Attribution of a Hasmonaean coin

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Jochen1, Dec 1, 2020.

  1. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    Dear Friends of ancient coins!

    I have taken a certain affection for the small Hasmonean coins because of the writing of their legends. I love to decipher them, and I consider it a kind of crossword puzzle, where I am always intellectually satisfied when I finally come to a solution. Here I will describe how I determined the coin I put in my collection yesterday. This is not an essay for a specialist or someone who is familiar with or speaks Hebrew. It is intended for an interested layman like myself. And maybe it is a help for one or the other. These coins are relatively cheap, interesting and you can spend a long time with them. But first some information about the Hasmoneans.

    (1) The Hasmoneans
    The Hasmoneans are the dynasty of the Priestly Kings of Mattatias, who ruled Judaea from 135-37 B.C., after they had resisted the Hellenistic religious reform of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The dynasty was finally replaced by Herod the Great. The name itself goes back to Josephus, De Bello Judaico. In the Bible we know them as Maccabees. They introduced as scripture the ancient Hebrew that the Jews had written in their Babylonian captivity to show that they felt obliged to the old tradition. The Greeks, by the way, did a similar thing after they regained their independence in 1830. They too wanted to continue their old, heroic times.

    (2) The Ethnarchs
    At that time there were 5 ethnarchs, a kind of priestly king:
    Yehochanan ( John Hyrcanus I.), 135-104 B.C.
    Yehudah (Judah Aristobulus I.), 104-103 B.C.
    Yehonatan (Alexander Jannaeus), 103-76 B.C.
    Yonatan (John Hyrcanus II.), 67, 63-40 b.Chr.
    Mattatayah (Mattathias Antigonus) 40-37 B.C.

    (3) The writing
    Some words about the Hasmoneans' writing on their coins. This is only found here and on the scrolls of the Essenes of Qumran. This is a strong argument for the fact that these scrolls were created under John Hyrcanus II (Yonatan). As already mentioned, for political reasons the Hasmoneans used an otherwise unusual proto-Hebrew script, which is better described as Old Aramaic. It is known from a dedicatory inscription of King Panammu of Hadad from the 1st half of the 8th century B.C. It still had many similarities with the Phoenician, from which, as is well known, all alphabet scripts in the world originated. It must be said, however, that it was indeed Aramaic which then ensured that the alphabet scripts spread as far as India.

    The script on the Hasmonean coins is commonly referred to as Paleo-Hebrew. In numismatic books, e.g. by Meshorer, the legends are written in modern Hebrew. To decipher them, it is a good idea to have a table of both Paleo-Hebrew and New Hebrew letters to the side. As always, writing is from right to left!
    Above Paleo-Hebrew, below bold New Hebrew

    (4) The coin
    Judaea, Prutah, 2.91g, 14mm



    The legend (slightly corrected after determination)

    (5) Determination of the ethnarch
    The determination of the name is a little more difficult only with the first four. But all of them have peculiarities in their names that are actually easy to recognise.

    Yehochanan is the only one with a Chet ח in its name. That should be noticeable. After that he has 2 Nun חנן. This combination should be recognizable, especially if the nuns consist of only one line.

    Yehonatan and Yonatan both have the NTN נתך in their names, which should be easy to recognise by the cross of the Tav ת framed by the two Nuns, if you just look for it. In Yonatan there are only 2 letters in front of it, but in Yehonatan there are 3 letters, of which the striking He ה should catch the eye.

    The legend on our coin starts with N(Ch)WHY יהוחנ, so it is Yehochanan (John Hyrcanus I).

    (6) Deciphering the legend
    Now we come to the legend. It always starts with the name of the ruler we have already found. Then come the titles to which he is entitled (remember that the reading direction is from right to left!):

    NHK (Kohen = priest), sometimes with article He ה as NHKH, followed by LDG (Gadol = high), also here sometimes with article as LDGH.

    RB(Ch) (Chaber = council), where the Chet ח is the most striking letter, which thus shows the way through the letters of the legend like a lighthouse. Usually connected with Wav ו ("and") as RB(Ch)W

    Finally MDY, sometimes also MDWY (Yehudim = the Jews), also with article as MDYH. This part is always in the last line and is often mutilated, especially if the flan is very small.

    First we count the lines and the number of letters in each line, sometimes the result has to be corrected during new findings in the attribution. We now come to 4 lines with 5, 6, 6(?) and 4 letters each:
    2. GHNHKH
    3. [R]B(Ch)HLD
    4. DHYH
    The most striking thing about this coin is that the middle line of the chet is not horizontal as usual, but vertical. This can help us to determine the exact reference

    (7) Finding a reference
    Unfortunately I only own the two books by Meshorer "Ancient Jewish Coinage (AJC)" and "A Treasury of Jewish Coins (TJC)". In addition to this, by Ostermann "Die Münzen der Hasmonäer", which contains a useful concordance. The Hebrew course of Salem Alshdaifat , which I can only recommend, has always helped me in the Forum Ancient Coins.

    When searching through the picture plates in AJC, the striking Chet can be found in group Nc. In the list of legends we see that there the first line always has 6 letters. This means that on our coin the second Nun is difficult to recognize, because it is fused with the leaves of the wreath. So we have to correct the 1st line to NN(Ch)WHY with now also shows 6 letters.

    In front of the RB(Ch) is usually a Wav ו as "and", RB(Ch)W. On our coin, however, there is a He ה for the article "the" at this point. So now we will search for RB(CH)H in the list of legends and find it at AJC from Nc1:

    (1) NN(Ch)WHY ok! (Last N in the laurel wreath!)
    (2) GHNHKH ok!
    (3) RB(Ch)HLD ok!
    (4) DHYH ok!
    (5) MY (this could also be present on our coin, even if a little bit smudged).

    Then it would be now altogether 5 lines with 6, 6, 6, 4 and 2 letters
    2. GHNHKH
    3. [R]B(Ch)HLD
    4. DHYH
    The most striking thing about this coin is that the middle line of the chet is not horizontal as usual, but vertical. This can help us to determine the exact reference

    (8 ) Complete description:
    Judaea, John Hyrcanus I (Yehochanan), 135-104 BC
    AE - Prutah, 2.91g, 14mm
    struck in Jerusalem
    Obv.: Paleo-Hebrew legend in 5 lines in laurel wreath:
    6 / 6 / 6 / 4 / 2 = 24 letters!
    1. [N]N(Ch)WHY (Last N in the laurel wreath!)
    2. GHNHKH
    3. RB(Ch)HLD
    4. DHYH
    5. [MY]
    = יהוחנן / הכהןהג / דלהחבר / היהד / ימ

    from right to left:
    YHW(Ch)NN / H KHN H G / DL H (Ch)BR / H YHD / YM
    = Yehochanan Ha Kohen Ha Gadol Ha Chaber Ha Ye[hu]dim
    = Yehochanan, the Priest, the High, the Council of the Jews
    Rev.: Double Cornucopiae, coming from a floral base, filled with fruits and one cereal ear each, decorated with hanging ribbons, between a pomegranate with long stem, all in a dotted circle
    Ref.: Hendin GBC 455-457; AJC Nc2; TJC -
    Not common, almost VF, dark green patina, legends complete and clear, striking the chet with the vertical middle line, rev. excentric

    (1) Ya'akov Meshorer, Ancient Jewish Coins (AJC), 1982
    (2) Ya'akov Meshorer, A Treasury of Jewish Coins (TJC), 2001
    (3) Siegfried Ostermann, Die Münzen der Hasmonäer, 2005
    (4) Harald Haarmann, Universalgeschichte der Schrift, 1990
    (5) Der Kleine Pauly, 1979

    Online Sources:
    (1) Salem Alshdaifat (Forum Ancient Coins)
    (3) Wikipedia

    Best regards
    DEA, PeteB, Curtisimo and 5 others like this.
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  3. Andres2

    Andres2 Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the write up Jochen, nice colourfull prutah

    Hope I got the description right for mine:

    lepton prutah (2).jpg
  4. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    How did you attribute this coin to Hyrcanus II? Without being able to read at least parts of the name, I would have my difficulties with it.

    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
  5. Andres2

    Andres2 Well-Known Member

    Jochen, The Royal Dutch Mint issued this small wooden case with 8 Biblical coins, inside is a booklet with the descriptions of the coins.


    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Absolutely brilliant writeup, @Jochen1 ...and the coin isn't bad, either! I can only wish I could approach this stuff with your depth. ...I have one Maccabean lepton, and one from the First Revolt; until I know any more than I do about them, that's good enough. ....Wait a minute; maybe I do, now!
    Jochen1 likes this.
  7. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo the Great(ish) Supporter

    Great thread @Jochen1 . I love Hasmonean coins and happily they are not particularly expensive. My first relatively lengthy write up on CT was about my favorite Hasmonean coin.

    The First Jewish Coin and its Modern Descendent
    Hasmonean Dynasty of Judea
    John Hyrcanus I, 134-104 BC
    AE Prutah, Jerusalem mint, struck ca. 129-122 BC
    Wt.: 1.82 g
    Dia.: 15 mm
    Obv.: Paleo-Hebrew inscription in wreath; Greek letter alpha above
    Rev.: Double cornucopia with a pomegranate between horns
    Ref.: Hendin 1132
    PeteB, Johndakerftw, Andres2 and 2 others like this.
  8. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    @Curtisimo A beautiful coin with full legends

    +VGO.DVCKS and Curtisimo like this.
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