A Metal Detectorist Found an Incredibly Rare 1,000-Year-Old Gold Coin Depicting Jesus

By: Georgia | Published: Jan 12, 2024

A remarkable discovery was made in Vestre Slidre, Norway, where a metal detectorist unearthed a rare Byzantine gold coin.

This coin, approximately 1,000 years old, features a depiction of Jesus Christ on one side and the Byzantine emperors, Basil II and Constantine VIII, on the other. The discovery is significant due to its historical and geographical relevance, linking the Byzantine Empire to Norway.

A Testament to Byzantine Artistry

The gold coin, known as a “histamenon nomisma,” showcases intricate artistry. On one side, it depicts Jesus Christ holding the Bible.

A gold Byzantine coin on a grey surface, an image of Jesus is depicted and a small 5cm ruler is placed underneath the coin for scale

Source: Martine Kaspersen/Innlandet Fylkeskommune

The reverse side features the images of the Byzantine emperors Basil II and Constantine VIII, representing the political power of the time. This coin is a remarkable example of Byzantine craftsmanship and iconography.


Tracing the Coin's Journey: From Byzantium to Scandinavia

The journey of this coin from the Byzantine Empire to a remote Norwegian region is a subject of fascination for historians.

A detailed map illustrating the layout of Byzantine Constantinople, with the Golden Horn to the north and the Sea of Marmara to the south. Notable landmarks such as the Hagia Sophia, the Hippodrome, and the Imperial Palace are marked

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Minted in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) between 977 and 1025 C.E., the coin’s presence in Norway indicates extensive historical trade routes or connections between these distant regions.

A Coin Untouched by Time

Upon discovery, experts were astonished by the coin’s condition. Despite being lost for possibly a millennium, it appeared largely unchanged.

A colorful medieval illustration depicting the historic city of Constantinople. The image shows a fortified city with high walls and towers, sprawling palaces, and multiple domed buildings, including what appears to be the Hagia Sophia

Source: Wikimedia Commons

This level of preservation provides a unique opportunity to study the coin’s features in detail, offering insights into Byzantine minting practices and artistic techniques.

Inscriptions of Power and Faith

The coin carries two distinct inscriptions, one in Latin and the other in Greek.

A detailed mosaic depicts Jesus Christ as a figure with a solemn expression, long brown hair, and a beard. He is adorned in a blue and gold robe, holding a richly decorated open book with Greek inscriptions

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Latin inscription reads, “Jesus Christ, King of those who reign,” while the Greek inscription honors “Basil and Constantine, emperors of the Romans.” These inscriptions reflect the religious and imperial authority of the time.

The Harald Hardrada Connection

Researchers speculate a connection to Harald Hardrada, a Norwegian king who previously served as a bodyguard for Byzantine emperors.

An intricate stained glass window depicts a medieval king in regal attire. The king, with a solemn expression, is adorned with a golden crown and has a flowing golden beard. He is dressed in a rich red robe with golden embellishments

Source: Wikimedia Commons

His presence during periods of palace looting following the death of emperors suggests he might have acquired the coin during his service in the Byzantine Empire.


Theories on the Coin's Arrival in Norway

There are various theories regarding how the coin reached Norway. It could have been part of a dowry sent by Harald Hardrada for a royal marriage, or it might have been involved in trade activities.

A detailed section of a medieval manuscript illustration depicting a royal procession. The image shows a group of figures in various medieval garments, with some wearing crowns and armor, suggesting their noble status

Source: Wikimedia Commons

These speculations highlight the coin’s potential role in historical cultural and economic exchanges.


Unraveling the Mystery

Many questions about the coin’s history and journey remain unanswered. Researchers are eager to explore these mysteries further.

A picturesque view of the Norwegian countryside featuring a tranquil lake bordered by lush green hills with scattered homes. In the foreground, there is a wooden fence partially framing a verdant field, while two traditional red-roofed Norwegian houses rest near the water's edge

Source: Wikimedia Commons

However, due to the seasonal constraints, archaeological follow-up at the discovery site is postponed until 2024, heightening anticipation for potential new findings.


Norwegian Metal Detectorists: Uncovering Hidden Treasures

The discovery of this coin is part of a series of significant finds by metal detectorists in Norway.

An enthusiastic man with glasses is smiling at the camera, holding a tray containing various ancient gold pendants and artifacts neatly organized in labeled compartments

Source: Museum of Archaeology/UiS

These enthusiasts have uncovered various historical artifacts, including a 1,500-year-old gold necklace.


The Coin's Historical Significance

This Byzantine gold coin is not just a monetary artifact; it represents a tangible connection to historical events and cultures.

A historical map representing the Byzantine Empire in the year 555 AD. The map features areas shaded in red to denote the territorial extent of the empire, which includes regions of the Mediterranean such as Italia, Sicilia, Sardinia, Corsica, Africa, Cyprus, and parts of the Middle East

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Its discovery in Norway sheds light on the far-reaching influence of the Byzantine Empire and the interconnectedness of ancient European societies.


Metal Detecting in Norway

Metal detecting in Norway has proven to be more than a hobby; it’s a means of exploring and uncovering the country’s historical legacy.

An individual clad in a gray hoodie, blue jeans, and black rubber boots is standing on a sandy beach, facing away from the camera. The person is equipped with a pair of headphones and is holding a metal detector in one hand and a shovel in the other

Source: Roger Starnes Sr/Unsplash

Each discovery made by these enthusiasts brings to light new aspects of ancient European history, bridging the gap between past and present.


The Importance of Historical Artifacts

The unearthing of the Byzantine gold coin in Norway highlights the importance of preserving historical artifacts.

This is a detailed black and white panoramic sketch depicting a dense and bustling Renaissance city. The cityscape is crowded with buildings of various sizes and architectural designs, including prominent domes and spires. A river flows through the center, with bridges connecting both sides

Source: Wikimedia Commons

These relics serve as crucial links to our past, offering insights into the lives, cultures, and interactions of ancient civilizations. They are vital tools for understanding our shared human history.