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Weekly Highlights

Judaean Coinage

Judaean Coinage (Jewish coins)

The region of ancient Judaea was witness to many different rulers over the centuries, at times being brought under control at great expense. Originally part of the Kingdom of Israel from 11th Century BC to 930 BC, the timeline of the rule of Judaea looks like this:

930 BC to 586 BC – Kingdom of Judah
586 BC to 539 BC – Babylonian Empire
539 BC to 332 BC – Persian Empire
332 BC to 305 BC – Macedonian Kingdom
305 BC to 198 BC – Ptolemaic Kingdom
198 BC to 141 BC – Seleukid Kingdom
141 BC to 63 BC – Hasmonean Kingdom
63 BC to 37 BC – Hasmonean Kingdom as client state of Rome
37 BC to 132 AD – Herodian Kingdom as client state of Rome
132 AD to 135 AD – Bar Kokhba Revolt
135 AD – Merged with Roman province of Syria and the region renamed Syria Palestina

The Kingdom of Judah was sparsely populated and likely just relied on trade, but the capital of Jerusalem was growing and a large administrative center, prospering through the lucrative olive trade with the Assyrian Empire. The Assyrians didn’t produce coins, but later entities would use one of their most recognizable motifs – the lamassu (winged lion or ox body with human head). The Babylonians laid siege to Jerusalem in 587 BC and took over the following year. The Babylonians didn’t mint their own coins either, but during their occupation of Judaea, the coins of the Persian Empire did circulate. The first coins mentioned in the Old Testament are gold darics under the Great Kings of Persia. After the collapse of the Chaldean Dynasty of the Babylonian Empire in 539 BC, Judaea was absorbed into the Persian/Achaemenid Empire.

After Alexander the Great invaded the Achaemenid Empire and defeated Darius III, his Macedonian Empire stretched from the Adriadic Sea to the Indus River. Alexander left many of the people in place who served under King Darius, so the coinage which circulated in Judaea at that time would likely have been from Alexander’s mint at his royal seat in Babylon, where Mazaios was Satrap, and then appointed Governor after surrendering the city to Alexander.

Alexander died in Babylon in 323 BC and brought the birth of the Ptolemaic Kingdom in Egypt under Ptolemy I Soter, who declared himself pharaoh in 305 BC as the remainder of the Macedonian Kingdom disintegrated though the Wars of the Diadochi. Ptolemy expanded his domain from Egypt to include Libya, Coele-Syria (including Judaea) and Cyprus. Under the Ptolemies, Judaean coinage was struck with Aramaic legends.

The Seleukids, under Antiochus III the Great, launched the Fifth Syrian War and wrested control of Coele-Syria from Ptolemy V at the Battle of Panium. Although coins were struck in Jerusalem during the Seleukid control from 198 to 141 BC, there are no mint marks definitively attributable to that mint and coins from Ascalon and other Judaean regional cities were in use there.

Once the Hasmonean Kingdom was established as a vassal state to the Seleukid Empire, we finally see an extensive output of coinage specifically attributable to the mint in Jerusalem and to each ruler. This would continue through the Herodian Kingdom and would include one of the most famous biblical coins minted – the “Widow’s Mite”. Although Judaea would be a province under the Roman Empire, the Herodian Kingdom would continue semi-autonomously, Rome would begin appointing a procurator in 44 AD to rule side by side in the area. One of the other most famous biblical coins produced would also come from this period – the “Tribute Penny”, most likely a denarius under emperor Tiberius. Jews were required to pay a temple tax toward the upkeep of the temple according to the New Testament. That tax was paid in silver shekels and half shekels produced in the Roman province of Phoenicia, in the city of Tyre. Those same Tyrian shekels are likely the “30 pieces of silver” paid to Judas to betray Jesus.

Two major revolts broke out during Roman rule of the area. The first, from 66-70 and the second from 132-135. The first was crushed by Vespasian and Titus and the second by Hadrian. The first produced the very popular “Judaea Capta” series of Roman Imperial coins and the second the Jewish “Bar Kokhba” rebellion coins. Hadrian’s travel series to the provinces, including Ivdaea, were produced before the final rebellion which would result in the name of Jerusalem being changed to Aelia Capitolina and the province to Syria Palaestina.

Here is just a sample of the many hundreds of Judaean coins we currently have at VCoins:

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