Featured The First Jewish Coin and its Modern Descendent

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Curtisimo, Mar 13, 2017.

  1. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo the Great Supporter

    A recent trip to Israel got me interested in researching some of the numismatic history of the region. I acquired the excellent coin shown below from @red_spork after my attempts to import a similar example were thwarted at customs. Long Post Warning!

    Obverse: Paleo-Hebrew inscription in wreath; Greek letter alpha above

    Reverse: Double cornucopia with a pomegranate between horns

    Coinage has a long history in Judea dating back to the time of the Persian Empire when a Jewish mint was allowed to operate with the permission of Persian officials. Many of the earliest coins of this period are imitations of other common Mediterranean types such as the Persian “Archer” and the Athenian “Owl” [1]. These coins often bear the letters “YHD” (Yehud=Judah) and contain local design elements such as the pomegranate or lily to refer to Judah or Jerusalem. Later, under Greek control, the region minted coins in the name of Alexander the Great, the Ptolemys of Egypt and finally the Seluecids of Syria. A transitional style of coinage was issued in Jerusalem in the name of the Seleucid ruler during the brief period ca. 130 BC when the Hasmonean kingdom was brought back into Seleucid control during the early reign of John Hyrcanus I [2].

    So why do I say that the above is the first truly Jewish coin? Well, the Prutahs of John Hyrcanus I are the first coins issued by a Jewish ruler in his own name and are notable in that they depict imagery sensitive to Jewish customs [2] [5]. The coins lack any depictions of humans or animals which indicates they were designed with the Jewish prohibition against graven images in mind. The obverse inscription reads as follows;
    John Hyrcanus was the nephew of the Jewish leader Judas Maccabaeus, who is famous for cleansing the Temple of Jerusalem during the Maccabean Revolt in an event that is celebrated with the festival of Hanukkah. The family of Judas, known collectively as the Hasmoneans, would serve as religious and secular leaders in Judea for over a century. The above inscription seems to indicate that Hyrcanus derived his power from his religious responsibilities and partially shared his secular authority with a Jewish council. His son Aristobolus, would later be accused of starving his own mother to death in a bid to take the title of king, or “basileus,” outright [3]. One interesting item to note is the inclusion of the Greek letter alpha at the top of the inscription on some of these coin types which we will discuss a bit more below.

    During the latter part of his reign, John Hyrcanus would be responsible for an impressive expansion of Judean territory in the region. The below map shows the major military expeditions that were executed under his leadership. His conquest of the region known as Idumea to the south of Jerusalem marks the first instance in recorded history of non-Jews being converted to Judaism [3].
    While the later years of his reign were marked by a great deal of success and expansion, the same cannot be said of his early reign. In order to understand the challenges of these early years and why it is so amazing that he was able to mint his own coins at all (and why they are all a fractional bronze type) it is necessary to introduce you to another member of my collection; Antiochos VII Sidetes.
    Antiochos VII Sidetes, AR Tetradrachm (28mm, 13.74 g) dated SE 182 (131/0 BC). Tyre mint

    Obverse: Diadem and draped bust right

    Reverse: Eagle standing left on prow; palm frond behind; club and Tyre monogram at left, date at right.

    Anthiochos VII is considered the last great Seleucid ruler (138 – 129 BC) for his efforts to stabilize the fragmenting Seleucid Empire. In the year 132 BC he turned his attention to Judea in an effort to reassert Seleucid authority over the rebellious kingdom. He laid a devastating siege to Jerusalem in that year and many signs of this struggle are still visible in Jerusalem to this day as you can see from the following images.
    Model of Jerusalem from the later Herodian period showing the location of the temple and the Hasmonean Era fortress
    Panorama of Jerusalem’s Old City taken from the Tower of David. The former site of the temple is near the Dome of the Rock in the right background
    Tower of David, Jerusalem – Site of a Hasmonean Era fortress showing the location of the original walls
    Ballista balls used to attack the walls during the Seige of Jerusalem (132 BC) – Depiction of a Greek ballista of the type used during the siege
    Me at the temple mount in front of the architecturally significant Dome of the Rock – Near the site of the Second Temple which was the source of Hasmonean authority

    According to the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, in order to lift the siege and spare the city, John Hyrcanus I was forced to destroy parts of the city walls, pay ongoing tribute to the Seleucids, offer up hostages, agree to assist in fighting the Parthians and to pay an enormous ransom of 3000 talents of silver [3]. This was a huge blow to the Judean economy and even necessitated taking silver from the tomb of King David according to Josephus [3]. How much is 3000 talents? Assuming that Josephus’s description is referring to something close to an Attic talent you can multiply a 1000 oz silver bar (roughly 120% of a talent) by 2,508 and you start to get the idea. That is enough silver to completely fill a room that is 8’x8’x8½’ or more than the maximum weight of 2 fully loaded 18 wheelers or a fully armored M1 Abrams Tank. In today’s silver market it would be worth about $45.3 million.

    The devastating loss of silver resources after the siege may have led the Judeans to continue coining fractional bronze denominations instead of issuing their own silver shekels. Interestingly, the Antiochus VII tetradrachm shown above was minted in Tyre just after the siege and it is interesting to speculate that it may have been struck with silver acquired from the siege. In the decades and centuries that followed, the famous Shekels of Tyre would become the dominant silver piece in the region and a Jewish silver coin would not materialize until AD 66 during the Jewish Revolt [2]. It wasn’t until after the death of Antiochos VII at the hands of the Parthians ca. 129 BC that Judea would be able to reassert its independence and begin minting its own bronze coinage. It has been speculated that the Greek letter “A” on the obverse of some of the John Hyrcanus prutahs may be a reference to an alliance with a pretender to the Seleucid throne by the name of Alexander Zabinas [4] [5]. This alliance would have made sense to the Hasmoneans as it was in their best interest to help foster the civil strife that exploded within the Seleucid Empire upon the death of Antiochos VII.

    In 2007 the government of Israel decided to pay homage to the design of the intriguing coins of John Hyrcanus I with the issue of the 2 NIS coin shown below. It has a few bumps and scratches but as a common circulating coin that is interesting only for the design I like being able to say I pulled it from circulation in its country of origin.
    Israel 2 New Sheqalim (NIS) – 2009

    Obverse: Double cornucopia filled with fruit and grain, pomegranate between; pearls around top half; State symbol above.

    Reverse: Words 2 New Sheqalim and Israel written in Hebrew, Arabic and English; Date in Hebrew; Pearls around top half.

    So what do you all think of my newest acquisitions? I think there is a lot of room for fun posts on this one but I’ll make a few suggestions. Post your;

    · Coins that are the first of their kind!

    · Coins from Judea! Looking at you @Deacon Ray

    · Coins from the late Seleucid Empire!

    · Ancient/Modern design pairs!

    · Anything you want! Anything at all!

    [1] http://www.muenze-und-macht.at/showcases/showcase1?language=en

    [2] http://www.mefacts.com/cache/html/israel/10080.htm

    [3] http://sacred-texts.com/jud/josephus/

    [4] http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/hasmonean-macabbean-coins

    [5] http://coinproject.com/jan/volume1/issue1/volume1-1-3.html

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  3. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo the Great Supporter

    I also thought you all might enjoy a few additional photos and some numismatic related bonus items from my trip!
    Western Wall Complex
    Coins discovered as part of the Ophel excavation effort to the south of the Temple Mount displayed in the Ophel Archeological Museum, Jerusalem.

    A multitude of coins from Roman down to modern times were on display at the museum located near the Ophel excavations just south of the temple mount (my apologies for the poor photo). The item that I found most interesting, however, was not even a coin but a seal of the biblical king Hezekiah (ca. 739-687 BC).
    Seal Impression of King Hezekiah (739-687 BC) on display at the Ophel Archeological Museum, Jerusalem

    It’s easy to get turned around in the maze of the archeological park but I believe I managed to find the location of the Chief Baker’s building and the site where the seal was found.
    The remains of the royal building are in the foreground of the above photo. In the background under the modern walkway is the refuse dump where the seal was found. I find it pretty ironic that 2,700 years ago someone considered the seal worthless enough to throw away and yet today it is a priceless piece of history.
  4. paddyman98

    paddyman98 ++++PLUS ULTRA++++ Supporter

    @Curtisimo - Amazing thread! Thanks for sharing!!! Shalom
    @Deacon Ray - Thought of you when I saw this interesting thread
    Deacon Ray and Curtisimo like this.
  5. alde

    alde Always Learning Supporter

    Thank you for the very informative posts and photos. I love the pictures of the historic sites. It's on my bucket list to get to some ancient site's in Europe or the Holy Land.
    Smojo, Deacon Ray and Curtisimo like this.
  6. Orfew

    Orfew Supporter! Supporter

    Great post! I really enjoyed both the writeup and the photos.
    Curtisimo likes this.
  7. Johndoe2000$

    Johndoe2000$ RE-MEMBER

    Excellent post, and pics.
    Curtisimo likes this.
  8. stevex6

    stevex6 Random Mayhem

    Ahahaha, Curtisimo ... you're so fat, old and out of shape!! (I'm surprised you have the energy to collect ancient coins!!)



    => congrats ... coin-on!! (thanks for the write-up)
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2017
    Curtisimo likes this.
  9. TIF

    TIF I am not an expert Supporter

    Wow, I'm definitely bookmarking this thread for reference! Great writeup :)
  10. Ajax

    Ajax Supporter! Supporter

    Great post!
    Curtisimo likes this.
  11. red_spork

    red_spork Triumvir monetalis Supporter

    Really excellent writeup and I'm glad to see you received the coin! These sorts of posts are why I come to CoinTalk!
    Curtisimo likes this.
  12. Sallent

    Sallent Supporter! Supporter

    I wish I was as "fat" as @Curtisimo , LOL
    Curtisimo likes this.
  13. stevex6

    stevex6 Random Mayhem

    Ahahaha, way to get the joke, Lawyer


    ... yah, that was merely sarcasm ...

    IMG_6669.JPG IMG_6697.JPG

    => Big ol' Uncle Steve ain't no pin-up anymore ...

    => I am always surprised to see our cool CoinTalk members ... I definitely had Curtismo as being a fat ol' fella with sweet coins (he ended-up being a fit young dude with all pistons firing!!)
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2017
  14. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    Fantastic post @Curtisimo ! I'd hate to sully it's perfection with my poorly photographed Judeans...
    Curtisimo likes this.
  15. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo the Great Supporter


    Haha I also am surprised sometimes! It's tough work but someone's got to do it ;)


    I was so excited to get the coin I took a long lunch and waited by the door for the mailman like a kid on Christmas Eve :)

    Sully away my friend!

    Thanks for the very kind works everyone! Don't forget to post some examples! The more the merrier!
  16. stevex6

    stevex6 Random Mayhem

    Hey Fatty => here are a couple of my humble Judean examples ...

    Judaea Herod Agrippa AE Prutah b.jpg Judaea Alexander Jannaeus AE Prutah a.jpg Judaea Alexander Jannaeus AE Prutah b.jpg Judaea Herod Agrippa AE Prutah a.jpg

  17. Ancient Aussie

    Ancient Aussie Supporter! Supporter

    Great write up Curtisimo, and I love that TET, did you go to the ruins at Mt Gerizim? I bought this coin from Israel a few years ago it is Elagabalus, Judaea, 21.5mm, 10.3gm, Mount Gerizim surmounted by temple and altar, stairway to temple and colonnade below mountain. 5Zwpce4NDJf9xR72Mzp2r64GbB8bF3.jpg
  18. John Anthony

    John Anthony Ultracrepidarian Supporter

    Wonderful post with great reading and images, thank you! The motif of double cornucopias was borrowed from Seleucid coinage, and the Nabataeans were quite fond of it as well - so fond of it, actually, that it was repeated monotonously on their bronze coinage over the entire duration of the empire. A few examples...


    I have only one prutah at the moment, but it's in a very pleasing grade. If Hyrcanus was the first to put his name on Judean coinage, was Alexander Jannaeus the second?

    prutoh 2 6.jpg

    Alexander Jannaeus, 103-76 BC
    AE lepton, 2.7g, 16mm; Jerusalem mint.
    Obv.: Hebrew script between Star rays (YHNTN HMLK) = “Yehonatan the king," surrounded by royal diadem.
    Rev.: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝ∆ΡΟΥ (of King Alexander in Greek), anchor upside-down as if hanging on the side of a boat.
    Reference: Meshorer Group K; Hendin 1150.
  19. Jwt708

    Jwt708 Well-Known Member

    Fantastic write-up and glad you were able to stay safe while on vacation! Looks like a good trip.

    I don't have any ancient/modern coins, none from Isreal, no first of their kind (it think...), but I do have Seleucids!

    Here's a nice bronze:

    Antiochos I Soter, Seleucid Kings of Syria; 281-261 BC
    Æ, 16mm, 4.01 g; 3h; Antioch mint
    Obv.: Diademed head right
    Rev.: Apollo Delphios seated left; monograms to left and right
  20. Deacon Ray

    Deacon Ray Ya'akov Meshorer fan Supporter

    Curtisimo, your post is AWESOME!!!
  21. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo the Great Supporter

    Unfortunately I didn't. For such a small country there is so much to see. I will probably go back at some point to hit the stuff I missed, possibly come in from Jordan so I can see Petra as well.

    Great coin btw :) goofy emperor Elagabalus is one of my favorite emperors to collect and was a native of Syria and a priest so great tie in! Sallent had a cool post on him a few weeks back I think.


    Thanks Deacon!
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