Amid routine construction on one of Jerusalem’s main highways, a cache of 1,400-year-old Byzantine bronze coins have by chance been discovered.
Luckily, the work on the highway is being carefully managed by the state-owned firm Netivei Israel in collaboration with the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) to ensure that artifacts such as these are not simply whitewashed from the area while construction is going on.
Christians Fleeing Persian Empire?
The small cache of bronze coins were discovered together in a small cloth purse near ruins that have remained largely untouched for over a millennia, according to director of the excavation Annette Landes-Nagar. The pouch had been—quite purposefully, the evidence would suggest—tucked into a crevice in the wall of a large complex that once served as a refuge for Christian pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem.
The circumstantial evidence for the coins belonging to this building’s owner, who fled and didn’t return for the money, is strong. The Persians invaded the Levant in 614 CE, driving out Byzantine (Eastern Roman Empire) rule.
Accordingly, the coins were minted under the rule of Byzantine emperors from the 6th and 7th centuries whose reign directly precedes the Persian conquest: Justinian, Maurice, and Phocas. This means that some of the coins may have been struck as late as 610 CE. They also feature a prominent letter “M” on the reverse design.
Thanks to “mintmarks” on the coins, archaeologists can even identify the specific Byzantine mints where the coins came from: Antioch, Constantinople, and Nicomedia.
Aside from the date range agreeing with archaeologists’ theory, the location and intentionally hidden nature of the coin hoard backs up this idea. Last year, a Byzantine church from the same era was identified on the opposite side of the highway construction, revealing that the site is part of a larger historical settlement.
There are at least nine coins found together in the pouch, all of which can be counted in some of the images (below) made public by the IAA.
Photo credit: Yoli Shwartz (© Israel Antiquities Authority)
With the construction of a major highway taking place, the excavation and building project are both being undertaken very carefully in order to preserve the historic artifacts and cultural heritage of the area. Amit Shadman, the district archaeologist for Judah, says that the ruins where the coins were found is in the process of becoming a protected landmark.
Ancient and medieval coins are among the most informative and enriching items that a bygone civilization can leave behind. They provide modern observers with crucial insights into the history, commerce, culture, economics, and popular iconography of that society.
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