World Coins

Silver coin hoard found in Israel

A small cache of silver coins recently found in Israel offers a fascinating look into life during the second century B.C.

The hoard contains 16 silver shekels and half-shekels (tetradrachms and didrachms) that were minted in the city of Tyre and bear the images of the king, Antiochus VII, and his brother Demetrius II. 

The hoard was found in April with the participation of local youth during construction of a new neighborhood in the Modi‘in-Maccabim-Re‘ut municipality. The Israel Antiquities Authority announced the find in early June. 

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Ancient Modiin was the place of origin of the Jewish Hasmonean dynasty that ruled Judea for 227 years from 163 B.C. to 63 A.D. and is where the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid Greeks started.

Soldiers of Antiochus came to Modiin to force the local Jews to make sacrifice to the heathen gods and forsake their laws, according to David Hendin in Guide to Biblical Coins

According to a statement from IAA excavation director Avraham Tendler released by the organization, “The cache may have belonged to a Jew who hid his money in the hope of coming back to collect it, but he was unlucky and never did return.”

The treasure was hidden in a rock crevice, up against a wall on an impressive agricultural estate that was discovered during the excavation there. 

What is in the hoard?

According to Tendler, the cache is “compelling evidence that one of the members of the estate who had saved his income for months needed to leave the house for some unknown reason. ... It is exciting to think that the coin hoard was waiting here 2,140 years until we exposed it.”

The cache contains one or two coins from every year between 135 and 126 B.C., a collection familiar to modern day hobbyists. 

According to Dr. Donald Tzvi Ariel, the head of the Coin Department at the Israel Antiquities Authority, “It seems that some thought went into collecting the coins, and it is possible that the person who buried the cache was a coin collector. He acted in just the same way as stamp and coin collectors manage collections today.” 

“Numerous” bronze coins minted by the Hasmonean kings were also discovered in the excavation. They bear the names of the kings such as Yehohanan, Judah, Jonathan or Mattathias and the title High Priest and Head of the Council of the Jews. 

The site of the find had been an agricultural estate founded by a Jewish family during the Hasmonean period, according to a description provided by the IAA. 

Where was the hoard?

The family planted olive trees and vineyards on the neighboring hills and grew grain in valleys. An industrial area that includes an olive press and storehouses where the olive oil was kept is currently being uncovered next to the estate. Dozens of rock-hewn winepresses were exposed in the cultivation plots next to the estate. The estate house was built of massive walls in order to provide security from the attacks of bandits. 

The finds indicate that the estate continued to operate throughout the Early Roman period. The Jewish inhabitants of the estate meticulously adhered to the laws of ritual purity and impurity: they installed ritual baths (miqwe’ot or miqwe) in their settlement and used vessels made of chalk, which according to Jewish law cannot become ritually unclean.

Why does it matter?

Evidence discovered at the site suggests that the residents of the estate also participated in the first revolt against the Romans that broke out in 66 A.D.: the coins that were exposed from this period are stamped with the date “Year Two” of the revolt and the slogan “Freedom of Zion.” 

The estate continued to operate even after the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., and remained occupied through the Bar Kokhba War from 132 to 136 A.D. 

“It seems that local residents did not give up hope of gaining their independence from Rome, and they were well-prepared to fight the enemy during the Bar Kokhba uprising,” Tendler said. “During the excavation we saw how prior to the uprising the inhabitants of the estate filled the living rooms next to the outer wall of the building with large stones, thus creating a fortified barrier.”

Tendler singled out additional hiding places that were discovered hewn in the bedrock beneath the floors of the estate house. These refuge complexes were connected by means of tunnels between water cisterns, storage pits and hidden rooms. This construction allowed stealthiness for Jews in the Bar Kokhba War. 

Archaeologists discovered a miqwe containing an opening inside it that led to an extensive hiding refuge in which numerous artifacts were found that date to the time of the Bar Kokhba uprising, according to Tendler. 

Finds revealed in the excavation will be preserved in an archaeological park in the new neighborhood, according to the IAA. 

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