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