Ancient Roman Gold Coin Found in Israel

March 15th, 2016 by

Hiking in the mountainous terrain of Eastern Galilee, in Israel, a woman stumbled upon something glinting in the sun. Sitting there in the grass, was a gold coin that is more than 2,000 years old.

The coin was found by Laurie Rimon, a resident from a kibbutz (a communal settlement) in northern Israel. Rather than keeping the historic treasure for herself, Laurie turned the unbelievable discovery over to the Israel Antiquities Authority.

“Rare on a Global Level”

The gold coin bears the image of Roman Emperor Augustus. However, in contrast to custom, Augustus was already deceased when the coin is believed to have been minted.

The gold coin found in Israel. Photo courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority

The gold coin found in Israel. Photo courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority

According to Dr. Daniel Syon, one of the senior numismatists (coin experts) at the Israel Antiquities Authority, the coin was produced under the reign of the Emperor Trajan. He told the press that the coin was, “minted in Rome in 107 CE.”

(CE is the abbreviation for “Common Era,” and is the equivalent of AD.)

“[The] coin is rare on a global level,” Dr. Syon continued. “On the reverse we have the symbols of the Roman legions next to the name of the ruler Trajan, and on the obverse—instead of an image of the emperor Trajan, as was usually the case, there is the portrait of the emperor ‘Augustus Deified.’ This coin is part of a series of coins minted by Trajan as a tribute to the emperors that preceded him.”

In other words, this coin is actually a sort of ancient commemorative!

By minting a gold coin with the image of one of his predecessors, instead of himself, Trajan was making a statement about Augustus’s perceived divinity.

Preserved in remarkably good condition for an artifact that is so old, the coin depicts Augustus, the heir to Caesar and the ostensible founder of the Roman Empire. (Prior to Augustus, Rome was considered a republic.) Augustus’s reign lasted from 27 BCE to 14 CE, approximately during the time of Jesus.

Nir Distelfeld, who is an inspector with the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery, noted, “Laurie demonstrated exemplary civic behavior by handing this important coin over to the Antiquities Authority. . . especially when it comes to a spectacular gold coin. 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.”

According to Distelfeld, there is only one other such example of this kind of coin, bearing the image of Emperor Augustus but minted by Trajan, that has even been located. The “twin” of the coin found by Ms. Rimon currently resides at the famous British Museum.

What would such a coin have actually been used for in ancient times? One reasonably wonders, why was it found in Israel? According to Dr. Donald T. Ariel, the head curator of the coin department at the Israel Antiquities Authority, this gold coin was far too valuable for everyday use. He said that common merchants in Rome’s province in the Holy Land would not likely have been able to produce change for someone spending a coin with such a high value.

One helpful comparison would be to think, it would have been like trying to buy a pack of gum with a $100 bill.

Today, as an artifact of history, the coin’s immense worth is essentially invaluable.


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