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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

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No Coins Before Maccabeans.

The study of Jewish coinage, strictly speaking, begins with the Maccabean period. Some information, however, concerning the use of money, or substitutes for money, among the Jews previous to the creation of a coinage of their own may be here given. The invention of coined money, ascribed to the kings of Lydia, is not earlier by more than a century (if so much) than the fall of the kingdom of Judah (587 B.C.). In the interim the new invention had not spread even to Phenicia, much less to the interior of Asia. No credence whatever can therefore be placed in late Jewish stories mentioning coins of Abraham, Joshua, or David, or even Mordecai (Ber. R.; B. Ḳ. 97a). Such passages in Scripture as seem to point to the use of coined money during that period are either interpolated or late. A notable instance of anachronism occurs in 1 Chronicles 29:7, where among the offerings of the chiefs of Israel in the time of King David are mentioned 10,000 gold "adarkonim" or darics, coins which were not struck before the time of King Darius I., e., more than 400 years after David.

Payments by Weight.

When, after the conquest of Canaan, the Hebrews had settled down as an agricultural people, they readily adopted those mediums of exchange which they had found in use among the conquered races of the Holy Land, namely, gold, silver, and brass. The fact that these metals were used in ancient times for this purpose in Palestine is proved beyond doubt by the tribute lists of Thothmes III. at Thebes and by the official correspondence between the King of Egypt and his Syrian vassals found at Tell el-Amarna.

Of the three precious metals, silver seems to have been by far the most commonly employed; to such an extent indeed that its name "kesef" was used for money generally (Exodus 21:11). It was told by weight; therefore, the use of the balance and stone weights was inevitable in all important transactions. Under what shape the precious metal circulated—whether in bars or ingots as in Babylonia, or in rings as in Egypt—is a matter of doubt. The system of weights, if not the weights themselves, was at any rate of Babylonian origin. It was the sexagesimal system, which the pre-Hebraic Canaanites had borrowed from Babylon along with the Babylonic script. The three units of this system were the "kikkar" or talent, the "maneh" or mina, and the shekel or "siclus." A talent was worth 60 minas; a mina, 60 shekels; therefore the talent equaled 3,600 shekels. It is to be noted that "mina" occurs rarely, if ever, in the pre-exilic writings, the only passage in which it appears being 1 Kings 10:17, which mentions (under Solomon) gold shields of 3 minas apiece. On the other hand, sums expressed in shekels, especially in multiples of 10 shekels (20, 50, 600, etc.), are extremely common; and even the word "shekel" is often omitted; that is to say, it must be understood from the context. The inference is that there circulated large quantities of ingots or rings of silver, weighing either 1 shekel, or a round number of shekels, or a fraction of a shekel (1 Samuel 9:8); but it is to be feared that in several passages of this kind the original reading has been tampered with in a period when the coin which was known as the shekel was in common use.

Weight of Shekel.

As to the exact weight of the shekel, mina, and talent in pre-exilic times, and whether or not different standards were used for gold and for silver—these and similar questions are dealt with in the article WEIGHTS AND MEASURES. Here it seems sufficient to note that the heaviest stone weights found in Nineveh point to a trade or heavy kikkar of about 60 kilograms, and, hence, a mina of 1 kilogram and a shekel of about 16.80 grams (260 grains). There was also a series of weights having exactly half the value of these, the existence of which can be traced up to the time of King Gudea (about 2500 B.C.). But the Phenician standard, known from later coins, coincided with neither of these, giving a shekel of 224 grains, or 14.51 grams; and it is an open question whether the Hebrew system of weights before the Exile conformed to the Babylonian or to the Phenician scale.

After the Babylonian captivity the scale of weights was slightly modified in accordance with a new system, which perhaps had originated in Babylonia, but at any rate was in common use among various nations (Greeks, Persians, Phenicians). This system is a combination of the older purely sexagesimal (Babylonian) and the purely decimal (Egyptian) systems. It is prescribed in Ezekiel 45:12 (Greek text), and implied by Exodus 38:25-26, that the talent shall be reckoned as formerly at 60 minas, but the mina at 50 shekels only; therefore, 3,000 shekels, not 3,600, equaled a talent. The shekel itself was divided into halves ("beḳa'"; Genesis 24:22; Exodus 38:26), quarters, and twentieths (Ezek. c.), called "gerahs" or grains ("obols" as the Greek version renders the word);this last division was seemingly a new one. In order to insure uniformity throughout the community, a set of standard weights was deposited in the Temple at Jerusalem, a practise of frequent occurrence in classical times. This is the so-called "holy shekel," which is repeatedly mentioned in the Priestly Code, and was used for weighing not only gold and silver, but also copper and spices (Exodus 30:23).

One-Third Shekels.

What the weight of the post-exilic shekel was before Greek times is uncertain. The division of the shekel into three parts presupposed by the law of Nehemiah 10:32 (each citizen to pay yearly one-third of a shekel to the Temple) is not only unusual in monetary systems for silver (elsewhere it is only found at Corinth), but is strangely at variance with the division of the holy shekel into halves, fourths, and twentieths enacted by the Priestly Code. It may be, therefore, that Nehemiah did not know of the holy shekel, and that he reckoned by the Babylonian shekel of 16.80 grams, for which a division into three parts is not out of the question.

By the time of Ezra and Nehemiah the use of coined money, now widely spread in western Asia, was no longer quite unknown in Judea. To be sure, the Jewish community was neither rich nor independent enough to be allowed by the Persian government to have a coinage of its own; but foreign coins began to circulate in the country, and to supersede little by little the older and more troublesome system of weighing gold and silver. The foreign money consisted in royal Persian and autonomous Phenician coins.

Persian Coins.

The chief Persian coin was the golden stater or daric (δαρεικὸς στατήρ), first struck by King Darius I., Hystaspes (522-485 B.C.). See plate, Fig. 1. It was 1/3000 of a light talent of rather more than 25 kilograms, its normal weight being 8.40 grams (130 grains), or precisely the half of a Babylonian shekel.

The Persian government issued also a silver coin, called by the Greeks δίγλος μηδικός, although its weight (5.60 grams, or 87 grains, e., 1/6000 of a talent of 33.60 kilograms) shows it to have been rather a half-shekel than a shekel. Under the then prevailing ratio of 13⅓ to 1 between gold and silver, 20 σίγλοι were worth exactly 1 gold daric, as 20 shillings are worth a sovereign. See plate, Fig. 2. The silver coins issued from about 440 B.C. by the large trading cities of the Phenician and Philistine coast (Tyre, Aradus, Gaza) were staters or shekels based on a heavy talent of about 43 kilograms. Their average weight was 14.40 grams, or 222 grains (about 3 shillings).

The Persian government seems also to have struck in this district, for the pay of the sailors, double shekels of Phenician standard: these are the large silver coins commonly, but without sufficient proof, attributed to the mint of Sidon. See plate, Fig. 3.

Of the three species of coins mentioned above, gold darics are certainly mentioned in the Jewish writings of the time, under the name "adarkonim" (Ezra 8:27; comp. 1 Chronicles 29:7) or "darkemonim" (Ezra 2:69 = Nehemiah 7:70 et seq.), in connection with royal gifts or with contributions of the nobles to the Temple treasury. The names seem to be synonymous, although this has been disputed, as well as the identity of either with the δαρεικός. However, two similar forms occur together in a Phenician inscription of the beginning of the first century B.C. (Lidzbarski, "Handbuch der Nordsemitischen Epigraphik," p. 425), where the context seems to prove they are synonymous (for a contrary view see E. Meyer, "Entstehung des Judenthums," p. 196). That one or both of these forms should represent the Greek δραχμή (half-stater = 100th part of a mina) seems incredible.

A more difficult problem is whether the silver coins used by the Jews in the fifth (latter part) and fourth centuries B.C., especially the shekel in which payment of the Temple tax was to be made, were the Phenician shekel or the Persian δίγλος. In favor of the first opinion it has been alleged that, according to the Talmud (Bek. 8:7; Tosef., Ket. ), all sacred taxes were to be paid in Tyrian currency; but there is no evidence as to the age of this decision, and it may as well date from the second as from the fourth century B.C. On the other hand, some time after Nehemiah and before the redaction of Chronicles a text was introduced in the Law (Exodus 30:13; a passage alluded to in 2 Chronicles 24:9), calling for a Temple tax of a half-shekel per head instead of the third of a shekel decreed by Nehemiah. If this half-shekel be regarded as the Persian σίγλος of 5.60 grams, this weight is precisely equivalent to the third of a Babylonian shekel of 16.80 grams, which there is some reason to believe was the rate of the tax levied under Nehemiah. On this hypothesis, the new text would have contained simply a new expression of the terms of the old tax, and therefore would have been unobjectionable. On the contrary, if the shekel intended in Exodus is a Phenician stater (14.40 grams), the new tax (7.20 grams) would have been notably heavier than the Nehemian one (5.60 grams). The possibility of such an increase of taxation might be accepted for the time after Alexander, when the Jews grew richer and silver became more abundant, but not for the precarious condition of the Jewish community about 400 or 350 B.C. However, "sub judice lis est."

Be this as it may, some time or other before the second century B.C. it is certain that the Phenician money standard prevailed among the Jews. This is proved, not so much by the loose equivalents of Josephus, who variously identifies the half-shekel with a didrachm ("Ant." 18:9, § 1; "B. J." 7:6, § 6), the shekel with 4 Attic drachmas ("Ant." 3:8, § 10), and the mina with 2½ Roman libræ (e., 817 grams; ib. 14:7, § 1), as by the Gospel text (Matthew 17:24) in which two persons pay the tax with "a stater," by the above-mentioned passages of the Talmud, and last but not least by the extant specimens of Jewish silver coins. The Temple tax had therefore certainly been raised by this time to the amount of a Phenician half-shekel. The Septuagint, however, almost constantly (for some unknown reason) wrongly translates the Hebrew shekel by δίδραχμον instead of by τετράδραχμον, which occurs only in Job 42:11.

Under the Seleucidæ.

In 332 B.C. the Persian empire collapsed, andJudea became a Macedonian province. The issue of gold and silver darics, as well as of Phenician autonomous silver, then came to an end. Henceforth the coins circulating in Syria were regal Macedonian coins, in gold and silver. At first, under Alexander and his early successors, they were struck according to the Attic system of weights (silver tetradrachm of about 17 grams, and a gold stater of 8.60 grams); but in consequence of the trading supremacy of the Phenicians the various nations had become so well accustomed to the Phenician standard that, from the beginning of the third century, the Ptolemies, then masters of southern Syria, wisely adopted for their Syrian possessions (and perhaps for Egypt too) a tetradrachm of Phenician standard, identical in weight with the old staters of the Phenician townships (14.40 grams). See plate, Fig. 4. These coins were struck in the royal mints of Phenicia (Tyre, Sidon, Ptolemais) and of Philistia (Gaza, Joppa). When, about 200 B.C., southern Syria passed from the Ptolemies to the Seleucidæ, the latter reintroduced the Attic standard, which they had constantly employed in their remaining possessions. Nevertheless, toward the middle of the second century they also were compelled to return to the policy of the Ptolemies and recommenced striking, for the use of their subjects of southern Syria, tetradrachms of Phenician weights, even reviving the well-known Ptolemaic badge, the eagle (in the same way as the Italian government in the nineteenth century struck "thalers" of the Maria Theresa type for the use of its Ethiopian subjects).

It is not likely that during the two periods in which the Attic standard prevailed (330-300; 200-150) the Temple tax was raised to the value of an Attic didrachma. Therefore if the taxpayer could not manage to procure an old Phenician or Ptolemaic coin, he had to take change for his money; and this may have been the first occasion in which money-changers set up their booths in the precincts of the Temple.

Minting a Regal Prerogative.

The Seleucidæ, as well as the Ptolemies, had been very jealous of the prerogative of striking money, which, except in Asia Minor, they reserved exclusively to themselves. Gold and silver were an absolute monopoly; but even the right to coin municipal copper, which was of little importance in the eyes of the ancients, was not readily granted. The few towns of Phenicia which, under Antiochus Epiphanes, obtained the privilege of issuing copper coins bearing their names were compelled to place upon them the effigy of the king.

The Hasmoneans.

Matters, however, changed toward the middle of the second century B.C., when the structure of the Seleucid realm began to totter on all sides, under the united pressure of exterior foes (Parthians, Egyptians, Arabs, Romans) and the ever-renewed internal strife between conflicting pretenders to the throne. The result was the gradual weakening of royal authority, and the more or less full emancipation of the cities and petty ṛulers, hitherto curbed under the Seleucid rule. One of the earliest (if not the first) communities to vindicate its autonomy was the small Jewish priest-state. The Hasmoneans, who had kept the field as freebooters, ably took advantage of the strife among Demetrius I., Alexander Balas, and Demetrius II. to traffic with their military cooperation: in this way Jonathan obtained first the high-priesthood of Jerusalem (153), then the governorship of Judea with the title of στρατηγὸς καὶ μεριδάρχης (150), and, lastly (145), three districts of Samaria, and exemption from annual tribute (though not from the "crown" tax). This was equivalent to semiautonomy, the only remains of Seleucid suzerainty being the presence of a Syrian garrison in the Acra at Jerusalem, the obligation of military assistance in case of war, and, lastly, the prohibition of a separate coinage.

To convert this semiautonomy into complete independence very little was needed. This was the task of Simon, Jonathan's brother and his successor to the high-priesthood (143 or l42). He first obtained of Demetrius II. the total abolition of all taxes levied by the Seleucidæ, including even the crown tax—a grant of such importance that the Jews (at least according to I Macc. 13:42) considered it as the definitive shaking off of the infidel yoke—and deeds were henceforth dated from the year of the high-priesthood of Simon. However, the document 14:27 et seq. shows that concurrently with the year of this high-priesthood the Jews continued to mention the Seleucid year. There is no question of a new "era."

First Grant of Coinage Rights.

Afterward came the withdrawal of the Syrian garrison (May, 142), then the vote of the people conferring on Simon a hereditary title (Sept., 141), and lastly, in 139-138, the final step—the grant of an autonomous coinage. This came about as follows: Antiochus Sidetes, during the captivity of his brother Demetrius II. (a prisoner of the Parthians), decided to take arms against the usurper Tryphon. Even before setting out on the conquest of Syria, Antiochus, then residing in Rhodes, sent a letter to make friends with Simon. In this letter, the text (or summary) of which has been preserved in I Macc. 15:1-9, the Seleucid prince (1) confirmed all privileges granted to the Jews, and (2) expressly added the authorization of coinage with their own stamps. The memorable words are: νῦν οὖν ἵστημί [I confirm] σοι πάντα τὰ ἀφαιρέματα [exemptions from taxes] ἃ ἀφῆκάν σοι οἰ πρὸ ἐμοῦ βασιλεῖς, καὶ ὅσα ἄλλα δόματα ἀφῆκάν σοι [crown tax], καὶ ἐπέτρεΨά σοι ποιῆσαι κόμμα ἴδιομ νόμισμα τῃ χόρᾳ σου, Ιερουσαλὴμ δὲ καὶ τὰ ἅγια [the holy precinct, the Temple] εἶναι ἀλεύθερα.

It is reasonable to suppose that this important concession was not quite spontaneous and had long been petitioned for by the Jews. Nor is it difficult to guess why. Independently of the political prestige which a national coinage would confer on their community, it was a practical necessity for the Jews to have at their disposal silver coins of a half- (Phenician) shekel and one shekel for the easy payment of the Temple poll-tax, fixed "ne varietur" at that rate. Such coins, after the Seleucid occupation of southern Syria, were no longer struck anywhere; the older coins of that value were becoming rapidlyobsolete, and the new Seleucid stater of that weight was yet to come. A further inference is that, so soon as granted, the authorization was acted upon. Therefore there need be no hesitation in attributing to this period (with the majority of numismatists since Eckhel) the famous Jewish silver shekels and half-shekels, many specimens of which have come down, chiefly from two hoards, one at Jerusalem, the other at Jericho. The description of the shekel is as follows:

Obverse: , in Old Hebrew (vulgo, "Samaritan") characters. A jeweled chalice (vulgo, a pot of manna). See plate, Fig. 5. Above the cup the date, expressed for year 1 by the simple letter א; from year 2 to 5 by the legend ש (e., ) ב (or ג, ד, ה), year 2 (3, 4, 5). Of year 4 specimens are rare; and of year 5 only one or two are known. Reverse: ("Yerushalem ha-Ḳedoshah" = "Jerusalem the Holy"; on shekels of the year 1 the legend is simply "Yerushalem Ḳedoshah"); a flowering lily (vulgo, Aaron's rod). The weight was that of the Phenician shekel. The half-shekel differs from the shekel only in the legend of the obverse, which reads, (ḥaẓi ha-sheḳel = "the half-shekel"). Weight: about 7.20 grams. There are no half-shekels of the year 5. A few shekels of the years 3 and 4 are in bronze, but most likely these have been plated. The fabric is rather thick and archaic, in contradistinction to the flattened regal coins of the age; the workmanship is heavy but not rude. See plate, Fig. 6.

These remarkable coins have been variously attributed to the time of Ezra, of Alexander the Great (by De Saulcy), of Gabinius (by Unger), and of the first revolt against the Romans (66-70 C.E.). This last opinion, first advocated by Ewald ("Gött. Nachrichten," 1855, p. 109) and Schürer, was revived in 1887 by T. Reinach, and thereupon adopted by several numismatists (Imhoof, Babelon, Kennedy). But the arguments in favor of this late date, although specious, are not convincing, and the theory fails in the chronology; for the revolt lasted scarcely four years, and there are shekels of the year 5. Therefore the older and more probable ascription must be retained.

Date of Coins.

As to the precise date of the shekels, e., to which year B.C. their "year א" corresponds, and as to the exact meaning of the inscribed dates—whether years of Simon's priesthood or years counted from an era—much doubt is entertained. For the identification of "year 1" three dates have been proposed: (1) 143-142 B.C., the year of Simon's accession, when this manner of dating was inaugurated, according to I Macc. 13:42; (2) 141-140, when his power was declared hereditary (Merzbacher's view); (3) 139-138, when the grant of coinage was made by Antiochus Sidetes. The first of these opinions is indefensible, as it involves an absurdity, namely, that Simon not only began coining while he was still forbidden to do so, but left off as soon as the privilege to coin was granted him. Of the two other views preference must be given to the latter. That the concession of coinage suggested a new era is not improbable, and it satisfactorily explains the interruption of the coinage after the year 5 (135-134), when John Hyrcanus was besieged in Jerusalem.

Counterfeit Shekels.

Before leaving the subject of shekels a warning must here be issued against forged specimens of this coin. These are very numerous, and have been so since the Renaissance. Most of them are, however, easy to detect, by the clumsiness of the design (which transforms the chalice into a censer), by the absence of date, and by the use of square Hebrew characters, quite unknown not in that period alone, but in the whole range of Jewish numismatics. The counterfeits are also of a larger module than the real ones, and are cast, not struck. Specimens of false shekels were known to Villalpandus (1604) and perhaps even to Melanchthon (1552) (see G. Hill in the "Reliquary and Illustrated Archæologist," Oct., 1902).

After Antiochus Sidetes had recovered his father's realm he quarreled with the Jews, who refused to pay tribute for the districts they had seized beyond the limits of Judea proper. He did not attack them seriously before the death of Simon (Feb., 135 B.C.), who was succeeded by his son John Hyrcanus. The war which then ensued terminated with the capitulation of Jerusalem, most likely in 134 or 133. Already before the siege, Antiochus had annulled all his concessions to the Jews (I Macc. 15:27); therefore, inter alia, the right of coining silver. Of course, this decree was not revoked after the surrender of Hyrcanus; and so there was an end of Jewish silver coinage. That the Jews did not resume it under Alexander Jannæus, when the Seleucid suzerainty had practically disappeared, can be accounted for by the fact that the Seleucidæ now struck for their Syrian possessions coins of Phenician weights, and, moreover, that from 126 onward the city of Tyre, having obtained its autonomy from one of the contending Seleucidæ, began to coin a new series of staters (see plate, Fig. 8) of the same Phenician weights, well suited for the use of the sanctuary. See plate, Fig.7. These are undoubtedly the "Tyrian coins" recommended by the Talmud for the payment of the sacred tax. However, if the Jewish high priests (who soon assumed the title of kings) were no longer allowed to coin silver, they received the much less significant right to coin brass—a right which they availed themselves of until the end of the Hasmonean dynasty.

Brass Coins of Hasmoneans.

These Hasmonean brass coins are usually of small size, of types borrowed from the contemporaneous coinages of Syria or Egypt; but they strictly conform to the Jewish law (e., they exclude all animal representations). They were issued in the name of the reigning prince and sometimes also of the Jewish community ("ḥeber"). Others interpret this word as denoting the senate or the people. The legends are at first purely Hebrew,then bilingual (Hebrew and Greek), as was the dynasty itself. The following is a short nomenclature of the chief types of these not very interesting coins:

John Hyrcanus (135-105 B.C.).
Obverse: ("Yehoḥanan ha-Kohen ha-Gadol we-Ḥeber [or sometimes Rosh Ḥeber] ha-Yehudim" = "John the high priest and ["head of"] the community of the Jews"), within a wreath of olive-leaves.
Reverse: A double cornucopia with a poppy-head in the center (the badge of Alexander Zebina). See plate, Fig. 9.
Aristobulus I. (105-104).
Same legend, but with ("Yehudah") instead of "Yehoḥanan." (This confirms the statement of Josephus, in "Ant." 20:10, that the Hebrew name of this prince was Juda.) Types as above. See plate, Fig. 10.
Alexander Jannæus (104-76).
1st species: Same types as above and same legend, but with the name ("Jonathan"), of which "Jannæus" is an abridged form. See plate, Fig. 11.
2d species: Obverse: ("Yehonatan ha-Melek" = "Jonathan the king"). Flower (or star).
Reverse: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΠΟϒ. An anchor with two cross-timbers within a circle. See plate, Fig. 12.
Queen Alexandra (76-67).
Obverse: ΒΑΣΙΛΙΣ(σης) ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔ(ρας) round an anchor.
Reverse: Star with eight rays. Trace of Hebrew legend. Hebrew legend illegible.
Aristobulus II. (67-63).
No certain coins.
John Hyrcanus II. (63-40).
No certain coins.
Antigonus (40-37). (Larger Module,)
Obverse: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ANTIΓONOY. Two cornucopiæ (sometimes one).
Reverse: ("Mattattiah ha-Kohen ha-Gadol" = "Mattathias the high priest") (sometimes followed by "we-ḥeber ha-Yehudim"). Several coins have a regnal year (year 1) or (year 2). These coins give the Hebrew name (otherwise unknown) of the last Hasmonean king, who was beheaded at Antioch 37 B.C.

After the year 63 B.C., when Pompey took Jerusalem by storm and stripped the Jews of almost all their conquests, Rome's influence, or rather domination, became supreme in Judea, as in the whole of Syria. Once more (40 B.C.) a scion of the Hasmonean family, Antigonus, son of Aristobulus II., succeeded, with the help of the Parthians, in seizing Jerusalem, but only to be defeated, captured, and beheaded a few years later (37). Of these two great wars there are Roman numismatic memorials which may be mentioned here: (1) the denarius of Aulus Plautius ("curule ædile" in 54 B.C.; see plate, Fig.13) with types copied from the somewhat older denarii of Scaurus ("Rex Aretas") and with the unexplained legend "Bacchius Judæus"; (2) the brass coin struck at Zacynthus by "C. Sosius imp[erator]," the conqueror of Antigonus, with the portrait of Mark Antony and the group, afterward often imitated, of vanquished Judea, "Iudæa capta" and a Jewish captive (see plate, Fig. 14), seated at the foot of a trophy.

Coins of the Herodians.

Under the high-priesthood of the feeble Hyrcanus II. an Idumean nobleman, Antipater, had been practically prime minister at Jerusalem. His son Herod became, by favor of the Romans, king of the Jews, nominally at the end of 41 B.C., and actually in 37; and he reigned undisturbedly for thirty-three years (till 4 B.C.). Although the kingdom of Herod was large, and his wealth recalled the palmy days of David and Solomon, he was not allowed (as some other petty kings of his time) to strike silver coins, but, like the Hasmoneans, had to be content with a copper currency. His brass coins are of variable size and bear uniformly the Greek legend ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΗΠΩΔΟϒ. Some of them have a regnal date (ΛΓ, that is, "year 3"; see plate, Fig. 15) and a monogram expressing their value, τρίχαλκον (whether the χαλκοῦς was, as elsewhere, the eighth part of an obol is doubtful). The types conform to the Jewish law: palm, wreath, cornucopiæ as under the preceding dynasty; further, tripod, helmet, acrostolion, caduceus. The opinion that small bronze coins bearing the type of an eagle and a much-defaced legend belong to Herod is open to doubt.

After the death of Herod his dominion was divided between his sons. Judea proper fell to the lot of Herod Archelaus, who was content with the title of ethnarch. His brass coins are as varied as those of his father, and the types are similar. The legend reads: ΗΠΩΔΟϒ ΕΘΝΑΠΧΟϒ. See plate, Fig. 16. In the year 6 C.E. he was deposed and exiled to Vienne in Gaul, Judea being thenceforth governed directly by Roman procurators, under the supervision of the legate of Syria. To this régime there was, however, a short exception, from 40 or 41 to 44 C.E., when the emperor Claudius conferred Judea upon Herod Agrippa I., a grandson of the great Herod. This Agrippa had already been invested by Caligula with the two tetrarchies (capitals: Tiberias and Panias) which had been respectively assigned after Herod's death to his other two living sons (Antipas and Philip), and which were now vacant. He therefore united once more under his scepter almost all the dominions of his grandfather, and was allowed to assume the title of king. His Jewish coins—brass, of course—bear the types of an umbrella (a royal emblem in the East) and three ears of corn; their style is BACIΛEΩC ΑΓΗΙΠΑ; and the date, year 6, is reckoned from 37 C.E. See plate, Fig. 17. Of the many varieties of bronze coins struck by Agrippa for his non-Jewish possessions, of the coins of his uncles Antipas and Philip, and of those struck later (till about the year 95) by his son Agrippa II., who inherited their tetrarchies, detailed mention need not be made here. It will suffice to present a specimen of this series and to observe that a great many of these provincial coins do not conform to the Jewish prohibition against representations of living creatures, but present portraits of the prince himself or of the reigning emperor. See plate, Fig. 18.

Roman Coinage.

NUMISMATICSCoins Current In Palestine (c. B.C. 500-C.E. 135)1. Persian gold daric. 2. Medic siglos. 3. Double shekel of Phenician standard. 4. Phenician tetradrachm of Ptolemy I. 5. Shekel of year 1. 6. Half-shekel of year 2. 7. Seleucid tetradrachm of Phenician weight. 8. Tyrian stater (new series). 9. Bronze coin of John Hyrcanus. 10. Bronze coin of Aristobulus I. 11. Bronze coin of Alexander Jannæus. 12. Bilingual bronze coin of Alexander Jannæus. 13. Denarius of Aulus Plautius with inscription of "Bacchius Iudæus."

NUMISMATICSCoins Current In Palestine (c. B.C. 500-C.E. 135)14. Brass coin of Sosius. 15. Bronze coin of Herod the Great. 16. Bronze coin of Herod Archelaus. 17. Bronze coin of Agrippa I. 18. Bronze coin of Herod Antipas. 19. Bronze coin of Pontius Pilate. 20. Brass coin of First Revolt. 21. Coin of Vespasian with inscription of "Iudæa Capta." 22. Coin of Nerva with inscription of "Fisci Iudaici Calumnia Sublata." 23. Coin of Hadrian with inscription of "Adventui Aug(usti) Iudææ." 24. Coin of Bar Kokba, restruck on denarius of Trajan. 25. Shekel of Bar Kokba, restruck on tetradrachm of Antioch. 26. Brass coin of Bar Kokba.

From 6 to 40 C.E. and again from 40 to 66 Judea, as has been seen, was governed by Roman procurators. During this period—which witnessed the birth of Christianity—the silver currency in Palestine consisted chiefly in (1) Tyrian staters (shekel or sela), which ceased, however, to be struck in 56; (2) debased Attic tetradrachms (about 220 grains) with Greek legends, struck by the Roman government at Antioch for the use of the Syrian Greek-speaking provinces; (3) similar debased drachmas struck at Cæsarea in Cappadocia; (4) Roman denarii, considered as equivalent to the (debased) Attic drachmas (about 20 cents). Of gold coins, only the Roman aureus is of importance. Its legal value was 25 denarii, and its intrinsic value almost exactly a sovereign (five dollars).

For local use the procurators issued small bronze coins, similar in style to those of the Hasmonean and Idumean dynasties. In fact, it seems that in Judea, as in Egypt, the emperors wished to be considered simply as successors of the former kings, and therefore continued the local coinage as a matter of course, avoiding anything which could give offense to the national feeling and to the religious prejudices of Jewish workmen. The brass coins in question have the name of the reigning emperor (sometimes of another member of the imperial family) and a regnal year; but they have neither an imperial effigy nor figures of living creatures. The usual symbols are found: car of corn, palm-tree or branch, cornucopiæ, "diota," covered vase, "lituus" (curved trumpet), wreath, etc. The coin of which an illustration is given on plate (see Fig. 19) was struck under the authority of Pontius Pilate in the eighteenth year of Tiberius (35 C.E.). These coins were probably reckoned as quadrantes (¼ of a Roman as; consequently 1/64 of a denarius). Other denominations of copper coins in use at this period were: (1) the "lepton," worth half a quadrans (Mark 12:42) and therefore identical with the "peruṭah" of the Mishnah (Ḳid. 1:1 et seq.); (2) the "assarion" ("issar"), which, according to the Mishnah, was worth 1/24 of a denarius (or drachma), and therefore identical with the old "dichalcus," but different from the Roman as ("issariṭalḳi"), which was worth 1/16 of a denarius.

Coins of the Revolt.

In Sept., 66, the Jews, exasperated by the misgovernment of the Roman procurators, took up arms. The great rebellion lasted, as is well known, four years; it was crushed under the ruins of the Temple of Jerusalem in Aug., 70. Has it left any numismatical records? No coins struck during the first Jewish insurrection are mentioned either in heathen or in Talmudic texts, and, as has been shown, there is good reason for abandoning the view which assigns to that period the silver "shekels" (and half-shekels) "of Israel." Of brass coins, however, the following may with some likelihood be attributed to the Zealots, during the protracted siege of Jerusalem:

  1. Numerous small coins with Jewish types. Obverse: Vineor fig-leaf. Reverse: A two-handled vase. Legend: ("Ḥerut Ẓiyyon" = "liberty of Zion"). [or ("Shenat [or "Shalosh"] Shetayim," "year 2" [or 3]). Year 1 is not represented. The new era most likely began Oct., 66. See plate, Fig. 20.
  2. Larger coins with types referring to the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths: Obverse: Etrog (lemon) between two lulabs (bundles of twigs). Reverse: Palm-tree or cup between two baskets (or on some specimens a cup). Legend: ("Li-Ge'ullat Ẓiyyon" = "deliverance of Zion"). ("Shenat Arba" = "year 4"). The cup variety has no further inscription; but on the palm-tree specimens is found a mark of value, ("Ḥaẓi" = "half") on the larger size, ("Rebia'" = "quarter") on the smaller. The word to be understood is most likely "shekel." These coins were therefore meant to stand for halves, quarters (and perhaps sixths or eighths?) of shekels. They were tokens or siege money issued during the last convulsions of besieged Jerusalem.

Of these two categories the first has been assigned to the Vespasianic period by De Saulcy; the second, to the same period by Garrucci. This opinion, although not unanimously accepted by numismatists (especially as concerns the second class), seems to prevail more and more; and the present writer sees no reason for dissenting from it.

Roman Commemorative Coins.

The triumph of Rome over the Jews was commemorated in Roman numismatics by numerous coins of Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian, of which the commonest types show a female captive (Judea) seated or standing at the foot of a palm-tree or trophy (see plate, Fig. 21). In another series Victory inscribes the name of the emperor on a shield, which she supports against a palm-tree. The legend is "Judæa Capta" or "Devicta." Another coin deserving notice is the large brass one of Nerva with the inscription "Fisci Iudaici Calumnia Sublata" (see plate, Fig. 22); it shows that after the destruction of the Temple the Jewish poll-tax (didrachma) was claimed for the treasury of Jupiter Capitolinus in Rome. This vexatious imposition was accompanied with many investigations and calumnies, the suppression of which (though not of the tax itself) is here commemorated. Lastly, there is the brass coin of Hadrian (struck in 130) to celebrate his visit to Judea: "Adventui Aug[usti] Iudææ." See plate, Fig. 23.

Coins of Bar Kokba.

In 133 the Jews of Palestine made a supreme effort to regain their independence, or at any rate their right to the free exercise of their religion. This second and last revolt lasted three years, and was quenched with great difficulty in floods of blood, the fortress of Bethar being the last to yield (135). The chief of the insurgents, Bar Kokba, is called in heathen documents "Barco Chebas" (= "son of the star"); in Jewish, "Bar Kozeba." Both give only the patronymic of this bold adventurer, leaving one to guess his proper name. In contradiction to the first revolt, the second revolt is expressly stated by the Talmud to have left monetary records. Say the Rabbis: "The second tithe can not be paid in a coinage which is not current, like the coins of Kozeba or of Jerusalem [the old shekels ?] or that of the former kings [the Seleucidæ ?]" (Tosef., Ma'as. Sheni, 1:5; comp. Yer. Ma'as. Sheni 1:2; B. Ḳ. 97b). Coins of Bar Kokba are still extant in large quantities; a large number of them was discovered near Hebron. They may be divided into the following classes:

  1. Silver coins (twenty-four varieties, according to Hamburger). These are invariably restruck on Roman denarii, Græco-Roman drachmas of Cæsarea (Cappadocia), or Attic tetradrachms of Antioch. The original types and inscriptions are still sometimes discernible under the new orthodox dies; the original coins bore the figures of emperors from Galba to Hadrian. On the smaller coins (denarii, drachmas) the types are of the usual sort (see plate, Fig. 24). Obverse: Wreath, bunch of grapes. Reverse: Flagon, palm-branch, lyre, pair of trumpets. The legend on the obverse reads: "Simon" (usually spelled ); on the reverse, ("Shenat Shetayim le-Ḥerut Yisrael" = "year 2 of the liberty of Israel") or simply "Le-Ḥerut Yerushalayim" (= "liberty of Jerusalem"). A single coin of this class (belonging to the Marquis de Vogüé) bears the date "year 1" ("Shenat Aḥat li-Ge'ullat Yisrael"; On the obverse the name here is not "Simon," but "Eleazar ha-Kohen" (= "Eleazar the priest").

Coins Restruck.

There are also a few hybrid specimens, combining by mistake a die of Simon with one of Eleazar. There can be no reasonable doubt that Simon is the proper name of Bar Kokba or Kozeba, who (at least from the second year of the revolt) was the undisputed chief of the Jews, with almost kingly powers. Indeed, heannounced himself as the Messiah, and was recognized as such by Rabbi Akiba. Who "Eleazar the priest" was is quite unknown; identifications like Eleazar of Modeïn (Bar Kokba's uncle), Eleazar ben Azariah, Eleazar ben Harsom, etc., are mere guesses. On the larger silver coins (restruck on tetradrachms of Antioch) the obverse type is a conventional image of the Temple of Jerusalem (see plate, Fig. 25), usually surmounted by a star; on the reverse is a type (etrog and lulab) already known from the time of the first revolt. Some of these coins bear a date: year 1 ("Shenat Aḥat li-Ge'ullat Yisrael"), or year 2 ("Shenat bet le-Ḥerut Yisrael"); others, the simple inscription "Le-Ḥerut Yerushalayim." Dated coins of the first year have on the obverse the name "Jerusalem"; dated coins of the second, "Simon" or (very seldom) "Jerusalem"; undated coins have always the name "Simon."

  1. Brass coins. These are of many sizes. They exhibit types of the usual species (palm-tree, bunch of grapes, wreath, diota, vine-leaf, lyre). They also seem to have been all restruck on Greek or Roman brass. Among the coins dating from year 1 ("Shenat Aḥat li-Ge'ullat Yisrael") some are struck in the name of Eleazar (Eleazar ha-Kohen) like the silver denarius of the Marquis de Vogüé; the remainder (some of which are of large size) bear the legend "Simon Nasi Israel" (; see plate, Fig. 26); they were struck probably by Bar Kokba, and they indicate that he had assumed the title of "nasi" (prince), then used in a profane sense. The brass coin of year 2 ("Shenat Shetayim le-Ḥerut Yisrael") or undated ("Le-Ḥerut Yerushalayim") exhibits on the obverse only the name "Simon," or (more rarely) "Jerusalem."

To sum up: Omitting the distinction of types, and denoting by 4 small silver coins, and by Æ 8 large silver, the following list shows the authorities in whose names the coins of the second revolt were issued:

Year 1.Eleazar 4, Æ.
Jerusalem 8.
Simon Nasi Æ.
Year 2 and Undated.Simon 4, 8, Æ.
Jerusalem 8, Æ.

With these coins Jewish numismatics comes to an end. The Roman colonial coins of Ælia Capitolina, the pagan town built on the site of Jerusalem, do not belong to the subject, nor do medals with Hebrew legends struck on divers occasions after the Renaissance.

  • In addition to the general treatises of Eckhel, Mionnet, Ch. and F. Lenormant, Hultzsch, Head, and Babelon, see Perez Bayer, De Numis Hebræo-Samaritanis, 1781;
  • Cavedoni, Numismatica Biblica, (1849), (1855) in Italian (German transl. by Werlhof, 1855);
  • idem, in Grote, Münzstudien, 1867,;
  • F. de Saulcy, Recherches sur la Numismatique Judaïque, 1854;
  • idem, in Revue Numismatique, 1864, 1865;
  • in Numismatic Chronicle, 1871;
  • and in Revue Archéologique, 1872;
  • idem, Numismatique de la Terre Sainte, 1874;
  • idem, Mélanges de Numismatique, 1877,;
  • H. Ewald, in Göttinger Nachrichten, 1855;
  • idem, in Göttingische Gelehrte Anzeigen, 1862;
  • De Vogüé, in Revue Numismatique, 1860;
  • A. Levy, Gesch. der Jüdischen Münzen, 1862;
  • Zuckermandel, Ueber Talmudische Münzen und Gewichte, 1862;
  • F. W. Madden, History of Jewish Coinage, 1864;
  • idem, Coins of the Jews, 1881 (completest corpus);
  • idem, in Numismatic Chronicle, 1866, 1874, 1875;
  • Garrucci, Dissertazioni Archeologiche, 1865,;
  • Reichardt, in Egger's Wiener Numismatische Monatshefte, 1866,;
  • Merzbacher, De Siclis Nummis Antiquissimis Iudæorum, 1873;
  • idem, in Zeitschrift für Numismatik, 1874,; 1876,; 1877,; 1878,;
  • Lewis, in Numismatic Chronicle, 1876 (illustration of a shekel of the year 5);
  • Von Sallet, in Zeitschrift für Numismatik, 1878,;
  • Revillout, Note sur les Plus Anciennes Monnaies Hébraïques, in Annuaire de la Société Française de Numismatique et d'Archéologie, 1884,;
  • Th. Reinach, Les Monnaies Juives, 1887 (extract from the Actes et Conférences de la Société des Etudes Juives; Eng. translation [revised by the author] by G. F. Hill, 1903);
  • idem, in R. E. J. 1887, 1888, 1889;
  • Grätz, in Monatsschrift, 1887;
  • idem, in R. E. J. 1888, 1889;
  • Hamburger, in Zeitschrift für Numismatik, 1892,;
  • Unger, in Sitzungsberichte der Münchener Akademie, 1897;
  • A. R. S. Kennedy, Money, in Hastings' Dict. Bible,;
  • Schürer, Gesch. 3d ed., 1:761 et seq.
T. R.
Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Numismatics'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​n/numismatics.html. 1901.
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