Roman coins discovered in Japanese castle ruin

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by Annika Backe
translated by Christina Schlögl

October 20, 2016 – What Japanese researcher Toshio Tsukamoto has discovered in the ruins of Katsuren Castle in the prefecture of Okinawa is certainly not a tourist’s joke. Examining old samurai uniforms, he noticed metal pieces, which after x-ray turned out to be Roman coins of Constantine the Great as well as coins from the Ottoman Empire.

Map of Japan, Ryuku Islands marked red.

The story of this fortification dates back to the 12th century. Being part of the “Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu “, it has been listed as UNESCO World Heritage since 30 November 2000. Even though there is evidence for existing relationships between the lords of the Katsuren Castle and the Asian main land during the 14th and 15th century, there had been neither Ottoman nor Roman finds at this archaeological site, which has been investigated since 2013. 

Chinese delegation from Ryuku.

This new find is thus even more astonishing. The four copper coins could only be identified as Constantine (306-377 AD) using scientific procedures, as their surface was rubbed off. The local Ministry of Education told CNN: “This is an unusual and interesting discovery. Even though we do not think a direct connection between the Roman Empire and Katsuren Castle is likely, this find is still proof that this region had trade relations with the rest of Asia. 

The small metal pieces have thus caught the attention of researchers who have occupied themselves with the flourishing trade in goods between Rome and China, described by Plinius. Further examination should now determine whether the coins – similarly to precious fabrics, glass and rugs – might have taken the Silk Road. Meanwhile, until 25 November 2016, the public can admire the spectacular find at the local museum of Okinawa. 

This is the CNN article with the news and a photo gallery for you to read here.

This is the UNESCO World Heritage entry “Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu“

Here you can get to know the site in a short film.

The homepage of the Ministry of Education of Uruma can be found here.