Roman heirlooms in Late Antiquity, draft, 2019-08-30, Page 1 of 14
About the obsession with Roman heirlooms in Late Antiquity
Petra Ossowski Larsson* and Lars-Åke Larsson, Sweden
* Corresponding author: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article is about the historical consequences of our scientifically reinforced
hypothesis that the West-Roman empire is conventionally dated some 232 years too
old. We offer an alternative interpretation of some Roman heirlooms retrieved from
the grave of the Frankish king Childeric, and from a Japanese grave dated to the late
It is well known that all European tree-ring chronologies crossdating against wood
samples of archaeological origin have a gap between a) the Recent complex,
reaching from today back to early medieval time around AD 400, and b) the Roman
complex, archaeologically anchored in Roman time and reaching up to about AD
200. A timber depletion because of over-exploitation of wood (mostly oak) by Roman
builders and bad weather is assumed to be the reason for this "Roman gap" (ref.1).
Ernst Hollstein was first to announce the successful dendrochronological bridging of
the Roman gap in 1980 (ref.2). This bridging has been consensus since then.
Some years ago we started a project to re-evaluate Ernst Hollstein's bridge, because
there could be other conceivable reasons for the existence of the Roman gap, e.g.
that the Roman complex is misdated. We found that a significant dendrochronological
bridge between the well established Recent and Roman complexes has never been
demonstrated (ref.3). In order to in spite of that provide a useful dating tool for
wooden Roman artefacts it had been necessary to "calibrate" the (on the time line)
floating Roman complex with historical considerations. This means that the Roman
dendro complex was placed within a narrow time frame so that any archaeologically
important timbers would get historically acceptable felling dates (there was an
animated discussion about this topic among archaeologists and historians at that
time). Dendrochronologists then accepted the first and best but weak
dendrochronological match against the Recent complex as the true one. A recent
attempt to declare Hollstein's bridge over the Roman gap as still valid gave us the
opportunity to demonstrate how weak this bridge actually is (ref.4).
That the bridge is unsufficient does of course not automatically mean that it is wrong.
We found however multiple independent evidence that the Roman dendro complex
indeed is misdated. The first proof is the existence of a substantial timber measured
in 2009 which challenges the internal linkage of the Belfast chronology (ref.3). The
Belfast chronology is regarded as compatible with Hollstein's bridge over the Roman
gap. The second proof is a direct significant match of the Roman dendro complex
against demonstrably supra-long Scandinavian pine chronologies 218 years later
Roman heirlooms in Late Antiquity, draft, 2019-08-30, Page 2 of 14
than expected (ref.3). And recently we found that radiocarbon dates of dendro-dated
timbers from Roman London are 100 to 200 years younger than the conventional
dendro dates (ref.5).
Our extensive astronomical study (ref.6) showed that a scenario about the first
millennium of the Christian era being too long by a substantial number of years was
possible. Moreover, we were able to quantify this possible artificial overstretching to
be 232 years, which we suggest were inserted in the historical time-line already when
the Christian era was invented, that means in Late Antiquity in Alexandria. The
qualified and elegant manipulation was likely done by means of astronomical
retrocalculation by professional astronomers which made the fake extremely difficult
Removing 232 years of first millennium consensus history has of course "bizarre"
consequences, for example that large parts of late West-Roman history would have
run in parallel with early East-Roman history. With this hypothesis in mind, we wrote
an article about possible "twin events" (ref.7). Twin events are major incisive events
which were dated or reported multiple times in different historical contexts so that it
seems that they happened twice, in our case with 232 years interval. We found and
discussed two such events: the onset of the first known plague pandemic and the
destruction of the ancient city of Petra in Jordan. Both events are related to the
development of Christianity within the Roman empire, which becomes a much more
dynamic process with our hypothesis of a drastically reduced Late Antiquity,
distinguished as a period of clustered natural catastrophes. Because it is only in a
narrow time frame we can expect to find twin events at all, we initially postulated this
frame from about the time of Constantine the Great to the introduction of the
Byzantine world era (c.300 to 644), or roughly the time during which West-Rome and
East-Rome existed simultaneously. Everything related to West-Roman context would
have to be redated by 232 years while e.g. reports written in East-Roman context
already appear dated on the real time line as we use it today. To nevertheless keep
the familiar West-Roman historical dates, we mark them e.g. RomAD 412 which
means that 232 years have to be added to get the corresponding date on the real
time line, namely 644.
A consequence of the twin report of the first plague pandemic - Eusebius' narrative in
RomAD 310 in Caesarea during the reign of Constantine I and Procopius' narrative
in 542 in Constantinople during the reign of Justinian I - is that Constantine and
Justinian would have been contemporaries (at least). Scientific evidence suggests
that Procopius' narrative is staged on the real time line as we use it today (ref.7).
In this article we take one step further and present as an appendix a tentative table
over the inevitable chronological relationship between western and eastern Roman
emperors if our scientific hypothesis is correct. We also continue our alternative
historical synthesis within Late Antiquity with some new-found curiosities, just to
challenge the long established academic consensus which according to our opinion
is built on very weak foundations. We will offer an alternative interpretation of some
Roman heirlooms retrieved from the grave of the Frankish king Childeric, and from a
Japanese grave dated to the late 5th century.
Roman heirlooms in Late Antiquity, draft, 2019-08-30, Page 3 of 14
A look into king Childeric's purse
Childeric of Tournai is regarded as the first historically tangible Frankish king of the
Merovingian dynasty. His father was the mythical Merovech, and his son was Clovis
I. The primary source of information about his life is Gregory of Tours who describes
him as a contemporary with Odoacer, Egidius, Syagrius and Euric in his "History of
the Franks" (ref.8). Gregory of Tours also gives a possible death year for Childeric:
82 years after the death of St. Martin of Tours (ref.8, II:43). The year for the death of
St. Martin in turn is given either as the second year of the reign of Roman emperors
Arcadius and Honorius (which would be 397 in the historical consensus chronology),
or as 412 years after the resurrection of the Lord (which would be about 445) (ref.8,
I:48). The mainstream consensus apparently prefers the chronology of Roman em-
perors and regards - after some more considerations - 481 as Childeric's death year
(ref.9). The names of the Roman emperors who would have been contemporary with
Childeric, Leo and Zeno, are not mentioned in the History of the Franks. However,
the emperor interacting with Clovis two decades after Childeric's death is explicitely
Anastasius (ref.8, II:38), which shows that the first Merovingian kings are placed by
Gregory on the East-Roman (i.e. in our opinion real) time line (see the appendix).
Secular written and epigraphic sources, and remains of buildings which can be dated
to the period, are scarce in Late Antiquity. This was a time when the Roman central
power lost control over large parts of Europe, especially Gaul, and perpetual war with
invading barbarians and usurpers took place. Many prominent persons who are said
to have lived at that time perished without leaving the slightest archaeological trace,
Childeric being a rare exception. In 1653, while laying the foundations of a new
almshouse for the parish of Saint-Brice in Tournai (Belgium), Childeric's grave was
discovered by accident. A lot of golden artefacts and coins turned up and soon many
people were digging in the pit "taking care" of the valuables. However when the
church staff became aware what was going on, they claimed the treasure for the
parish and the almshouse and thus prevented further looting. Later the treasure was
traded in by archduke Leopold Wilhelm and subsequently documented with detailed
drawings and published by his personal doctor Johann Jacob Chifflet (ref.10). This
publication and a few original pieces and repliques is all what exists today, because
the treasure was stolen and melt down in 1831. Read all about it in ref.9.
There is no doubt that Childeric was the person laid to rest in the grave, because a
solid golden signet ring inscribed "CHILDIRICI REGIS" (belongs to king Childeric)
turned up. The Frankish warrior had been buried with 21 horses and a full set of
weapons, some with magnificent gold and garnet cloisonné fittings in accordance
with the fashion of the period. Moreover, the grave contained a golden "onion knob
fibula", falsely identified by Chifflet as a writing tool. Such fibulas were used like rank
badges for high officers in the Roman army and may have been presented to
Childeric together with a paludamentum (military coat) to confirm his status as a
Roman commander. Apparently he also had received Roman payments in return for
military services, because one hundred solidi minted for East-Roman emperors were
among the grave goods. These gold coins were dated between 431 and 477, and
thus are as a terminus post quem for Childeric's burial in excellent agreement with
Gregor of Tours' information.
But the grave also contained some West-Roman heirlooms. Most significant was a
collection of silver coins, originally more than two hundred pieces, of which 42 were
Roman heirlooms in Late Antiquity, draft, 2019-08-30, Page 4 of 14
described by Chifflet. All, with one exception, were denarii dated from before the
Christian era up to 217. The one exception was a siliqua for Constantius II, dated 351
Chifflet also described a fragment of an agate bowl, probably meant to act as a
drinking vessel for the king in the afterlife. Such luxury articles were manufactured
during the Roman republic and the first centuries of the empire and are regarded in
ref.9 as "definitely antique" already at the time of the funeral.
The old silver coins and the antique agate vessel apparently are in need of an
explanation. Svante Fischer and Lennart Lind write in a recent article (ref.11):
The Childeric grave is the only known inhumation burial with a mixed gold/silver
coin-hoard of three hundred coins covering five centuries and thus constitutes
an anomaly beyond all comparative estimates. We argue that it was Clovis who
decided what was to be put into his father’s grave.
But the coins given by Clovis to Childeric to guard in his afterlife puzzle us.
Clovis left a riddle behind. He deposited coins stretching over five centuries,
from the Roman Republic in the 1st century BC down to the eastern emperor
Zeno (AD 474–475, 476–491). But the coins have obviously been arranged in
some form of meaningful order. Why? What were Clovis’ motives?
Fischer and Lind argue that Clovis displayed the coins for selected guests at his
father's funeral in order to gain dynastic legitimacy in the eyes of both the Roman
Empire and nomadic and Germanic warlords. This would imply that these guests
were literate and knew the meaning of the iconography of Roman coinage. But this
argument holds good only for the contemporary gold coins. The old silver coins were
most likely not recognizable by the gathered public, but may have been added as a
proof of past Roman grandeur and connections to leading affinities in Barbaricum.
However, the custom to deposit old denarii and other Roman heirlooms in burials of
the 5th to 7th centuries in Germania magna and the former Roman provinces is well
known and described. We here consider just two publications which both also deal
with Childeric's coin treasure: Max Martin's Childerichs Denare – Zum Rückstrom
römischer Silbermünzen ins Merowingerreich (ref.12), and Michael Erdrich's
Überlegungen zu Altstücken in kaiserzeitlichen Grab- und Schatzfunden im
mitteleuropäischen Barbaricum (ref.13).
Moreover, mixed gold/silver coin hoards which stretch over many centuries are not
uncommon in Europe, Fischer and Lind list some of them (ref.11, table IV). The
Vedrin hoard, also from Belgium, most closely resembles the assembly of solidi in
Childeric's grave, though the chronology starts earlier (383) and ends later (518) and
contains "bad" solidi struck for western or illegitimate emperors which Fischer and
Lind suggest were removed from the Childeric treasure. A single denarius struck for
Antoninus Pius after 141 is also part of the Vedrin hoard. For Bornholm in Denmark,
Helle Horsnæs (ref.14) summarizes that finds of solidi are by no means rare, and
almost all of them belong to the period between Honorius and Anastasius (i.e. from
395 to 518). Some of them were found together with 2nd century denarii, the
overwhelming majority of which were struck for the Antonine emperors (i.e. from 138
Roman heirlooms in Late Antiquity, draft, 2019-08-30, Page 5 of 14
A common pattern for these hoards is therefore a long gap in the coin chronology
during the 3rd and 4th centuries. It is known that the minting of denarii was suspended
by the Roman empire around 240 after several debasements, but why are there no
other "western" coins of the Tetrarchy and the Constantinian and Valentinian
dynasties (284 to 392)? The Childeric treasure indeed contained one siliqua
attributed to Constantius II, dated 351 to 355. However, the one solidus not from the
time 395 to 518 found on Bornholm was first attributed to Constantine the Great (306
to 337) (ref.15), but later ascribed to Theodosius I as struck between 379 and 388
(ref.14). Mixed precious metal hoards with both denarii and western (early) solidi are
instead known from Germany and Poland, so it is assumed that streams of precious
metal coins were directed at different times to different destinations in the barbaricum
Another question is how Childeric came into the possession of a large amount of old
denarii. As said above, these coins were withdrawn from circulation in the empire
more than two hundred years before Childeric's death, but apparently a lot of them
turned up in the barbaricum much later ex nihilo, "out of the blue" (ref.12). Two
explanations seem possible: either Childeric got hold of someone's hoard on one of
his sojourns in the barbaricum, or the denarii were a family heirloom. The latter
explanation is not plausible as the Merovingian dynasty was still young. Or were
denarii still available in Gaul long time after they were discontinued? Michael Erdrich
(ref.13) finds that old Roman coins and other artefacts were most probably "stored"
somewhere in the barbaricum until they were interred "some generations or even two
to three centuries later". He interprets these items as status symbols for the elite,
which could be exchanged multiple times to settle conflicts or as expiations until they
were finally used as grave goods. Max Martin (ref.12) notes that it was almost
customary to leave denarii as an obolus (a small coin as a donation for some service
in the afterlife) or as part of the female dress in upper class burials in sub-Roman
time in the barbaricum.
Roman glass in a Japanese tomb
In 1963, a deep blue glass dish was found in a rich Japanese tomb dated to the late
5th century (ref.17). When the glass was analyzed, the dish was identified as
manufactured in the Roman empire and already more than two hundred years old
when interred (ref.18):
A dark blue dish and a clear painted bowl recovered together from a fifth-
century tomb in Nara Prefecture are evidence of Japan’s far-reaching trade
networks. The dish has been confirmed to have been imported from the Roman
Empire. Its chemical composition, analyzed with a fluorescence X-ray device, is
almost identical to Roman glasswork made in the second century or earlier in
the Mediterranean region. The chemical composition of the painted glass bowl
matches glass fragments unearthed at the palace in the ancient Persian capital
of Ctesiphon. “Japan aggressively traded with other countries in the fifth
century, and (the latest findings) show various elements were entering Japan at
the time. Because the glass dish may have been transported via Central Asia, it
is no wonder that there was a time lag (between its production and arrival in
Japan),” Takashi Taniichi of Sanyo Gakuen University told The Asahi Shimbun.
Roman heirlooms in Late Antiquity, draft, 2019-08-30, Page 6 of 14
The provenance and dating of the dish is based on the X-ray fluorescence analysis of
a tiny glass fragment by Abe et al. (ref.19). The autors conclude that the dish was
made at a glass workshop in the Roman empire, during the late 1st to 3rd, maybe 4th,
century in Roman context. To summarize, there was a delay of at least more than
100 years between the production of the dish and the burial. During that time the dish
was transported from the Mediterranean region to Japan, probably on the Silk Road,
and decorated with a gold painting somewhere on the way.
Discussion and Conclusions
Having read the Introduction and peeked at the Appendix, you probably already
guess how we will try to explain how 2nd or 3rd century Roman artefacts
systematically could end up in 5th century burials. We just identify all items and
sources which belong to West-Roman context and redate them 232 years towards
recent time according to our hypothesis. This means that the western denarii in
Childeric's grave would change dating from between RomBC 30 and RomAD 217 to
between 203 and 449. This makes the gap in Childeric's coin treasure collapse as
the eastern solidi are dated between 431 and 477. This would eventually mean that
e.g. Caracalla (RomAD 198 to 217) was contemporary with Valentinian III (424 to
455). Coins of both emperors are in Childeric's treasure.
Childeric certainly was contemporary with Leo and Zeno, but according to our
hypothesis also with Severus Alexander (RomAD 222 to 235) and the first emperors
of the Gordian dynasty. The period of instability which allowed Childeric to gain
power in parts of Gaul thus was not the time after the fall of the West-Roman empire
as conventionally assumed, but the Crisis of the Third Century. Childeric did not live
more than hundred years after, but 60 years before Constantine the Great (who ever
that was). Therefore his pagan style burial with a stunning sacrifice of 21 horses was
fully acceptable also by Roman standards. His son Clovis was the first Merovingian
king to become a Christian as narrated by Gregory of Tours (ref.8, book II), in a man-
ner very similar to the conversion of Constantine I as narrated by Eusebius (ref.20).
We will have to reconsider which of the stories is the original and which is the copy.
Figure 1: West-Roman dynasties (black bars) dated forward by 232 years according to our
hypothesis, compared with East-Roman dynasties (red bars) on the real time line (red year numbers).
Black year numbers = conventional western time line (RomAD). Green bar = Childeric's regnal time.
Roman heirlooms in Late Antiquity, draft, 2019-08-30, Page 7 of 14
This also explains why there are no "western" coins of the Tetrarchy and the
Constantinian and Valentinian dynasties (RomAD 284 to 392) in Childeric's treasure.
These dynasties would have reigned after 518 (see figure 1), long after Childeric's
death. The siliqua attributed to Constantius II, dated 351 to 355, is of course a
problem, but there is a Constantius in the Theodosian dynasty. Could the siliqua be
struck for him? Moreover, we certainly expect some re-arrangements in the list of
Roman emperors which also would affect the coin chronology.
With this scenario we do not have to ask where all the old silver coins came from
which turned up in the grave of one of the first rulers of a newly established dynasty.
These silver coins were still in circulation. A treasure given as grave goods for use by
a deceased in the afterlife represents a momentary image of a family's fortune in a
sealed context. This is different from a hoard, which might be a family's whole
fortune collected over many generations, and which was buried in one or successive
emergency situations. In the latter case, large gaps in the coin chronology are easier
The agate vessel in Childeric's grave was not either a heirloom but luxury still in
fashion for those who could afford it. The same would be true for the 2nd or 3rd
century Roman glass dish which was found in a 5th century Japanese upper class
tomb. It was not a heirloom either but a fully modern imported luxury article, because
its Roman context has to be dated forward by 232 years.
In summary, there never was a nostalgic obsession with Roman heirlooms in late
antiquity. What the archaeologists regard as sub-Roman time was in effect high
imperial time, and therefore it was no problem to come by denarii in the 5th and 6th
centuries. The West-Roman empire fell later in the 7th century, following the Arabian
conquest of north Africa around year 640 (RomAD 408) when the east-western trade
routes in the Mediterranean were cut off (ref.7).
Why does all this matter for us living today? First, if our scientific discoveries are
correct, the European history of late antiquity has to be rewritten. It is not sufficient to
just slide West-Roman history 232 years towards recent time, the emerging East-
Roman history provides an obstacle for such a procedure. The "crash" when the time
line of western emperors reaches the Theodosian dynasty - which happens during
the reign of Antoninus Pius - has to be evaluated thoroughly by reviewing the primary
sources. Which events may be synchronous and which don't? Are there more
apparent "twin events"? This will have an impact on the chronology of Roman
emperors and of course on archaeological dating tools like coin and ceramic style
chronologies. And what about Mediterranean history before the Roman empire?
Where in our tight-knit historical narrative do the 232 years appear as a gap at the old
end of the "Roman slider"?
Second, a lot of scientific arguments which were used to interpret conditions in West-
Roman historical context will have to be reconsidered. Here is just one example:
In 1908, Christian Hülsen wrote a note about the responsibility for the burning of
Rome under Nero (ref.21). Various theories about the intentional start of the
conflagration were going around at that time, identifying both the Christian community
of Rome and Nero himself as the culprit. But Hülsen expressed a different opinion:
the fire started in the night between the 18th and 19th of July AD 64 as narrated by
Tacitus, and that night was one day after full moon. Many people would have been
Roman heirlooms in Late Antiquity, draft, 2019-08-30, Page 8 of 14
out in the streets in the relative fresh air of the night and it would not have been easy
for an arsonist to go unnoticed. Therefore Hülsen concluded that the fire started
Simulating the moon phases in 64 with Stellarium (ref.22), we indeed find the moon
shining the whole night 96% illuminated. But according to our hypothesis we are
watching the right day, but the wrong year. The moon was instead precisely new, that
means 2% illuminated, closely following the sun and therefore below the horizon the
night between 18th and 19th of July 296. That rather supports the view that the fire
was set intentionally.
As Roman history was regarded as "confirmed" by dendrochronology since 1980, its
dates were used to calibrate the Greenland ice core time line with a volcanic marker
suggested to be the RomAD 79 Vesuvius eruption (ref.23). A recent paper (ref.24) by
a large interdisciplinary consortium of scientists headed by Michael Sigl put an end to
this fatal calibration. With a new approach to use worldwide observed precise time
markers generated by cosmic abrupt enrichment events (14C in tree-rings and 10Be in
ice cores), it became obvious that there indeed was a chronological offset by a few
years between tree-ring chronologies and ice core chronologies in the first millennium
AD as suggested by Mike Baillie (ref.25). After correction, the "79" volcanic marker is
now dated 88 and attributed to a volcanic source from the high latitudes. This means
also that there is no volcanic marker dated 79, which is not miraculous if we consider
the possibility that the Vesuvius eruption which killed Pliny took place much later, in
311 according to our hypothesis.
The historically calibrated long tree-ring masters (which we claim are incorrect) were
also used as the time base for our modern terrestrial radiocarbon calibration curve.
Plus that the possibly corrupt dendo data - much of which is still unpublished and
unavailable - nowadays is used for climate reconstruction. These are the real
problems, and they indeed matter for us living today. The continued use of old,
possibly corrupt dendro data still compromises the results of important modern
research, with the risk that scientists reach flawed conclusions.
This is why we are passionate about this case, and for several years now have been
calling for more transparency and a re-evaluation of the dendrochronological time
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Roman heirlooms in Late Antiquity, draft, 2019-08-30, Page 11 of 14
Appendix: Tentative synchronisation of West- and East-Roman imperial reigns
As it seems necessary, based on scientific evidence, to shorten the historical time line with 232 years in late
antiquity, we here present a first tentative table over the inevitable chronological relationship between western
and eastern Roman emperors if our scientific hypothesis is correct. This list covers the time from Caesar's
assassination to year 518. The table gives both the conventional dates in Roman context for the western
emperors (Rom AD/BC), and the corresponding years on the real time line (CE) which are unaltered valid for
the eastern emperors.
Strangely enough, around the year 518 the Leonid dynasty was replaced by the Justinian dynasty in the
eastern Roman empire, while (conventionally) 232 years earlier the tetrarchy and later the Constantinian
dynasty began in the western part. The contemporaneity of the Justianian and Constantinian dynasties has
been discussed elsewhere (ref.7).
Emperor West Emperor East CE
1 AD 233
15 Tiberius 247
37 Tiberius/ Caligula 269
54 Claudius/ Nero 286
Roman heirlooms in Late Antiquity, draft, 2019-08-30, Page 12 of 14
Emperor West Emperor East CE
67 Nero 299
68 Nero/ Galba 300
69 Galba/ Otho/
Vitellius/ Vespasian 301
79 Vespasian/ Titus 311
81 Titus/ Domitian 313
96 Domitian/ Nerva 328
97 Nerva 329
98 Nerva/ Trajan 330
117 Trajan/ Hadrian 349
Emperor West Emperor East CE
161 Antoninus Pius/
180 Theodosius II/
181 Commodus 413
Roman heirlooms in Late Antiquity, draft, 2019-08-30, Page 13 of 14
Emperor West Emperor East CE
189 Theodosius II/
190 Theodosius II/
191 Theodosius II/
Honorius/ Joannes 423
192 Theodosius II/
193 Septimius Severus/
Theodosius II /
209 Septimius Severus/
217 Caracalla/ Macrinus 449
222 Elagabalus/ Severus
224 Marcian 456
Marcian/ Leo I
235 Severus Alexander/
236 Maximinus Thrax 468
Emperor West Emperor East CE
237 Maximinus Thrax
Leo I/ Leo II/ Zeno
243 Zeno/ Basiliscus 475
244 Gordian III/ Philip 476
250 Decius 482
251 Decius/ Hostilian/
Trebonianus Gallus 483
252 Trebonianus Gallus 484
253 Trebonianus Gallus/
259 Zeno/ Anastasius I 491
268 Gallienus/Claudius II
270 Claudius II/
Quintillus/ Aurelian 502
275 Aurelian/ Tacitus 507
276 Tacitus/ Florianus/
282 Probus/ Carus 514
283 Carus/ Carinus/
284 Carinus/ Numerian 516
285 Carinus 517
Roman heirlooms in Late Antiquity, draft, 2019-08-30, Page 14 of 14
Figure 2: West-Roman dynasties (black bars) dated forward by 232 years according to our hypothesis, compared with East-Roman dynasties (red bars) on the real
time line (red year numbers). Black year numbers = conventional western time line (RomAD/BC).