Scholars and curious observers alike are always captivated by the few rare Israeli artifacts that date to the time before the fall of Jerusalem to the Roman Empire in the year 70 CE. One such window into antiquity, in the form of a gold coin bearing the portrait of the Roman emperor Nero, has been uncovered by an archaeological team that has been excavating a site near the famous Mount Zion.
The coin in question was uncovered as the result of a dig conducted by researchers from the University of North Carolina (Charlotte). The scholars from UNC Charlotte theorize that the coin may have been hidden in one of the lavish villas of local priests at the time when the Roman general Titus reduced the historic city to rubble. Numismatic experts have identified its date of origin as the years 56 or 57 CE.
There are a number of reasons that make this gold coin rather significant. According to Dr. Shimon Gibson, one of the archaeologists leading the excavation, this coin “is exceptional because this is the first time that a coin of this kind has turned up in Jerusalem” since researchers have been studying the site. Such relics “of this type are usually only found in private collections, where we don’t have clear evidence as to [the] place of origin,” Gibson added.
One would expect the invading Roman legions to have confiscated a coin of this high value during their destruction of Jerusalem, but apparently this gold coin eluded the soldiers during the razing of the city. Beyond its unlikely discovery, this coin is important because—as Gibson points out—it provides invaluable information about the history of the area where it was found.
The image struck on the coin’s obverse depicts the emperor Nero in his youth, showing the famous leader without his traditional laurel crown. The reverse uses the symbolism of the oak wreath along with Latin abbreviations. Interestingly, even the edge (the side of the coin) bears inscriptions, which was a device intended to deter frauds from shaving bits of precious metal from the coin.
As evidenced by the image of the coin above, it is remarkably well-preserved after nearly 2,000 years.
In addition to providing us with a compelling story about ancient Hebrew aristocrats trying to stow their wealth away from the Roman forces, this coin also points toward a specific date (when the coin was minted in 56/57 CE) for Roman occupation of Jerusalem prior to the First Jewish-Roman War, which took place from 66 to 73 CE.
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