2,100 Year Old Coins, Bearing Names of Maccabean Kings, Unearthed in Israel

“The law of Thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver.” Psalms 119:72 (The Israel Bible™)

A hoard of silver coins, along with bronze coins bearing the names of the Maccabean kings, dating to the year 126 BCE in the Hasmonean period was discovered in April during an archaeological excavation near the city of Modi’in, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced on Tuesday.

The bronze coins bear the names of the Jewish kings Yehohanan, Judah, Jonathan, and Mattathias (including his title: “High Priest and Head of the Council of the Jews”) – all of the Hasmonean family that rose up against the Greek persecution in events commemorated by the holiday of Hanukkah. Images of the Selucid Greek King Antiochus IV, the villain of the Hanukkah story, appear on the silver coins unearthed.

 The site of the relevant estate during the Hasmonean period that contained a hoard of ancient silver coins. (Photo Credit: Griffin Aerial Photography/Israeli Antiquities Authority)
The site of the relevant estate during the Hasmonean period that contained a hoard of ancient silver coins. (Photo Credit: Griffin Aerial Photography/Israeli Antiquities Authority)

“To discover a hoard of coins is a very exciting find,” head of the IAA excavation team Avraham Hendler told Tazpit Press Service (TPS). “You begin to see one or two coins then you keep cleaning gently with a brush in a small pit and then you discover a pile of coins.”

Hendler expressed particular fascination with the overall story behind the hoard of coins that was found.

“Beyond the beautiful quality of the coins is the story that it tells us about that period of time and the people that lived there,” Hender shared with TPS. “It provides us with a window into their lives.”

The revelation that the coins were hidden in a rock crevice of a wall that was part of what was once an estate dating back to the late Hellenistic period, helped provide the excavation team with an image of the lives of those who lived in the estate.

“We discovered an estate house built from massive walls, rooms, a courtyard and a cistern,” Hendler explained to TPS.

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“It was built by a Jewish family in the Hasmonean period in the late Hellenistic period approximately 150 BCE,” he continued. “On the neighboring hills they planted vineyards, olive trees, and they lived from the agriculture in the area.”

The estate clearly belonged to Jews given the discovery of Jewish characteristics in an estate such as a spiritual bath (mikvah). However, the silver coins that were found bore the images of the Seleucid king Antiochus VII and his brother Demetrius II.

The site where a cache of Hasmonean coins were found near the city of Modi'in. (Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority/TPS)
The site where a cache of Hasmonean coins were found near the city of Modi’in. (Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority/TPS)

“Those were the silver coins of the time,” noted Hendler to TPS. “The Hasmonean kings did not mint silver coins. They minted bronze coins and if someone made their money in silver, those are likely the coins that they would have.”

The excavation team was also exposed to snapshot of the Jewish revolt against Rome some 200 years later.

“We saw evidence that residents of the estate took part in the first rebellion against the Romans,” Hendler mentioned to TPS. “We found coins from the time of the first rebellion with messages saying ‘for the freedom of Zion’ and ‘year two’ of the rebellion.”

“Even after the destruction of the Temple and the fall of Jerusalem in the year 70, they come back to their homes and continue cultivating their fields,” added Hendler.

The estate appears to have played a more important role during the Second Revolt against Rome, also known as the Bar Kokhba Revolt. The Romans responded to the second revolt by deploying their troops not only to the main urban centers but to villages and rural areas so as to destroy any remnants of the rebellion.

One of the silver coins discovered this past April at the site of an ancient estate dating back to the Hasmonean Period, that bears the image of the Greek King Antiochus VII.
One of the silver coins discovered this past April at the site of an ancient estate dating back to the Hasmonean Period, that bears the image of the Greek King Antiochus VII. (Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority/TPS)

“A legion of the Roman army came to this site and the Jewish inhabitants of the site tried to fight them and win, but they did not win the battle and the Romans destroyed the estate,” Hendler explained to TPS.

“It seems that local residents did not give up hope of gaining their independence from Rome, and they were well-prepared to fight the enemy during the Bar Kokhba uprising,” Tender said in an earlier statement. “During the excavation we saw how prior to the uprising the inhabitants of the estate filled the living rooms next to the outer wall of the building with large stones, thus creating a fortified barrier.”

Hendler expressed a sense of amusement at all that he and his excavation team discovered at the site.

“We read about these stories in literary and historic sources and they grasp our imaginations,” Hendler said to TPS. “During our excavations, we’re able to feel the walls and the vessels that the people in those times used, with our own hands. To come in contact with that is an amazing feeling.”