The tomb of an ancient Chinese emperor discovered during the building of a new highway has yielded an unexpected treasure – a 1,500 year-old gold coin from the reign of Roman Emperor Anastasius I which bears his likeness. Minted during his reign of 491AD – 518AD, the gold solidus is said to still glitter as if it were brand new. It is believed the coin was not used as currency, but was simply a bauble in the Chinese court.
The tomb, in Henan Province, is thought to be that of Emperor Jiemen from the Northern Wei dynasty. The area was part of the legendary Silk Road trade route from China to the West, explaining how the gold coin made its way across Asia in undamaged condition.
Emperor Anastasius ruled from Byzantium, where the capital of the Roman Empire had been moved in 324 AD by Constantine the Great. By Anastasius’ reign, the Empire had been split into Western and Eastern sections, with the Western Roman Empire having fallen to the Goths.
Anastasius was known as a great reformer, rescuing the empire from its debt and leaving 320,000 pounds of gold in the treasury by the time of his death. His changes in the monetary system is considered to mark the true split between the old Roman and Byzantine coinage systems.