Gold coins are rarely found in Israel. A recent find of 425 gold coins and what is being described as “hundreds of smaller clippings” is almost unimaginable.
The Israel Antiquities Authority announced the unusually large find on Aug. 18. It is the largest such find since 2015 when amateur divers found about 2,000 gold coins off the coast of the ancient port city of Caesarea. The underwater find of 2015 dates from the 10th and 11th-century Fatimid period. The current find was encountered by volunteer Israeli youths excavating near the central city of Yavne.
Yavne, Yavneh, or Jabneh is mentioned in the Bible. According to the IAA, the city dates from the early Bronze Age. Islamic historian al-Baladhuri (died in CE 892) mentions Yavne as one of 10 towns in Jund Filastin conquered in the early seventh century by the Rashidun army commanded by ‘Amr ibn al-‘As. The Rashidun army was the central force in the conquests of the caliphate of the same time. The Rashidun army was known to have been well disciplined and organized.
Oz Cohen is one of the volunteers who uncovered the gold coins at Yavne. Cohen said, “It was amazing. I dug in the ground and when I excavated the soil, saw what looked like very thin leaves. When I looked again, I saw these were gold coins. It was really exciting to find such a special and ancient treasure.”
Excavation director Liat Nadav-Ziv added, “The person who buried this treasure 1,100 years ago must have expected to retrieve it and even secured the vessel with a nail so that it would not move. We can only guess what prevented him from returning to collect this treasure.”
Reuters news agency reported the coins were found “stashed away in a clay vessel,” continuing, “The area it was found in housed workshops at the time the treasure was hidden and the identity of the owner is still a mystery.” Further details of the container and the context in which the coins were discovered were not available at the time this article was being written.
Robert Kool is a coin expert working with the IAA. Kool said, “Hopefully the study of the hoard will tell us more about a period of which we still know very little,” adding, “For example, with such a sum, a person could buy a luxurious house in one of the best neighborhoods in Fustat, the enormous wealthy capital of Egypt in those days.”
Kool didn’t give much detail regarding the coins but indicated they date from the ninth century Abbasid Caliphate period. Since Kool did not offer specific details of the find his comments might be confusing. Harun al-Rashid (CE 763-809) extended his Abbasid Caliphate from Africa to Central Asia. Harun is well remembered as he is the caliph of the One Thousand and One Nights tales. Gold dinars and silver dirhems were issued during his reign.
Abbasid rule in what is today Israel ended with their territory fracturing into autonomous dynasties between CE 861 and 945. Abbasid leadership over the Islamic empire was gradually reduced to a ceremonial religious function throughout much of what had been their caliphate. The Tulunids (a Turkic mamluk dynasty) gained control of Syria in 899, later issuing gold dinars on which mints in Misr-Egypt and Philistine-Palestine are identified. Gold dinars of the Abbasid’s don’t identify their mint of origin until the ninth century, while silver dirhems include the mint of issue and, by the eighth century, include identifying the heir responsible for the coinage.
According to Stephen Album in Marsden’s Numismata Orientalia Illustrata, “The Abbasid caliphate regained much of its integrity during the rule of al-Mu’tadid (AD 892-902), but was once more in decline by the end of the reign of al-Muqtadir in AD 932…Normal [silver] dirhams of al-Mu’tamid are by no means very common.”