Roman coins in Iceland: Roman remnants or Viking exotica
By Davíð Bjarni Heiðarsson
Published Online (2010)
Introduction: Early one evening in the summer of 1923 a young man was strolling round the valley of Hvaldalur on the southeast coast of Iceland. The valley is known to be one of the most severe and inhospitable areas in Iceland, harsh weather with heavy rain and storms presenting great danger to visitors even today; cars are being blown off the road by violent wind blows, windows of cars and caravans braking from stones and other debris carried off and swirling through the air as it whizzes down the mountains on its way towards the open sea. Vegetation in the valley is extremely sparse, sand and stones making up the ground surface. It is in this place the young man is walking when he sees something lying on the ground glittering in the afternoon sun. He picks up the tiny object and looks at it. It is a coin. Probing the soil around the find spot with his fingers to make sure there are no other coins hidden under the rocky surface, he makes no further discoveries and quickly carries on with his stroll.
This is the fictionalised account of how a British geologist came upon a Roman coin on Icelandic soil. Prior to this rather astounding discovery, only one Roman coins had been found in Iceland. An additional four coins from the Roman era were later to be discovered, contributing to the mystery, which still puzzles archaeologists and numismatists: How did six coins stamped with the portrait of Roman emperors end up on Iceland and when did this happen?