Evidence hints at purposeful storage by date
By Hubert Walker for CoinWeek ….
In April of this year, 16 ancient silver shekels and half-shekels were exposed near the Israeli city of Modi’in during exploratory excavations conducted by the government of Modi’in-Maccabim-Re’ut before construction began on a new neighborhood in the area.
The coins date back to the Hasmonean period of Jewish history, when the Hasmonean dynasty founded by Simon Maccabaeus ruled Judea. Simon’s brother Judas led the revolt of the Maccabees against the Seleucid dynasty, the successors of Alexander the Great’s general Seleucus I Nicator who occupied Judea as part of their empire after the death of Alexander in 323 BCE. The revolt succeeded in establishing Judea as a relatively independent vassal state and also gave the world the legend and celebration of Hanukkah.
Work to retrieve the coins–as well as the study, protection and initial excavation of the site–was conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), with the help of local children taking part in a special program. The shekels (equivalent to the Greek tetradrachm) and half-shekels (equivalent to the didrachm) were found in a crevice near a large, apparently defensive stone wall that hemmed in a farm house and agricultural estate that grew olives, grapes and grain. The farm was owned and operated by a religious Jewish family as evidenced by baths and structures found on-site that adhere to Jewish ritual purity laws.
The coins feature the images of two Seleucid kings of Judea: Antiochus VII Euergetes (ruled 138-129 BCE) and Demetrius II Nicator (ruled 147-139 and 129-126 BCE). According to IAA excavation director Avraham Tendler, the oldest silver coins in April’s discovery are dated 135 BCE, while the most recent are dated 126. They were minted in Tyre, an important center of commerce in ancient times and the location of major minting facilities. Tyre is located in the southern part of modern-day Lebanon, over 130 miles north of Modi’in.
Tendler also said that the coins likely represented about one month’s income for the estate, and so it is unlikely that the coins were buried with no intent to recover them later.
Interestingly, Dr. Donald Tzvi Ariel, head of the IAA’s coin department, suggested that some thought may have gone into the assembly of these specific pieces, since one or two coins had been set aside from each of nine consecutive years between 135 and 126 BCE — possibly making the find a 2,140-year-old date set and an early example of coin collecting.
A number of bronze coins were also found on the site that feature various later rulers of the area. This is evidence that the estate continued to function into the early Roman period. Further evidence suggests that the inhabitants of the estate may have actually participated in the First Jewish Revolt revolt against Roman rule in 66 CE. Some of the bronze coins themselves bear the inscription “Year Two” (as in the second year of the revolt) and the revolutionary slogan “Freedom of Zion”. Additionally, underground shelters and tunnels connecting them were discovered and some walls of the house were reinforced with heavy stones at some point right before the revolt.
The farming estate appears to have been operating even after the 70 CE destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem by the Roman general and future emperor Titus.
The coins and other artifacts will be displayed in an archaeological park to be established in the new neighborhood under construction.
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