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Mammoth Ottoman Hoard Volume 55 Number 1, January/February 2002
by Özgen Acar

[image] Silver coins minted by Bavaria's Duke Albrecht V, King Stephan Bathory of Poland, Austria's Archduke Ferdinand, and Venice's Doge Marino Grimani were among the 60,000 coins uncovered in southwestern Turkey. (Özgen Acar) [LARGER IMAGE]

Some 60,000 sixteenth- and seventeenth-century silver coins have been discovered at Beçin, a small town in southwestern Turkey. The find was made by archaeologist Rahmi Hüseyin Ünal of Ege University during the investigation of a mosque built by the Ottoman sultan Orhan (r. 1326-1359), an adjacent tomb, and the nearby ruins of a house. One of the largest hoards ever found, the coins had been buried in three bags beneath the floor of the house, which had burned down and not been rebuilt.

The Ottoman coins date from Süleyman the Magnificent (r. 1520-1566) to Ahmed I (r. 1603-1617). The hoard's 814 European coins, dating to the second half of the sixteenth century, include ones minted by Bavaria's Duke Albrecht V, Spain's Philip II, Austria's Archduke Ferdinand, King Stephan Bathory of Poland, and Venice's Doge Marino Grimani. A single gold coin is from the time of Süleyman. "As there are relatively few coins of Ahmed I," noted Ünal, "this tells us that the fire occurred a few years after 1603. The coins of European origin confirm this view."

The final years of Süleyman's reign saw economic stagnation, monetary devaluation, and the dispossession of peasants unable to pay increased taxes. Agricultural production fell and unemployment grew, bringing discontent and a century-long period in which gangs of brigands plundered Anatolia. The hoard should shed light on the Ottoman Empire and its relation with Europe during this time of internal disorder.

How this treasure came to Beçin--Ottoman records show there were 140 families living there in 1530--is unknown. Its owner may have been a member of a wealthy Beçin family, a merchant involved in foreign trade (there were two customs houses on the Aegean coast near Beçin), or an official such as a tax collector. Whether the fire that destroyed the house was accidental or deliberate, perhaps caused by bandits, is also unknown.

Fritz Krinzinger, of the Austrian excavations at Ephesus, offered to help study the hoard, and the Austrian Academy of Sciences and its Turkish counterpart agreed to collaborate in the project. About $4 million has been allocated by Austrian institutes to clean, photograph, and record the coins.

© 2002 by the Archaeological Institute of America