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Rare gold ancient found in Israel

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By Richard Giedroyc

Ancient gold coins are seldom found in Israel. An ancient Roman coin that is known from only one other example is even less seldom to be encountered anywhere. The gold aureus of Roman Emperor Trajan recently discovered near an archaeological dig site near Galilee in Israel is even more important because it was issued following a coin debasement ordered by the emperor.

A Roman gold coin of Trajan found in Israel is only the second specimen of this type known.

A Roman gold coin of Trajan found in Israel is only the second specimen of this type known.

The coin is an aureus on which the late Emperor Augustus appears on the obverse, with three Roman legionnaire standards on the reverse. The obverse identifies Augustus with the legend “Diuus Augustus.” The reverse has the legend “Imp. Caes Traian Avg Ger. Dac PP Rest.” The central standard has an eagle perched on its top.

The coin is similar to Seaby 3338 in David Sear’s Roman Coins and Their Values II, however Seaby 3338 has a legionary eagle between two standards.

According to Sear, “Faced with the extraordinary expenses of his protracted Dacian campaigns, Trajan decided to demonetize the precious metal coinage issued prior to Nero’s currency reform of AD 64 and to replace it with newly minted pieces. This withdrawal from circulation of obsolete coinage provided an instant supply of high quality gold and silver bullion which the Roman mint could then re-coin at current (i.e. lower) weight standards. It was in connection with this policy that the remarkable series of ‘restored’ coins was produced in AD 107 … The gold aurei commemorated the first century and a half of Rome’s Imperial past, with attractive portrait types dating back to the time of Julius Caesar.”

Sear notes, “This reverse [Seaby 3338] lacks an obvious prototype, unless the inspiration was provided by Mark Antony’s legionary coinage – hardly an appropriate choice to combine with an Augustan obverse.”

Mark Antony legionary coinage depicts three standards on the reverse, often with a large eagle perched on a shorter central standard. A war galley appears on the obverse.

The Israeli Antiquity Authority was quick to use the discovery of the coin as an example of a good citizen turning a find over to them voluntarily, which is required by law. In fact, Laurie Rimon, who found the coin, admitted to The Jewish Press newspaper (March 14 article) that “it was not easy parting with the coin. After all, it is not every day one discovers such an amazing object, but I hope I will see it displayed in a museum in the near future.”

The Jewish Press reported, “In the near future the IAA will award Laurie a certificate of appreciation for her good citizenship.”

The March 14 issue of Arutz Sheva’s Israeli International News reported, “Nir Distelfeld, an inspector with the IAA Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery, praised her for her ‘exemplary civic behavior by handing this important coin over to the Antiquities Authority.’”

Distelfeld is quoted as saying, “This is an extraordinarily remarkable and surprising discovery. I believe that soon, thanks to Laurie, the public will be able to enjoy this rare find … It is important to know that when you find an archaeological artifact it is advisable to call IAA representatives to the location spot in the field. That way we can also gather the relevant archaeological and contextual information from the site.”

Dr. Donald Ariel is the head curator of the coin department at the Israel Antiquities Authority. He has speculated that the coin may be associated with the unsuccessful Bar Kochba rebellion, also known as the Second Revolt.

According to Ariel, “The coin may reflect the presence of the Roman army in the region some 2,000 years ago – possibly in the context of activity against Bar Kochba supporters in the Galilee – but it is very difficult to determine that on the basis of a single coin. Historical sources describing the period note that some Roman soldiers were paid a high salary of three gold [aurei] coins, the equivalent of 75 silver [denarius denomination] coins, each payday. Because of their high monetary value soldiers were unable to purchase goods in the market with gold coins, as the merchants could not provide change for them.”

Ariel acknowledged bronze and silver “diuus” coins of Trajan have been discovered previously. He added, “His gold coins are extremely rare. So far, only two other gold coins of this emperor have been registered in the State Treasures, one from Givat Shaul near Jerusalem, and the other from the Qiryat Gat region and the details on both of them are different to those that appear on the rare coin that Laurie found.”

This article was originally printed in World Coin News.
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