By Dan Oancea - Twitter


The oldest known gold artifacts belong to an ancient Eastern European civilization. They are 6,000 years old and the precious metal came from the fabled Transylvanian Alps or the Mount Pangaion in Thrace.

A thousand years later the Iraq’s Sumerians have also started to create beautiful gold jewelry. At 2,500 B.C. Pharaoh’s tombs were for the first time adorned with gold.

About 3,200 years ago the Argonauts raided upon Black Sea alluvial miners that used sheepskins – the Golden Fleece - to catch placer gold grains.

Some 1,900 years ago the Romans hit the jackpot when they managed to conquer Dacia and spoil it of 5 million pounds of gold and 10 million pounds of silver. Hardrock gold mines were subsequently opened up in the Transylvanian Alps.

Now, who was Justinian? Wikipedia informs us that:

One of the most important figures of Late Antiquity, Justinian's rule (482 – 565 AD) constitutes a distinct epoch in the history of the Byzantine Empire. The impact of his administration extended far beyond the boundaries of his time and empire. Justinian's reign is marked by the ambitious but ultimately failed renovatio imperii, or "restoration of the empire" This ambition was expressed in the partial recovery of the territories of the Western Roman Empire, including the city of Rome itself. A still more resonant aspect of his legacy was the uniform rewriting of Roman law, the Corpus Juris Civilis, which is still the basis of civil law in many modern states. His reign also marked a blossoming of Byzantine culture, and his building program yielded such masterpieces as the church of Hagia Sophia, which was to be the center of Eastern Orthodox Christianity for many centuries.”

But if you want to know how it all started, then learn that a simple Dacian peasant - i.e. Justinian’s uncle - grew sick and tired of herding goats so he enlisted in the Roman army. A few decades later he managed to become emperor of one of the world’s greatest empires. From illiterate sheepherder to emperor, this is a story bigger than that featured in the Gladiator movie. And it's real.

At the start of his reign Justinian had inherited a surplus 28,800,000 solidi (400,000 pounds of gold) in the imperial treasury from his predecessors. If you want to know how much money the 6th century emperor needed in order to (re)conquer an empire or how he manipulated finances as to make enough money for paying his soldiers then read the Finances under Justinian article.

So we have learned that solidus was a golden Roman coin which weighed 4.48 grams and during his career as emperor Justinian has spent over 70 million solidi - i.e. 314 tonnes of gold. Where all this gold came from? Where are the mines that were able to produce that much gold even though they were employing rudimentary mining methods?

First of all let’s have a look at a map of the 565 AD Roman Empire.

And also let’s have a look at the Concerning metal-miners, metals and procurators of metal mines paper - an account of ownership, miners and taxes during Justinian’s term as emperor:

Mines existed in many parts of the empire, Gaul, Britain, Spain, the Balkan peninsula, Asia Minor, Egypt. When these countries were taken over, the Romans seem to have taken over the mines then in existence, or most of them, without however, interfering with the mines subsequently discovered. The methods of exploitation of the mines seems to have been various: Leasing to large capitalists; leasing of single pits to small contractors whose rent was collected either by tax farmers or by state officials; exploitation of quarries by contractors who received fees proportionate to the amount of material extracted; extraction of minerals by convicts condemned to the mines, these convicts coming from the plebeian class, and lastly by the use of compulsory labor, as mentioned in law 7 of this title. During the later empire, public mines seem to have been exploited mainly through convict and compulsory labor. Law 4 of this title, however, seems to indicate that the contract system, perhaps not on a large scale, was still in existence.

Side by side with the public mines, there were private mines, the extent of which is not known.”

Then let’s open Isaac Asimov's Book of Facts:

Cyprus was one of the world's important mining centres in ancient times, but for reasons still unknown the Romans halted operations there and sealed the tunnels. Many of the tunnels were found and reopened in the 20th century, thanks to clever detective work by an American mining engineer, D. A. Gunther. In the New York Public Library, he had happened to find an ancient account of the mines. Years of ingenious search in Cyprus led him to the tunnels, which he found complete with usable support timbers and oil lamps. Cyprus became an important mining centre again

Note: Cyprus hosts massive sulphide deposits associated with precious metals vein and stockwork mineralization; some of them were mined by Romans.

In The Age of Justinian, James Allan Stewart Evans writes that:

Gold and silver mines in the Balkans and Anatolia continued to be worked, and there were gold-bearing mountain streams in Armenia which were a bone of contention between the empire and Persia. Outside the empire, there was gold in Nubia, and in the Caucasus and Ural mountain ranges, which helps explain Justinian’s interest in both areas.”

So gold came from Armenia and mines and streams in Thrace, while silver came from mines in Armenia and Cyprus.

What about Nubia? Nubia (Ethiopia) was one of the main sources of gold for Egyptians, Romans and Byzantines alike. To further your knowledge read the Texts relating to Axum, Christianity, and relations with the Roman Empire article.

Large amounts of gold also came from Egypt. The Ptolemaic, Roman and Byzantine article provides an excellent account of ancient mining in Egypt. A must read.

But no gold could have been retrieved from the Egyptian deserts without the help of the nomads that engaged in guarding the mines and their ancient workers. The Nomads and Pharaohs article describes that history.

Modern day’s explorers/geologists are doing no more than retracing the steps of ancient Egyptians and Romans – they are looking for gold ore in the same deserts and ancient locations. Check out what I wrote in the Sukari mine site to witness a modern day exploration project embracing its old roots somewhere in the middle of the Eastern Desert of Egypt.

I would end by saying that if you are planning in exploring for gold in one of those ancient places check out a good library and some history museums prior of even thinking in looking at a satellite map. In this case, new mines are to be found next to old mining works that have been abandoned because of technology limitations, wars, and plagues.