Dakotas Christian Believers Arena
Come on in and browse 
   Home      Ancient Coins

Ancient Coins


This section contains information about different ancient coins. Although we cannot place the images here, not only due to copyright issues but also because of software problems, we hope you will glean a lot of information about ancient coins through the following presentation. We also hope you will look up the reference material to further your study or view the images that accompany the blurbs and excerpts pasted here.

#1. Shanks, H. (Ed.). (2004). BR 01:04.

-Constantine the Great appears in profile on one of the many different coins minded during his reign 307–337A.D. The inscription reads, simply, Constantinus Augustus.

- Frontier Fortress. Minted in Arles, in southern France, coin (A), inscribed “Strength of the Augustus,” displays a military motif typical of Constantine’s coins.

- Even after his conversion to Christianity, Constantine minted thousands of coins dedicated to Sol, the Roman sun god. Most, like this large bronze coin (B) from the London mint, feature a standing Sol with the inscription Soli invicto comiti, “To the invincible sun, companion.”

- The earliest depiction of a Christian symbol appears on a very rare coin (C), minted in 316 in Ticinum, Italy. It is similar to coin (B), but in the area to the left of Sol where one would expect to see the mark of the workshop in which the coin was minted, a cross appears. Was the minter stating that Jesus was greater than Sol? Or was he confusing the two?

- Blending a pagan design with Christian symbolism, a coin minted in 318–319 at Ticinum celebrates one of Constantine’s victories. Its obverse (D, compare with photo of reverse (E)) shows the warrior Constantine in a helmet.

- On the reverse of this coin from Ticinum (E, compare with photo of obverse (D)) two Winged Victories flank an altar on the base of which, surprisingly, a cross appears

- Only Christian symbols appear on coins minted by the king of Axum (now Ethiopia) after he converted to Christianity in about 330. Constantine’s coins, in contrast, included both Christian and pagan symbolism. This Axumite silver obol (F) features a central cross inlaid in gold.

- Constantine’s Battle Standard, in the center of coin (G), displays a Christogram. Although examples of this tiny bronze coin minted in Arelate (Arles) about 336 are rare, its design was widely copied by later emperors. The inscription, Gloria exercitus, means “To the glory of the army.”

- Romulus And Remus, legendary founders of Rome (H). As infants, the twin descendants of Mars were saved from death in the wilderness by a wolf who suckled them. In this coin commemorating Rome’s birth, a Christogram appears in place of one of the stars. The Christogram, the author suggests, may have been added to the scene to imply that the Christian God was involved in the founding of Rome.

- When Constantine Died in 337 A.D., coins like this one were issued throughout the empire. This example from the mint at Antioch shows a veiled head of Constantine (obverse, I; compare with photo of reverse (J)) with an inscription beginning DV Constantinus (Divine Constantine)— the emperor had been deified at death.

- On the reverse (J, compare with photo of obverse (I)), the hand of a god reaches down from the sky to Constantine, whose chariot pulled by four horses conveys him to heaven. Because no explicit Christian symbols appear, pagans and Christians could all accept this scenario, each group identifying the hand reaching down as belonging to its own god.

- The sons of Constantine, Constantine II, Constans and Constantius II, issued the first Roman coins that included Christian symbols in their original designs. Two examples (K, L) from 347–350 reveal that Christian symbols played a subordinate role to an imperial theme. On both coins, the victorious emperor holds a standard. The standard on coin (K, compare with photo of coin (L)) clearly terminates with a Christogram.

- The standard on coin (L, compare with photo of coin (K)) bears what is probably a “crossogram,” a combination of the familiar Christogram and a cross. Although in later times crossograms were common, the author suggests that in the 340s, crossograms may have betrayed the engraver’s lack of familiarity with the Christogram.

- Pagan and Christian symbol strike a balance on coin (M) minted by the sons of Constantine. Constans holds a Christian standard in his left hand, while he supports a Phoenix, a pagan symbol, with his right hand. Because legend held that this bird mysteriously rose from its ashes after it died, the Phoenix was linked to the resurrection of Jesus. However, the Phoenix’s connection to Egyptian mythology may have offended Christian sensibilities; it was replaced by a personification of Victory in a later, more common version of this coin.

- Constantine never issued a coin commemorating his victory at the Mulvian Bridge. That commission was left to one of his sons, Constantius II, who in 350 minted a bronze coin (N) showing Victory, right, crowning Constantine. The emperor holds a standard with the Christogram in his right hand. The Latin inscription reads Hoc signo victor eris (By this sign [the Christogram] you will conquer).

- The bold Greek letters chi (X) and rho (P), the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ, overshadow the fainter letters alpha (A) and omega (ω, appearing here as lower case w) sandwiched between the arms of the cross on coin (O). Respectively the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha (A) and omega (ω) refer to Jesus in the Book of Revelation, where he proclaims, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:13).

Brothers Magnentius and Decentius hastily minted such bronze coins in 350 to vie with Constantius II, their rival for the control of the empire.

- A male angel (P, shown here) replaces the familiar female personification of Winged Victory—a pagan symbol (Q, see photo of coin (Q))—on a coin minted during the reign of Justin I (518 to 527). The angel was considered a more suitable depiction for Christian coinage. Both angel and the Victory carry cruciform standards their right hands. The angel also holds an orb surmounted by a cross. The lettering at the bottom indicates that both coins were struck at the mint Constantinople. The Latin inscription, identical both coins, means “To the Victory of the Augusti.”

- Coin (Q, compare with photo of coin (P)) depicting the familiar female personification of Winged Victory—a pagan symbol

- Jesus first appeared on a coin (R) during reign of Justinian II (685–695). The bearded face partially blocks three arms of a cross. The relatively late date of the first appearance of Jesus in coinage may reflect the Church’s reluctance to make graven images. The Latin inscription means “Jesus Christ, King of Kings.”

- Jesus replaced the emperor on Byzantine bronze coins by the end of the tenth century. In the 11th century, Jesus, Mary and various saints were depicted. On the obverse of this coin (S, compare with photo of reverse (T)) he holds a book—probably the Gospels—and raises his right hand in a gesture of authority.

- The reverse of this coin (T, compare with photo of obverse (S)) bears an inscription in Greek proclaiming him “Jesus Christ, King of Kings.”

#2. Shanks, H. (Ed.). (2004). BR 01:04.

Few events in human history have had the impact that the Christianization of the Roman Empire has had on Western civilization.

The person chiefly responsible for bringing about this dramatic change was the Roman emperor Flavius Valerius Constantinus, Constantine the Great, who ruled from 307 to 337A.D.

Our chief source for the facts of Constantine’s life is a biography by Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea in Palestine. Eusebius, a contemporary of Constantine, wrote his Vita Contantini, “The Life of Constantine,”1 as a eulogy shortly after Constantine’s death. Some additional facts are also provided by Lactantius, who was a contemporary Christian apologist.2

According to these sources, Constantine was converted from a sun worshipper to a Christian at the Battle of Mulvian Bridge3 on October 28, 312. Constantine’s political rival Maxentius had, with an army of 100,000, challenged Constantine for control of Rome. Constantine, with an army of 40,000, sought help from the gods.

Both Eusebius and Lactantius explain how Constantine’s prayers were answered, although their accounts differ in details. In either a dream or a vision Constantine saw a Christian symbol—a cross or a Chi-Rho monogram. Appearing with the symbol (or spoken by a voice) were the Latin words Hoc signa victor eris, translated “By this sign you will conquer.” Constantine was reported to have heard a voice telling him to put the symbol on his shield and on the shields of his soldiers. Judging from the frequent appearance of the Chi-Rho monogram on his coins, it is probable that Constantine marked his shields and those of his soldiers with the Greek letters, Chi-Rho. This monogram, called a Christogram, combines the first two letters of Christ in Greek (XP ιστοs). The symbol like the cross was ancient sign of Christianity, dating to the first century

After Constantine obediently marked his own war helmet and shield, as well as those of his troops, with Christograms he won a remarkable victory. Constantine promptly adopted the Christian God as his “conservator” or patron deity.

In the following year (313), Constantine rescinded the edicts of his predecessor Diocletian aimed at the persecution of Christians. Christianity was thus recognized as a legal religion in the Roman Empire.

We would expect Constantine’s victory at Mulvian Bridge to have had an immediate effect on Roman coinage. Roman coins, like others earlier and later, tell us a great deal about the society that minted them. Almost as soon as coinage was invented by the Lydians in the seventh century B.C., coins were regarded as more than just a medium of exchange. They could be, and were, used as little messengers. Governments recognized the opportunity coins to provided to present an image or to trasmit an idea. References to military campaigns, financial news, governmental changes, religious sentiments and a multitude of other topics appeared on coins.

Before Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in 312, Roman coins depicted no fewer than 27 major deities, not counting their Greek counterparts. Add to this at least 34 personifications of godly virtues—allegorical representations like “Justice” and “Victory”—and you get some idea of the importance of religion in Roman coinage. Emperors were deified and they, too, were portrayed on coins as gods.

Religiously speaking, Rome seems to have been a sponge, soaking up the deities and beliefs of many nations, particuarly those of the nations it had conquered. Not infrequently, the result was a blending of religions and religious practices.

#3. (1994). Bible and Spade (1994), 7, 115.

Aside from the Bible itself, the ancient coins of the Holy Land are possibly our closet link with our forebears, about whom both the Old and New Testaments were written. Unlike archaeological ruins and larger artifacts, the coins invariably carry meaningful inscriptions.

Just as significant is the fact that many of these biblical coins can be purchased even today for $25 or less—and thus are within the reach of many interested individuals.

The first coins were not struck until late in the seventh century BC in Asia Minor. About 100 years later, coins first reached the land of ancient Israel.

Both the Old and New Testaments refer to actual coins. Some of those mentioned are illustrated here along with a few coins of rulers mentioned in the New Testament.

  Silver shekels and half shekels minted in the Phoenecian coastal city of Tyre were of such high-quality silver and uniform weight that they alone were preferred for the annual offering.

  One would think these coins were offensive to the Jews and the early Christians because they carry the image of the Greek god Melqarth. Surely this was considered a “graven image” and thus prohibited.

  Yet, it is stated in early Jewish writings that the stigma of using money bearing a “graven image” could be removed if the coins were thrown

  down and not passed from hand to hand. Thus, it is probable that the annual half-shekel tribute offering was thrown into a collection basket or box.

  Because the coins of Tyre were the only ones accepted, a group of money changers operated in the outer court of the Temple. They functioned just as foreign-currency exchanges do today, charging a fee of 8 percent to convert foreign currency into the coins of Tyre.

  A coin of Mattathias Antigonus is the only ancient coin that portrays the sacred Temple Implements. Antigonus, who reigned from 40–37 BC, was the last of the Maccabean Kings. He was succeeded by Herod the Great, a client of Rome.

  Since these bronze coins were made more than 100 years before the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of its Temple, it is probable that the artist-designer actually had seen the implements he depicted.

#4. (1994). Bible and Spade (1994), 7, 112.

  Coins appeared in the Holy Land in the seventh century B C. "Shekel" became the name of a coin once coins began to be minted in Palestine. Balances did not disappear, however. Ancient coins did not bear marks on their edges that could reveal signs of tampering as many modern coins do. Coins with pieces cut off were difficult to detect, and counterfeit coins created problems for those seeking full value for their goods. Sometimes only a balance could prove whether coins were worth their stated value.

  The first coins were minted in Lydia and Aegina in the middle of the seventh century BC. Croesus, king of Lydia (560-546 B C), was probably the first to mint pure silver and gold coins.

  When coins became the conventional method of payment in the ancient world, they were usually minted only by independent states. In special   cases of limited autonomy, as for example in Israel during the Persian period, rulers sometimes granted local authorities under their control permission to mint coins.

  The earliest coins had images on only one side, but by the middle of the sixth century BC the Athenians were issuing coins with images on both the front (obverse) and back (reverse). Other states soon followed suit.

  Most ancient coins were produced by a process called striking. First a craftsman engraved the patterns for both sides on pieces of hard metal. The engraved pieces of metal are known as dies." (The Greeks used hard bronze for dies; iron was first used for dies in Roman times.) Then the craftsman set the obverse die into an anvil and inserted a piece of metal called a blank. This became the coin on top of the die. Then he put the end of the metal bar bearing the reverse die on top of the blank and struck the other end of the bar with a sledgehammer. The process of striking coins offered many opportunities for error and consequently the quality of ancient coins varied greatly.

  The first coins bearing Hebrew script date from the fifth century BC and are inscribed with the word beqa. In the fourth century BC small coins with the inscription yehud, the name of Israel while it was a province under Persian rule, were minted. Both the beqa and the yehud coins were minted by permission of the Persians.

  During the Hellenistic period (332–37 BC), several mints were established in Palestine. The first, founded by Alexander the Great in Akko, was followed by others in Jaffa, Ashkelon and Gaza. Alexander and, later, local rulers, as well as a variety of pagan symbols were depicted on coins issued by these mints.
#5. (1980). Bible and Spade (1980), 9(2), 64.

When, in 547 B.C., Cyrus took Sardis, and all Asia Minor became a Persian possession, the Persians quickly saw the advantages of the coin. Darius I (Hystaspis) (521-486 B.C.)

  introduced the gold daric, perhaps named after himself, and its silver counterpart, the siglos. These coins were the first to depict a human being (the issuing king). The daric is mentioned in the Old Testament in Ezra 2:69 and 1 Chronicles 29:7, and it is probably the coin mentioned in Ezra 8:27 and Nehemiah 7:70–72, although different words are used. Also, the shekel of Nehemiah 5:15 may refer to the siglos. These are the only Old Testament coin references.

  By the end of the fifth century B.C. coins were being produced in Gaza, Aradus, Tyre, and Sidon, but the Persians deserve the credit for introducing coinage to Israel. Small silver coins, perhaps minted locally, exist with the word Yehud, the Persian name for the province of Judea, inscribed in Aramaic. These were struck in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.

  One coin of particular interest shows a bearded head in a Corinthian helmet on the obverse, and a throned deity on the reverse. Since rendering a conquered nation’s god on local coinage was a common Persian practice, it is generally thought that this deity is none other than a Persian representation of the God of the Jews (based, perhaps, on Ezekiel’s vision), and thus unique in coinage. The rarity of the coin suggests its unpopularity in Judea.

With the entrance of Alexander III (the Great) came the Attic standard of coinage, consisting of the drachma. Alexander established dozens of mints throughout his empire. Acre, later called Ptolemais, became the mint for Palestine. Alexander’s coinage became a standard for centuries. On the obverse of his drachma and tetradrachma was depicted Hercules (or Alexander as Hercules), and the reverse pictures a seated Zeus. The already old custom of placing a “mintmark” on the reverse was continued. The usual legend consisted of Alexandrou—that is, Alexander’s (money). The quality of these coins was excellent; they were popular and often counterfeited. The following Ptolemaic and Seleucid rulers continued using similar styles and weights.

  The earliest Jewish ruler to strike coins was Alexander Yannai (Jannaeus) 104-78 B.C. For reasons of political dependency and poor economic conditions, these coins were struck only in bronze. Jewish silver coins were not made until the time of the first Jewish revolt, A.C. 66–70. Jewish coins were never made in gold.

  Both in style and weight Yannai’s first coin resembled an earlier coin struck in Jerusalem between 132 and 130 B.C. by the Seleucid ruler Antiochus VII (Sidetes). It was slightly smaller than a United States cent and bore a lily on the obverse, with an anchor on the reverse. Yannai’s coins had both Hebrew and Greek inscriptions. The hasmonaeans retained the Hebrew script on coins, as more classical, albeit less common, than the spoken Aramaic.

#6. Shanks, H. (Ed.). (2006). Archaeology Odyssey 07:01.

Could this fourth-century B.C. Ionian coin really be an ancient topographical map?

Some numismatists think the coin’s irregular swirls and stippled areas represent the mountains and river valleys of a 90-square-mile region of western Anatolia around the city of Ephesus. The central loop seems to represent the northern Tmolus mountains, the southern Messogis mountains and the Cayster river valley lying between these ranges. The raised area at the bottom of the coin may represent a block of mountains south of the Maeander River.

The 13-gram (.46-ounce) weight of the three dozen silver and bronze coins bearing this design may help to date them. In 394 B.C. Ephesus forged an alliance with the Aegean islands of Rhodes, Knidos and Samos. The four communities adopted a joint coinage conforming to a standard weight of around 13 grams.

A different origin and a later date, however, may be indicated by the coin’s other side, which shows a Persian official wielding a bow and spear. In 390 B.C. Ephesus fell under Persian control, although Greek Ephesians apparently retained some power in running the city. In 336 B.C. the general Memnon, a Greek mercenary from the island of Rhodes whose wife was a member of the Persian royalty, put down a revolt by the city’s Greek faction. Some scholars suggest that Memnon issued these coins to pay his men.

#7. Shanks, H. (Ed.). (2006). Archaeology Odyssey 07:05.

Towards the middle of the sixth century B.C., the Lydians—who lived in western Anatolia and produced the world’s first coins—began making pure gold and silver coins, like this silver stater. The lion and bull was presumably the royal seal, giving the coin the state’s stamp of approval.

Not long after the Greeks adopted coinage, they began to add designs, like the gorgon’s head on this late sixth-century B.C. tetradrachm from Athens.

#8. Shanks, H. (Ed.). (2004). Archaeology Odyssey 06:04.

Coins uncovered in the ruins of Kourion help to date the massive earthquake that leveled the city. A number of the coins bear the image of the Roman emperor Valens (364–378 A.D.) wearing a pearl diadem. Coins issued during the first years of his reign are easily identifiable: The first five letters (“VALEN”) of the emperor’s name appear to the left of his portrait while the “S” appears on the right. The so-called split-Valens bronze coin above, from the collection of the American Numismatic Society, is similar to those recovered from Kourion—which strongly suggests that the site was destroyed in 365 A.D.

#9. Shanks, H. (Ed.). (2006). Archaeology Odyssey 07:05.

With the invention of coinage, wealth was no longer calculated solely by the possession of land, livestock or goods; wealth now included accumulated value, condensed in coins and earned through work and trade. Coin-based wealth helped to fuel the growth of markets, which in turn brought new commodities and social possibilities to individual households. Eventually, the entire Mediterranean world came to see the usefulness of money and incorporated it as a normal part of everyday life—which most of us can’t imagine doing without (for better or worse).

This is not to say that the ancients did not engage in trade until the invention of money. They did, and the forms of trade were varied. People then, as now, engaged in simple barter, in which one set of goods was exchanged for another. Some exchanged their labor for desired goods, a form of work or indentured servitude. Some peoples invented a system in which precious materials (gold, silver, ostrich shells, and so on) were used as a medium of exchange.

Of these forms of exchange only the latter is a primitive form of money—which is really more of a concept than a thing. Today, for example, money often simply consists of numbers on a piece of paper or computer screen. Modern coins (or, obviously, credit cards) have little value in themselves; we have agreed as a society to give them value as a convention, because we are convinced that such a form of exchange is useful. (The fact that money is just a convention becomes painfully obvious during times of political unrest, when the old forms of exchange suddenly collapse and lose all their value.) What makes money really and completely money is the fact that there is no necessary link between the value of the money-object (a $100 bill, say) and the value of that object itself (a rectangular piece of colored paper). But this system required much time and many steps to evolve, and money in the meantime acquired many different forms.

In the ancient Near East, weighed pieces of silver came to be recognized as an early form of money, much as cowrie shells did in various other parts of the world. The monetary system that evolved around the use of these cut-up bits of silver, which are called Hacksilber by scholars, was in use centuries before the introduction of coinage in the late seventh century B.C. The evidence for this type of money is found in several hoards of Hacksilber that have surfaced in the Levant and elsewhere, as well as in textual sources. For example, the Semitic verbal root TQL (Hebrew SQL), meaning “to weigh, be heavy,” gives the Hebrew noun form “shekel,” which in the Hebrew Bible is a defined weight of Hacksilber. For example, the Lord instructs Moses to collect a tax of half a shekel of silver from each Israelite who is 20 years old or older (Exodus 30:13).

Near Eastern practices unquestionably influenced the use of silver as a monetary instrument in the Aegean. The basic weight-denominational system used by the Greeks was likely borrowed from the Hacksilber-using Phoenicians around the time that the Greeks borrowed the Phoenician alphabet for their own use (eighth century B.C.). These weight-denominations included the mina (in Athens about 15 ounces of silver or 100 local drachmas) and the talent (56 pounds of silver, the equivalent of 60 mina or 6,000 drachmas).

Whether those living in and around the Aegean used Hacksilber extensively before the introduction of coinage is a matter of controversy. What is not disputed, however, is that towards the end of the seventh century B.C., the Lydians of western Turkey minted the first coins. The Lydians made their coins out of electrum, a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver that was panned from the Pactolos river, not far from the capital city of Sardis. (Our epithet “rich as Croesus” refers to the Lydian king Croesus, who ruled from Sardis in the sixth century B.C.; Croesus was no doubt rich because of all the electrum at his disposal.) Because gold was worth at least ten times more than silver, and because the ratio of the gold and silver in the electrum varied, no one could ever be entirely certain how much a particular piece of electrum was worth. By putting its official stamp on a pre-weighed piece of electrum, the Lydian state guaranteed the value of coins. These coins, however, did not circulate widely, and for a while coinage remained an isolated Lydian phenomenon.

The next step in the evolution of money came in the early sixth century B.C. when the Lydians abandoned electrum coinage in favor of pure gold and silver coins. These coins were a kind of pre-weighed and guaranteed Hacksilber, and they served as a solution to the problem of determining the value of any given amount of electrum. About the time that Sardis fell to the Persians (546 B.C.), the Greeks were awakening to the possibilities of the Lydian invention. From a practical standpoint, coins improved the efficiency and flexibility of the developing market trade by allowing, for example, buyers and sellers simply to count out their money rather than to weigh it for every transaction. Also, by guaranteeing the quality and weight of the coins in circulation, the state picked up the burden of trust in the currency that markets rely upon to operate smoothly.

#10 DeRose Evans, J. (2001). Ancient Coins from the Drew Institute of Archaeological Research Excavations of Caesarea Maritima, 1971–1984. Biblical Archaeologist: Volume 58 1-4, (electronic ed.), 156.

CAESAREA WAS HEROD’S JEWEL ON THE SEA. ITS WAREHOUSES, temples, wide streets, and statues sparkling in the sunshine, and especially the harbor announced that, as Josephus wrote, Herod “conquered nature herself” (Jewish War 3.408). Yet he was not the first to take advantage of the shoreline here, and the city lived on long after he died and became an important center of the early Christian world. The Drew Institute of Archaeological Research (DIAR) worked in the ancient city for eleven seasons between 1971 and 1984. An analysis of the coins found in the excavation sheds light on the fascinating question of the economy of the city and region.

Approximately 2300 identifiable coins were excavated. About 2000 more coins were unidentifiable (even within broad time periods); some were blanks (most likely dating to the fourth or fifth centuries, when coins were not used individually, but in groups, and were traded in bags). A small group belong to Crusader or Arabic Caesarea and will not be examined here. Only three silver coins were found; all the rest were bronze.

Only one coin, from Cyme, Aeolis, dates to the earliest period (350–250 BCE), and only three well-worn coins date to the first two-thirds of the third century BCE. These coins were not necessarily lost in the third century (but they could not have been lost before the third century), which means there is no good numismatic evidence for Strato’s settlement and only slightly more for Zoilos’s fortification of the site. Since there was not yet a mint at Caesarea, the coins come from the mints of Antioch, Side (Pamphylia), and an unidentifiable Ptolemaic mint. These results are comparable to the only other reported early Hellenistic coins, from the 1990 season at Caesarea, which recovered two Ptolemaic bronzes minted in Alexandria of the third century (Lampinen 1992).

The political situation is reflected in the coinage. Herod minted his coins in Jerusalem, and they almost entirely drove out the non-Herodian coins; not a single non-Herodian coin of the first century BCE was reported in any of the excavation reports of Caesarea. Yet the coins are a puzzle, too, for Herod built the harbor as an international port, though he does not make a reference to the port in the coin types (Raban1992; “type” in reference to coinage refers to the design on the coin). Neither the coins nor the pottery reflects much international trade in the late first century BCE/early first century CE (Blakely 1987). This may be explained by the type of coin found, as small change would have been used locally, while the higher denominations were used for more complex business deals. These coins of higher denomination, when dropped, would have insured that the loser would look for the coin. Not surprisingly, no coins of Philip or Antipas, the rulers who succeeded Herod were found; instead, procuratorial coins were the mainstay of the everyday Caesarian economy.

There has been some argument recently whether the mint for Palestine was transferred from Jerusalem to Caesarea in the procuratorial era, since the coins minted by the procurators look physically very much like the Herodian coins, except for the different types used (Ariel 1982; Carradice 1982/3). Unfortunately, the excavations cannot demonstrate whether or not this transfer took place. The coins of the Hasmoneans, Herod, and the procurators are made with flat, irregularly-shaped flans (or blanks), cut from a sheet of bronze. Both the Hasmonean and Herodian coins had aniconic types, in deference to powerful political forces in Judea, but Herod did use his name on the coins, along with some ambiguous types, like the winged caduceus, a Greek symbol of prosperity. Although earlier procurators kept the aniconic or Herodian types, Pilate broke from this tradition, using types that were sure to anger the Jewish population, including Roman religious symbols like the lituus and simpulum. The lituus was a crook shaped staff used by the augers for divination and the simpulum was a ceremonial ladle or pouring vessel.

#11. DeRose Evans, J. (2001). Ancient Coins from the Drew Institute of Archaeological Research Excavations of Caesarea Maritima, 1971–1984. Biblical Archaeologist: Volume 58 1-4, (electronic ed.), 158.

-“Bottle cap” shaped coin minted in the second century BCE in Ake-Ptolemais. Easily recognizable by its distinctive shape, the reverse (pictured here) of this small coin (actual size 1.3 cm) has a veiled standing goddess holding a scepter or torch. The obverse has the diadem adorned and radiate head of Antiochus IV who ruled over the region between 174–164 BCE.

-Coin of Trajan, minted in Caesarea between 114 and 117 CE. The reverse shows the toga-clad emperor performing a sacrifice in front of an altar. Caesarea was home to a Temple of Roma and Augustus, the location of which archaeologists have gauged approximately, and probably a Temple to Hadrian, which has not been found, though a statue was found that may have served as its cult statue. The coin measures 2.4 cm in diameter.

-Coin of the emperor Gallus, dating between 351 and 354 CE, from the mint in Alexandria. This is one of the larger (actual size 2.3 cm) and better preserved coins from the fourth and fifth centuries. The reverse, inscribed “Happy Days are Here Again,” shows the huge emperor striding to the left, spearing a barbarian enemy falling off his horse. Militaristic types became more common as the borders of the Empire came under siege.

-Byzantine follis (large bronze coin; actual size 3.2 cm) of Maurice, minted in Constantinople in 527. Byzantine follis were almost always marked with the date and the mint; these attributes enable us to calcuate that Constantinople, the main mint of the Byzantine Empire, was the main supplier of coins to Caesarea.

-Fragmentary Byzantine follis of Constans II, one of the latest pre-Arabic coins found in the excavations. Minted in Constantinople around 650, the quality of the coin and striking show the stress on the Byzantine Empire as its Middle Eastern holdings were under attack by the Muslims.

-One beautiful coin from the excavation has no known parallels. The obverse shows a bust of Trajan, with his titles (in Greek) inscribed around the flan: Autokrator (ruler) Caesar Nerva Trajanus Sebastos (savior) Germanicus Dacicus (victor in Germany and Dacia). On the reverse the personification of a city stands on a galley; she holds a scepter in her right hand and a cornucopia in her left. Only part of the reverse inscription can be read (Daphna?… o.nl …), but the three Greek letters (DOR) to her right may give a clue to the mint.

Although earlier eastern city coins had been confined to small, dumpy flans, beginning with Trajan (98–117) larger blanks were minted, allowing more scope on the reverse to the die cutter and a finer portrait on the obverse. Under Hadrian (117–138), the repetitious cult statue reverse was discarded for more interesting types, and dates (reckoned by era) were first used. The three Greek letters are the date. The Greek letters are ΔΟΡ.

The combination of Trajan with this specific inscription and a city goddess (a bust, not the entire figure) had been minted by a Syrian city, probably Antioch, during the latter part of Trajan’s reign. If the coin comes from Antioch, it should date to 125 CE, since the Antiochene era begins in 49 BCE (174–49 = 125). Hadrian’s die cutters were known to revive earlier types. Thus, the coin was minted when Hadrian was touring the east, and it honors Hadrian’s adopted father.

#12 Harrison, R. (2001). Hellenization in Syria-Palestine: The Case of Judea in the Third Century bce. Biblical Archaeologist: Volume 57 1-4, (electronic ed.), 100–101.

Historians of third century Judea are fortunate to have at their disposal a good deal of numismatic evidence. Coins first appeared in Palestine at least as early as the mid-sixth century BCE, and they were in wide use by the end of the Hellenistic period. During the early Ptolemaic era, the coins found in Judea and its neighboring territories could be divided into two essentially different, yet related, types.

The existence in Palestine of coins produced in major Ptolemaic mints has been well-documented for the better part of a century. A different series of coins, apparently minted in Judea, has come under increasing scrutiny only in the last decade. These so-called Yehud coins deserve close attention because their interpretation bears heavily on questions surrounding Judea’s Hellenization, social structure, and political relations during the third century.

At least thirty very early coins inscribed with Aramaic or Hebrew letters have been published. They comprise nineteen distinct types. Of that number, nine coins representing five types are datable to the Ptolemaic era (Meshorer 1982). These early Judeo-Hellenistic coins stand in what appears to have been a continuous series that begins in the mid-fourth century BCE. This series was itself probably a continuation of the old Philisto-Arabian coins. After a strange drachm inscribed in Aramaic, the series of tiny coins continues with a group of Athenian “owl” imitations. It then develops through several variations of art and inscription during the late Persian period, and culminates in a number of coins which bear the impression of Ptolemy I, (301–283 BCE), his consort Bernice, and the Ptolemaic eagle.

The exact order and date for the series remain a matter of debate (Mildenberg 1978). Technical discussions aside, what appears sure is the existence of Judean coinage in the early–mid third century BCE bearing the clear stamp of Hellenistic influence. The problems in establishing the series’ continuity and order pale beside three even more difficult questions. From what mint were they issued? By whose authority were they struck? How did they function in the Judean and Ptolemaic economies?

The Yehud coins were probably struck in Jerusalem. Two coins have been found in stratigraphic excavations in the Judean capital; one was unearthed at Beth Zur; a fourth came from Ramat Rahel; and a few more specimens surfaced at Tell Jemmeh. The other coins, now in private collections, were from an area south of Jerusalem, east and west of the road to Hebron. With no evidence to the contrary, it seems reasonable to assume that this limited distribution points to the existence of a mint in Jerusalem.

But who minted the Yehud coins, and why? The local minting authority for the Persian segment of the series seems to have lain with the governor (peh.āh) of the Achaemenid satrapy, Yehud. But the governor’s name and title disappear from the coins of the Yehud series in the Hellenistic period. Thus the third century probably saw a shift in monetary authority from the regional Ptolemaic strategos to the Jewish high priesthood. In the light of the growing secularization and politicization of that office during the early Hellenistic period, it is likely that the chief temple officers became increasingly involved in state economic policy and power politics.

- Yehud coins like these were probably struck in the third century BCE under Ptolemy II Philadelphus. They are all inscribed with Aramaic or paleo-Hebrew legends. Ranging in value from 1/8 to 1/96 of a tetradrachm, their iconography is manifestly Hellenistic; some also bear Greek letters. (From Meshorer 1982:184.)

- Coins—like this silver drachm—are notoriously ambivalent witnesses to cultural change. This probable Y(H)D coin, likely issued in Judea during the Persian period, may imitate other coins or utilize borrowed motifs. While the symbols may be pagan, they might have received an alternative interpretation by Jewish authorities. On the reverse, the archaic Aramaic letters Y (a possible Y-H monogram) D surmount a roaring, winged lion standing on an unknown composite design. (From Meshorer 1982:28.)

- Scholars still debate the exact sequence of the third century Yehud coins. The reverse of this coin depicts a bird looking over its shoulder, surrounded by the (unusual) full spelling of the name of Judea. The coin has been argued to be both the earliest and the latest in the Ptolemaic Yehud series. (From Meshorer 1982:15.)

#13 (2001). Biblical Archaeologist 1-4, 25(electronic ed.).

All the silver tetradrachms, with two exceptions, have on the obverse the head of Ptolemy I facing right, wearing the diadem and aegis, some with dotted border and some without (see figure 10 ). On the reverse is the familiar standing eagle facing left, his wings folded and in his laws a thunderbolt. All have the inscription Ptolemaiou (left) and either Basileos (king) or Soteros (savior) on the right. Some have dotted border and most have monograms. And many have mint marks. After Alexander the Great, mints were developed in the principal cities of Palestine, particularly Gaza, Sidon, and Tyre, and many coins have some symbol to indicate where they were minted, such as a club for the mint at Tyre and the letters sigma-iota for Sidon. Diameters of the hoard coins vary from 25 to 29 mm. and weights from 12.96 to 14.13 grams, an interesting variation for coins of the same value. Necessarily, except for dated coins, some identifications are conjectural; with all the Ptolemaic coins that have been found across the years, we still find unparalleled features. Nevertheless, the general picture emerging is clear.

Ptolemy I (Soter), 312-285 B.C. Coins 1–4 (fig. 10 ). Probably minted in Alexandria. According to Newell, coins just like these were also struck in the first years of Ptolemy II, but the latter years of Ptolemy I seems a better time for these. The earliest of his coins have only one monogram, but ours have two. The inscription is Basileos.

Ptolemy II (Philadelphus), 285-246 B.C. Coins 13–25 and provisionally 43–44. Number 14 has the club symbol which indicates that it was minted at Tyre, while number 15 has the Greek letters (sigma-iota) for the mint at Sidon. Numbers 20–25 are dated: 20 has kappa-theta (29), which means 257 B.C. (29th year of his reign); 21–23 have lambda (30), 256 B.C.; 24 has alpha-lambda (31), 255 B.C.; 25 has lamda-beta (32), 254 B.C.

Ptolemy III (Euergetes), 246-221 B.C. Coin 45. As can be seen on figure 10 , the coin was struck badly so that the right inscription is off the flan or surface of the coin. A word should be said about minting here to explain how this happens. Dies were placed on the top of a truncated cone below, and on the bottom of a corresponding cone above. Hot metal was placed between the two cones; a blow with a hammer on the upper cone struck the coin. Coins of the same denomination could vary in diameter and weight depending on the size of the slug and the sharpness of the hammer blow. And the varying sharpness of the blow could also distort the features on the dies, so that coins from the same dies might look quite different from one another. In the time of Ptolemy II, small spikes were made in both the upper and the lower die for bronze coins to prevent the hot metal slug from sliding off center; a small hole appears in the center of both obverse and reverse of such coins, commonly in Ptolemaic bronzes but only occasionally with the Seleucids. In any event, poorly struck silvers are common and circulated nevertheless. Identification of coin 45 is established by distinctive monograms, and, behind the eagle’s neck, the date indicator beta (2), 245 B.C.

Ptolemy IV (Philopater), 221-204 B.C. Coins 47–49. These have the inscription Soteros. Between the eagle’s legs, coin 47 has So, possibly for the chief minister Sosibus. The left side of coin 49 is badly burned, so that identification is not positive.

Ptolemy V (Epiphanes), 204-181 B.C. Coins 50–61. On the obverse of 50 and 51 appears the head of the beardless young king himself; for the first time we are away from picturing Ptolemy I! The reverse of both uses the inscription Basileos. On 50 is the date eta (7), 198 B.C.; on 51 mu (12), 193 B.C.* On 52 and 53 the head of Ptolemy I appears, and the inscription is Soteros. On the right of the eagle is a spearhead, and on the left a monogram which may be for the king’s guardian Aristomenes. Seemingly 54 through 61 come from the same die. They all have Basileos and no date or monogram. Head calls the ascription of these coins to Ptolemy V “more or less conjectural” (p. 855), but the conjecture seems reasonable.

There were 27 bronze Ptolemaic coins of various sizes. While it is difficult to identify such coins positively, particularly those of Soter and Philadelphus, our identifications agree with current catalogues.

Ptolemy I. Coins 5–12 (see figure 11 ). Two (5 and 6) on the obverse have the head of Alexander the Great with elephant-hide headdress; the others have the bearded head of the god Zeus or Zeus-Ammon facing right. All on the reverse have the spread eagle facing left, with thunderbolt in claws and the familiar inscriptions, Ptolemaiou Basileos.

Ptolemy II, as would be expected since his reign was the longest of the Ptolemies, has the largest representation (26–42). All have the Zeus head and, on the reverse, the standing eagle facing left with folded wings and thunderbolt. Both obverse and reverse have a hole in the center, used to guide the striking. Sixteen (26–41) have the club emblem of the mint of Tyre, while the smallest (42), only 3.21 grams in weight and 15 mm. in diameter, has the scimitar of Perseus.

The one bronze coin provisionally attributed to Ptolemy III but which may belong to Ptolemy IV, (46) is the largest of the season, weighing 72.2 grams and measuring 42 mm. It shows the club of the mint of Tyre and an indistinct monogram between the eagle’s legs. A pocketful of these monsters could pretty well tie a man down!

Ptolemy IV was unrepresented by bronze coinage, unless No. 46 belongs to him, but Ptolemy V was represented by the smallest coin of the season (62), weighing 1.415 grams and measuring 12 mm.; the head of the king is on the obverse, and a cornucopia with the eagle on the reverse.

Abundance of the bronze coins of the first two Ptolemies and scarcity of coins for the next three may show that the economy of the city declined in the latter half of the third century. The large number of Ptolemy V tetradrachms in the hoard would then not represent the general situation.

Antiochus III (the Great), 223-187 B.C., was represented by seven coins (63–69). Six (63–68) are dileptons, 11 or 12 mms., 1.375 to 1.965 grams. The obverse depicts the head of the king as Apollo facing right; the border of the coin is dotted. The reverse has the nude Apollo standing, facing left, holding in his right hand an arrow and in his left a bow which rests on the ground. The left knee is bent, with toes on the ground beside the bow. The inscription is Basileos (right) Antiochous (left). None of these coins shows the whole pattern. Number 69 is a hemichalcus and is mill-edged. The obverse has the laureled head of Apollo facing right with dotted border. The reverse, besides the inscription, has Apollo seated on an omphalos with arrow in right hand and bow in left. On the left is a palm and below the letters AT.

Antiochus IV (Epiphanes), 175-164 B.C., is represented by two examples of the common mill edged hemichalcus (70–71) with the obverse showing the king with radiate crown and the reverse showing the standing goddess facing front with spear in right hand and shield in left resting on the ground. Another hemichalcus (72) also shows on the obverse the king with radiate crown, and on the reverse Zeus half nude seated facing left on throne with chlamys resting on knees. On the extended right hand is a Nike, who holds a crown uplifted to the left. A little eagle is in front of the knees. In the god’s left hand is a long scepter.

Of Demetrius I (Soter), 162-150 B.C. is a hemichalcus (73) with mill edge. The obverse shows diademed head of Artemis facing right and the reverse traces of standing naked Apollo. Both sides show hole in center.

Antiochus VII (Sidetes), 138-129 B.C., is represented by a chalcus (74) with a bust of Eros crowned with myrtle struck to lower right of obverse and on reverse Basileos Antiochou (right) Euergetou (left). There is an ornament of the head of Isis composed of a solar disk between two cow horns, surmounted by two lotus stems and set on an upturned crescent.

The two coins of Demetrius II (Nikator) come from his second reign (129-125 B.C.) and are dated. One (75) is a chalcus showing on the obverse the diademed and bearded head of the king facing right. The reverse shows the standing naked Apollo with bow and arrow. The inscription is Basileos-Demetriou (right) Theou Nikatoros (left). In the exergue is the date delta-pi-rho (184), 128 B.C. The other Demetrius II coin (76) is the only silver coin of the season apart from the hoard. It is a drachma with diademed head of the beardless king on the obverse. The reverse has the inscription Basileos (right) Demetriou (left). An eagle with folded wings stands facing left on the prow of a ship. There are two monograms, the club of the mint of Tyre, and the date epsilon-pi-rho (185), 127 B.C.

Five coins (77–81) are of Alexander II (Zebina), 125-123 B.C. Four (77–80) are similar. The obverse shows the head of Dionysus facing right.

In 77 he is crowned with ivy; in 78 he wears the radiate crown; in 79 and 80 the ivy or crown is off the flan. The reverse, beside the inscription Basileos (right) Alexandrou (left), has two cornucopias entwined and overflowing with fruits in a royal diadem; at left are an ear of corn and letter Sigma; at right an ear of corn and letter Alpha. The fifth coin (81), also a chalcus, shows on the obverse the head of the king facing right and on the reverse, beside the inscription, an upright Nike in a fitted robe walking to the left.

The Ptolemais-Ake coins (83–88) are all badly struck and too small to contain the complete pattern. They have on the obverse the jugate heads of the Dioscuri facing right and on the reverse an inscription and a cornucopia. Two (83, 84) are undated. There are enough letters to identify the inscription, which should be Antiocheon ton (right) en Ptolemaidi (left). Four dated coins have the inscription Antiocheon en Ptolemaidi and a date at the right of the cornucopia and at the left Ierasasulou. None of the dates is completely clear; but, since these coins were first struck in 126 B.C., our coins were minted in that year or in the years immediately following. One coin (86) seems to have the date zeta-pi-rho (187), 126/5 B.C.

#14 (1987). Biblical Archaeologist, 50.

Who was the first Hasmonean ruler to strike coins? A leading theory is that it was Alexander Jannaeus (Meshorer 1966: 41–47; 1982:35). I would like to propose, however, that it was actually Yehuda Aristobulus I.

Meshorer (1982: 77–78) has argued convincingly against this theory. Citing Joseph Naveh (1968), he notes that in the year 78 BCE (the time of Jannaeus’ concessions to the Pharisees) there were other coins of Alexander Jannaeus with his royal title both in Greek and Aramaic script. So why were only the coins of the anchor-and-lily type restruck? The only difference between the two types of coins is that one type includes the lily. Meshorer questioned why the Pharisees would have objected to this design. And even if they did disapprove of the symbol, why would Hyrcanus II, a devout Pharisee, have depicted the lily on his own coinage? An explanation for the recall of the anchor-and-lily coins must be found elsewhere. Meshorer further suggested that the change to Yonathan is of an aesthetic nature, and that the spelling was contingent upon how many characters could be inserted neatly on the coin.

It is difficult for me to accept this explanation; people are usually very sensitive about the correct spelling of their names, and I doubt that Alexander-Jannaeus would have permitted an incorrect spelling of his name on so many coins. I would like to suggest instead that the Hebrew name of Aristobulus II was Yonathan. Should this be the case, it would provide a logical explanation for the overstriking of the coins and the “Yonathan” coins that were not overstruck. When Aristobulus II seized power, he wanted to strengthen his claim to the throne by minting coins. The fastest way to do this was to overstrike his father’s coins, many of which probably remained in the treasury. Later in his reign Aristobulus II minted his own coins, which have the inscription “Yonathan the High Priest and Council of the Jews.”

I do accept the Meshorer theory and supporting evidence that the coins struck with the Yehohanan name were minted by Hyrcanus II (Meshorer 1982: 84–87). As a result, the Yehuda coins that, according to my theory, were struck by Aristobulus I, were the first Hasmonean coins.

There are other arguments, none of which are in themselves conclusive, that support the claim that Yehuda Aristobulus I was the first Hasmonean ruler to mint coins.

Yehuda Aristobulus I was the first Hasmonean ruler to proclaim himself king. It was a tradition in the ancient world that one of the first acts of anyone who seized the throne was the minting of coins. As a result it is conceivable that Aristobulus I minted coins in order to announce his reign over Judea, although he probably did not dare call himself king on the coins. The act of minting coins could not have been too difficult for Aristobulus I because there was a mint in Jerusalem where coins had been struck earlier in the years 131, 130, and 129 BCE in name of Antiochus Euergetes (Sidetes). In addition, there is evidence that the coins were struck in Jerusalem as late as 106 or 105 BCE by Antiochus VIII.

In 104/3 BCE Ashkelon began to mint its own coins. The historical circumstances that led to the minting of coins in Ashkelon, similar to those in Judea, might also have influenced Judea to mint coins.

The relative rarity and good condition of the Yehuda coins suggest that they were minted during a short period of time. Aristobulus I in fact ruled for less than one year.

Finally, there is only one type of Yehuda coin, although there are two major styles of it. In comparison, Mattathias Antigonus, who ruled for three years, minted five different types of coins in three denominations. The lack of variety in types of coins would therefore suggest a short period of minting. Although about 200 different die varieties of the Yehuda coins have been found (Meshorer 1982: 47), I am of the opinion that it is possible in one year to produce this quantity of dies for a single coin.

#15 Shanks, H. (Ed.). (1991). BAR 17:03 (May/June 1991).

During the last hour of the ninth and final season of excavations in Qatzrin, a hoard of some 9,000 bronze coins was found. The coins date to the mid-fourth century C.E. This was a period of high inflation during which the coin currency lost much of its value. These 9,000 bronze coins were exchangeable for just a few gold coins (solidi). To provide some sort of context, eight solid) purchased 25 modii (baskets) of grain.

Most coin hoards of the mid-fourth century have been found in association with synagogues. A few such hoards are of unknown provenance. The Qatzrin hoard is the first hoard of this size that has been found during excavations inside a domestic house.

The largest and most prominent coins are of Julian the Apostate (361–363 C.E.; see inset), the Roman emperor whose attempts to stem the high inflation and to reform the monetary system by minting larger coins were largely unsuccessful. These large coins did not remain in circulation very long.

Coins that were minted after the reign of Julian were once again small in size.

Following cleaning and identification of these coins, the Qatzrin hoard will no doubt provide us with important information regarding mints, new variants of coins and their spans of circulation.

#16 Shanks, H. (Ed.). (1978). BAR 04:01 (March 1978).

What archaeologists find is important. But what they don’t find can be just as important—such as their failure to find coins anywhere in the world before the end of the 7th century B.C. In the Holy Land, coins are not found until about 100 years later.

This total absence of coins—despite extensive excavations—is an important datum in itself. It means that Biblical references to specific coins during the First Temple Period (c. 960 B.C.–586 B.C.) are anachronistic. The Biblical historian writing at a later time, when coins were in use, assumed—incorrectly—that they were in use at an earlier period.

There are several examples of this kind of anachronism in the Bible. The author of the first book of Chronicles (writing during the Persian Period (539–333 B.C., the beginning of the Second Temple period) anachronistically assumed that coins were in use in the earlier period he was writing about; the author tells us of contributions of darics to assist in building Solomon’s Temple (see 1 Chronicles 29:7).

Before the introduction of coinage, commerce and exchange were carried on in the Holy Land by weighing precious metals—gold and silver—with weights and scales. This system was cumbersome, and the accuracy of the weights was questionable. It was also difficult for the ordinary merchant to judge the purity of the metal. With the development of international commerce, a better and simpler means of exchange was inevitable.

In Biblical sources written before 586 B.C., payment is made either in ingots of precious metals or, on occasion, jewelry. Most of the ingots mentioned in the Bible are gold, such as the gold ingots hidden by Achan which brought the Israelite defeat at Ai (see Joshua 7:21). (The references to shekels in this passage are to a unit of weight, as is clear from the passage itself; only much later did the shekel become a coin.)

Biblical descriptions of jewelry—earrings and bracelets—often include exact weights; the jewelry was deliberately molded into certain standard weights, so that it could be used as a means of exchange. (A)* In Genesis 24:22 Abraham’s servant gives Rebecca “a golden earring of half a shekel weight and two bracelets for her hands of ten shekels weight of gold.”

Coins began to be minted in the Holy Land itself about 400 B.C. or shortly thereafter. The first coins were struck in Gaza on the Mediterranean coast. Naturally enough, they imitated Athenian and Phoenician coins, and depicted typical Greek and oriental symbols. (B)

The first Jewish coins, dated about 350 B.C., depict owls, imitating Athenian coins, but with Hebrew inscriptions, such as YHD (Yehud or Yehuda)—the Persian-Aramaic name for the Persian satrapy of Judaea. The only Jewish symbol on these coins is the lily, characteristic of Jewish art in Jerusalem and a frequent design used in the Temple. This symbol either replaces the olive branch depicted near the owl of the Greek coins or stands as the main design.

Although local mints in the Holy Land produced many coins, the principal coinage in use during the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. came from Phoenicia. These Phoenician coins were struck in Sidon and Tyre. Most popular were silver coins weighing 28 grams and 12 grams; however, Athenian silver tetradrachmas weighing 16 grams were also widely used. These three coins comprised the large denominations. Coins of smaller value came from local mints, principally Gaza and Jerusalem. These smaller local coins varied from 1 drachma (4 grams of silver) down to the smallest denomination, the hemiobol (1/3 gram of silver).

#17 Shanks, H. (Ed.). (1993). BAR 19:05 (Sep/Oct 1993).

In Biblical times, there were two standards, or systems, of weight: Babylonian and Phoenician. Both used “heavy” and “light” sets of weights. The heavy ones weighed approximately twice as much as their lighter counterparts. The Babylonian system also included “royal” heavy and light weights, which weighed more than their common counterparts.

The Bible mentions a number of weight units—the kesitah, kikar (talent), shekel, beqa, mina (maneh), gerah and pim. Very little is known about the kesitah although it is mentioned three times in the Bible (Genesis 33:19; Joshua 24:32; Job 42:11). The kikar is mentioned several times. From Exodus 38:25–26, which lists the donations given to the Tabernacle, it is possible to calculate that one kikar equaled 3,000 shekels: “The silver of those of the community who were recorded came to 100 talents [kikar] and 1,775 shekels by the sanctuary weight: a half-shekel a head, half a shekel by the sanctuary weight, for each one who was entered in the records, from the age of twenty years upward, 603,550 men.”

The mina is mentioned only once in the Bible. King Solomon made “200 shields of beaten gold 600 shekels of gold to each shield—and 300 shields of beaten gold—three minas of gold to each shield” (1 Kings 10:16–17).

The shekel is the most frequently mentioned unit in the Bible. The Israelite shekel probably weighed about 11.4 grams or 0.4 ounces, making its weight roughly equivalent to an American half dollar. The prophet Amos preached against “You who trample upon the needy, … saying ‘When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain? And the sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale, that we may make the ephah [volume measure] small and the shekel great, and deal deceitfully with false balances … and sell the refuse of the wheat?’” (Amos 8:4–6).

The beqa, which was half a shekel, is mentioned twice in the Bible, in Exodus 38:26 and in Genesis 24:22, where Abraham’s servant meets Rebekah, who offers to water his camels, and “When the camels had done drinking, the man took a gold ring weighing a beqa, and two bracelets for her arms weighing ten gold shekels.”

The smallest unit was the gerah. Ten gerahs made a beqa and 20 gerahs equaled a shekel, as we learn from the instructions for the Israelite census in Exodus 30:13: “This is what everyone who is entered in the records shall pay: a half-shekel by the sanctuary weight—twenty gerahs to the shekel—a half-shekel as an offering to the Lord.”

Sometimes weights found at archaeological sites can illuminate the meaning of a Biblical term. A case in point is that of the pim, a Hebrew word whose modern translation was changed entirely by an archaeological discovery. The word pim makes only one appearance in the Hebrew Bible, in I Samuel 13:21, which describes the uneasy relationship between the Israelites and the Philistines. Since 1611, when the King James Version of the Bible translated the word pim as “file,” most English-speaking readers have understood this passage to read: “ … there was no smith found throughout all the land of Israel: for the Philistines said, Lest the Hebrews make them swords or spears: But all the Israelites went down to the Philistines, to sharpen every man his share, and his courter, and his axe, and his mattock. Yet they had a file [Hebrew pim] for the mattocks, and for the courters, and for the forks, and for the axes, and to sharpen the goads” ( I Samuel 13:19–21, King James Version). The pim was understood to be a file to sharpen tools.

When coins became the conventional method of payment in the ancient world, they were usually minted only by independent states. In special cases of limited autonomy, as for example in Israel during the Persian period, rulers sometimes granted local authorities under their control permission to mint coins.

The earliest coins had images on only one side, but by the middle of the sixth century B.C.E. the Athenians were issuing coins with images on both the front (obverse) and back (reverse). Other states soon followed suit.

Most ancient coins were produced by a process called striking. First a craftsman engraved the patterns for both sides on pieces of hard metal. The engraved pieces of metal are known as “dies.” (The Greeks used hard bronze for dies; iron was first used for dies in Roman times.) Then the craftsman set the obverse die into an anvil and inserted a piece of metal called a blank. This became the coin on top of the die. Then he put the end of the metal bar bearing the reverse die on top of the blank and struck the other end of the bar with a sledgehammer. The process of striking coins offered many opportunities for error and consequently the quality of ancient coins varied greatly.

The first coins bearing Hebrew script date from the fifth century B.C.E. and are inscribed with the word beqa. In the fourth century B.C.E. small coins with the inscription yehud, the name of Israel while it was a province under Persian rule, were minted. Both the beqa and the yehud coins were minted by permission of the Persians.

#18 Shanks, H. (Ed.). (2003). BAR 29:03 (May/June 2003).

Before 333 B.C.E.

First Coin from Jerusalem

Material: Silver

Denomination: Hemi-Obol

Size: 1/4 inch in diameter

This silver “YHD” coin was the first to be minted in Jerusalem. “YHD,” at upper right on the reverse (back) side of the coin above, is the consonantal spelling of Yehud, the Persian name for the province of Judea. (The Persians ruled Judea from 538 B.C.E., when they defeated the Babylonians, until 333 B.C.E., when Alexander the Great swept through the Near East.) Because the “YHD” coins are very small, it seems likely that they were struck in Jerusalem by local Jewish authorities, though at the direction of the Persians. (If the Persians themselves had minted them, they almost certainly would have issued larger coins as well.) The known examples are all tiny (about 1/4 inch in diameter, only half the size of a dime) and were worth one-twelfth of a drachm; a skilled craftsman earned about a drachm a day.

305 B.C.E.

First Royal Portrait

Material: Silver

Denomination: Tetradrachm

Size:1 inch in diameter

Alexander the Great, the mightiest military leader the ancient world had ever seen, brought an end to Persian rule over Judea when he defeated King Darius in 333 B.C.E. at Issus, in modern Turkey. Following Alexander’s sudden death in 323 B.C.E. a power struggle arose in the eastern Mediterranean. In 305 B.C.E. Ptolemy, a former general under Alexander who had established himself as satrap of Egypt, assumed the title basileus, “king.” The first in Egypt’s long line of Greek monarchs (all of whom were called Ptolemy), he gained control of Judea in 301 B.C.E.

Ptolemy I was the first ruler of Judea to place his own portrait on his coins (some numismatists believe he was the first person ever to mint a coin with his own likeness). The silver tetradrachm (four-drachm coin) shown here, from 305 B.C.E., depicts Ptolemy I wearing a diadem, or royal headband

130 B.C.E.

First Jewish Coin From Jerusalem


Denomination: Prutah

Size:1/2 inch in diameter

The coin shown here is the first coin to be minted by a Jewish government in Jerusalem. Issued by John Hyrcanus I, the High Priest (the title used by the highest governing Hasmonean authority at the time), it evokes the glories of ages past. (The name Hasmonean comes from an ancestor of Mattathias.) The coin was worth one prutah; a loaf of bread cost ten prutot. The obverse bears a legend in paleo-Hebrew script, the script used before the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E. It reads: “Yehohanan [John] the High Priest and the Council of the Jews.” The use of pre-Exilic (before the Babylonian Exile) script was deliberately anachronistic, hearkening back to the days of Israel’s glory.

103 B.C.E.

First Bilingual Jewish Coin

Material: Bronze

Denomination: Prutah

Size: 6/10 inch in diamter

This coin was minted by the Hasmonean ruler Alexander Jannaeus (103–76 B.C.E.), son of John Hyrcanus I, who during his reign gained control of most of the territory of the ancient Davidic kingdom. Like the preceding Hasmonean coin, this one, too, was worth one prutah.

87/86 B.C.E.

First Temple Tax Coin

Material: Silver

Denomination: Half-Shekel

Size: 8/10 inch in diameter

In the mid-second century B.C.E., the Hasmoneans formalized the payment of an annual Temple tax based on the requirement in Exodus 30:13 that “Each one… is to give a half shekel, according to the sanctuary weight… This half shekel is an offering to the Lord.” The first coin to be specified as acceptable payment for this tax—levied on all Jewish males over the age of 20 in Israel and abroad—was the so-called “Shekel of Tyre.”

The example shown at left, a silver coin over 8/10 inch in diameter and dating from 87/86 B.C.E., displays on the obverse a bust of Melqart, the god of the Phoenician city of Tyre, who wears a crown of laurel, and on the reverse, an eagle perching on a ship’s prow

5 C.E.

First Jewish Self-Portrait

Material: Bronze

Denomination: Not known

Size: 8/10 inch in diameter

Philip (4 B.C.E.-34 C.E.), a son of Herod the Great and the first husband of the infamous dancer Salome, became Roman client ruler over the Galilee after his father’s death.

Philip was the first Jewish ruler of Judea to mint a coin bearing a depiction of himself. Because of the Biblical commandment against “graven images,” Jewish rulers generally did not place images of people or animals on their coinage. Herod Philip’s realm, however, included a large non-Jewish Syrian population, who would not be offended.

The Herod Philip self-portraits are extremely rare; the example shown here bears the head of Philip surrounded by the legend, in Greek, “Of Philip the Tetrarch” (provincial governor). The reverse depicts a four-column temple with the Greek words for Caesar Augustus.

68 C.E.

First Silver Jewish Coin

Material: Silver

Denomination: Shekel

Size: 8/10 inch in diameter

The First Jewish Revolt against Rome (66–70 C.E.), mounted by a disparate band of insurgent groups, posed a grave challenge to Roman authority for four years. The rebels struck a symbolic blow against their oppressors by minting a coin made of precious metal—the first silver Jewish coin. This “Shekel of Israel,” struck during the second year of the Revolt, displays on the obverse what is thought to be an Omer Cup, a ceremonial vessel used in the Temple for holding fruits and grain. The reverse depicts three pomegranates possibly attached to the top of a staff (like the ivory pomegranate possibly from Solomon’s Temple).

69 C.E.

Judæa Capta Coin

Material: Bronze

Denomination: Sestertius

Size: 7/10 inch in diameter

The First Jewish Revolt was largely crushed by the Roman army under the leadership of Vespasian, who served first as the Roman commander in Judea and then as emperor from 69 to 79 C.E. Beginning in his first year as emperor, Vespasian minted a series of victory coins; among these is the first coin to bear the word Judaea in the legend. (The coin shown here was struck in 71 C.E.) Vespasian’s bronze sestertius (a quarter of a denarius) bears a portrait of the laurel-wreathed emperor with the Latin legend “Imp[erator] Caes[ar] Vespas[ia]n Aug[ustus],” “Leader Caesar Vespasian Augustus” (the last word is a title meaning “revered”). On the other side is a haunting picture of a Roman soldier dominating a captive woman slumped beside a palm tree.

70 C.E.

Rare Year 5 of Revolt Coin

Material: Silver

Denomination: Shekel

Size: 8/10 inch in diameter

As the preceding coin shows, already in 69 C.E. the Romans had the upper hand in suppressing the Jewish Revolt. Nonetheless, even in 70 C.E., the Revolt’s fifth year, some rebels were continuing to hold out. The best known among them were the rebels at Masada, the mountaintop palace and fortress built by Herod the Great. As this rare Year 5 coin shows, the Jewish rebels were still minting coins even at this late stage of the rebellion. Yigael Yadin, who excavated Masada in the 1960s, found 17 Revolt coins in one hoard, including three Year 5 coins (only six other Year 5 coins had been previously found). Yadin’s finds were the first Revolt coins to be discovered in a controlled archaeological excavation.

The Year 5 coin shown here depicts on its front a chalice with the words “Shekel of Israel” and the letters shin and heh, abbreviations for “Year 5.” On the reverse are pomegranates surrounded by the words “Jerusalem the Holy.”

132 C.E.

First Bar-Kokhba Coin

Material: Silver

Denomination: Sela

Size: 1 inch in diameter

Sixty-two years after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, Shimon Bar-Kokhba (or Kosiba, as we know from contemporaneous inscriptions) led the Second Jewish Revolt against Rome (often called the Bar-Kokhba Revolt). The new revolutionary government, like the one that had seized power two generations before, immediately minted silver coinage. Their large silver sela coin (like the shekel, equal to four Roman denarii), struck in Year 3 of the Revolt, or 134 C.E., features the façade of the destroyed Jerusalem Temple, with perhaps the Ark of the Covenant visible within. The legend “Simon” (Shimon in Hebrew) refers to Bar-Kokhba. The reverse depicts a lulav and etrog, fruit and branches used in the Jewish festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles). About a decade before the Bar-Kokhba Revolt, the yearly rent on a house with a farm was ten selas.

A close look at the reverse reveals the ghostly outline of what looks like an imperial head (the nose points to 4 o’clock). In fact, the head is that of Vespasian; his surprising reappearance here is due to the fact that the Bar-Kokhba rebels used circulating Roman currency as “blanks” for their own coins.