking Liberty halves, and Morgan & Peace Dollars.)
    When I look at all my “stuff,” I’m sorta shocked to ponder how much of it all, will turn to dust, (is-turning in the case of my pulp-magazines) except for the coins & the silverware type stuff. (And Stoneware, as long as you don’t break it! and I’ve broken 100++ year old pottery, it happens in hi-def, slow-motion, and Dolby 5.1 sound.)

  • Kyle

    There are rumors amongst the church in Japan that one of the Apostles came to Japan. I couldn’t find any historical evidence that this occurred but if that’s true then there could have been missionaries later on from the early church who would of followed and would of had such coinage with them.

  • wayne

    totally out of my bailiwick & I can’t speak to the religious aspects, but you might find a bit of information at the Coin World website, on coinage from Biblical times. (just experiment with search terms)
    >There’s a whole sub-specialty of folks who collect those exact type coins and further still, a sub-specialty of folks who study those coins as they relate to religion.

  • Lee S.

    The coin is bronze, but they survive quite well under the right circumstances… I have a couple of hundred or so!!
    ( Ancient coins ARE my thing ;-) )
    However, considering the Romans were known to collect “Ancient” Greek coins, (the first greek coinage was 1000 years old by the fall of the Roman empire!! ) it would make the most sense that this was part of a collection of interesting old coins that made its way to Japan in the following centuries, as bronze coinage was only used up to and a little over the boundaries of the Roman empire.
    ( Roman coins have also been found in the USA, mainly from the ballast water from English ships, taken on in London along with mud from the bottom of the Thames, where Roman coins are still found on an almost daily basis!!)

  • Maurice

    Silk Road currency for sure. I’m sure that faraway roman empire extended itself for centuries past its final collapse thanks to its trusted coinage…

  • Lee S.

    @ Maurice….. Impossible, if gold or silver yes, but as they are “copper or bronze” they would have no more than scrap value outside the empire.

  • wayne

    Lee S.
    Cool! It’s tough to know ancient’s!
    I’ll defer completely. (ditto on the Bronze ‘thing, I was just speaking generally. I do however, have nightmares my Indian Head & Lincoln cents, will turn green on me, in their holders.)
    Totally partisan aside– Walking Liberty Halves & Standing Liberty Quarters… THE most beautiful coinage of last century, hand down.

  • Lee S.

    I tryed to post a link to one of my coins from the same era… Is there an extra hoop to jump through for link sharing?

    And Wayne, I defer to you also regarding “Modern coinage” , the oldest item in my collection is a Silver threepence of Elizabeth I, issued in AD 1578, I wouldn’t know the difference between an indian head and a Liberty quater if my life depended on it!! ;-p ( But hey!!! vive la difference!! If its coin related its cool!!!)

  • Lee S.

    Meh, I meant “Newest” of course, not “Oldest”… My Oldest is from about 520BC… Im just over-excited to have a subject to comment on that I know something about for a change!!

  • wayne

    Lee S.
    Go for it man! I have little knowledge myself on ancients.
    Yow-za, (520BC) my oldest coin is a 3 cent silver from 1864. It’s tiny but it’s rainbow toned.

    If you post more than 2 links, Mr Z. has to “moderate” them, if you just use 1 link it should go right through.

  • Lee S: To post a link the simplest way to do it would be to copy-and-paste the url into the text of your comment. There are other ways, but that’s the simplest. As Wayne says, if you include more than one, I will need to approve the comment before it appears, but that usually doesn’t take that long.

  • wayne

    Standing Liberty Quarter dollar
    –scarce in all grades, they only minted 52K that year.

    I bring this particular coin up for the reason, it’s beautiful!, and it’s the 100th anniversary & the Mint has issued a Centennial 2016 strike, containing 1/4 ounce gold.

  • Lee S.

    I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong… I have tried 3 times to post just 1 URL, twice from my pc and once from my phone… But now it’s bedtime… I will try again tomorrow, but for now good(Swedish)night gentlemen!

  • wodun

    There was also a sea based silk road as I am sure JBS listeners know.

  • wayne

    wodun– that definitely rings a bell with me.

    Lee S.– yeah, follow up when you can. All coin-stuff is interesting. You do however almost have to specialize to some extent.
    You should just be able to paste or type the url address into your comment.
    yow– the only thing I know about Swedish coinage; everything is in Euro’s now, and you used to have a silver ‘dollar’ & gold-piece (kroner? forgive me..) that were quite respected at the time. (pre ww-2)
    The Canadian’s have some really cool coinage, as do the British. (But I could never figure out the pound, pence & shilling ‘thing myself.)

    Excellent resource on American Coinage, and increasingly world-coins–
    No registration required; just drill into any of the categories listed & they have pictures & specs on everything. (they just started authenticating, grading, & encapsulating, select foreign and ancient coins, but primarily US coinage.)

  • Dave Williams

    The Romans traded coinage to China for silk fabric overland via the “Silk Road”, and after the conquest of Egypt, via India. They even sent an ambassador to China for a brief period, possibly via a sea route. The spice trade with India, in particular, was so profitable, the Romans, for once, decided not to attempt to conquer it, and risk messing up a good thing. Of course, they were also well aware of the distances involved in mounting such a campaign. They had enough trouble on their northern and eastern borders with Germanic tribes and Parthians.

  • Tom Billings

    “The spice trade with India, in particular, was so profitable, the Romans, for once, decided not to attempt to conquer it, and risk messing up a good thing. ”

    Actually, they did once the Sassanian Persian Shah-in-Shah, Khosrau, bumped up the tax rates on the land trade route. Emperor Justinian’s attempts to outflank the Persians through the Red Sea were frustrated, however. It seems the Persians’ allies dominated the Sea Routes at the time, which was why Khosrau felt confident his taxes would keep producing revenue. Justinian actually sent an army by land up the East coast of the Red Sea to unseat some of the Persian allies, but was defeated by the logistics problems.

    “Of course, they were also well aware of the distances involved in mounting such a campaign. They had enough trouble on their northern and eastern borders with Germanic tribes and Parthians.”

    Once the Western Empire fell away, though, the Roman Empire of Constantinople felt every need to keep as much of the revenue in the trade for itself, and out of the hands of their Persian enemies. Late in his reign, Justinian’s ambassadors succeeded in smuggling silkworm eggs into Constantinople, along with seeds for mulberry plants. The emperors preserved this industry as an imperial monopoly for centuries, pushing ever further the State control of their economy as the threat from Islam ramped up higher. The home grown silk seems not to have been sufficient to meet demand, even though Constantinople got to keep all the revenue.

  • Maurice

    @ Lee S. – think about it as the aluminum cans we collect to make nice ingots on our home smelters. If a coinage has consistent metal contents, I can see it being used for centuries after the monetary value vanished, bronze being used for anything from weapons to art. I still remember being shocked as a child seeing Austro-hungarian Thalers being used in Africa for centuries post-coinage, in areas where gold and silver were the default currency. Assuming a trading route that crosses many empires/kingdoms, the consistency of the coinage becomes more important – overstruck coins are known in most cultures.
    That said, stamp and coin collectors are always drawn by the far away and exotic, and these coins are most likely a by-product of a massive trading system that extended across the eurasian land mass. The history of the ancient world is so fluid these days, each new discovery in the sands rewrites it…

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