Ancient Judaean coins – ranging from small bronze “Widow’s Mites” to the impressive silver Shekels of the First Revolt (66-70 CE) and the silver Selas (Tetradrachms) of the Second Revolt (132-5 CE) – are often found in hoards. But the coins issued by the Romans that relate to Judaea are only discovered one at a time and are therefore far rarer than the ancient Jewish coins.
Three of these historically significant Roman coins are included in the rarities from the Mel Wacks Collection that will be auctioned by Goldberg Auctioneers at the New York International Numismatic Convention (NYINC), January 14-16, 2020. Mel Wacks is the author of The Handbook of Biblical Numismatics, which is available free at www.amuseum.org/book. All of the coins in the Mel Wacks Collection, and other lots can eventually be viewed and bid on at www.goldbergcoins.com. You can get the printed catalog free by calling 800-978-2646 or emailing [email protected], and mention that you read about this sale in CoinWeek.
Soon after the Temple at Jerusalem was razed by the victorious troops led by Titus in 70 CE, his father – Emperor Vespasian – launched an extensive issue of coins commemorating the hard-fought Roman victory over the tiny Jewish nation. The design elements of this gold aureus are a palm tree and a seated figure of a female (allegorical representative of Judaea) in an attitude of mourning. The depiction on this coin may reflect the prophecy of Isaiah (c. 700 BCE): “For Jerusalem is ruined, and Judah is fallen … Thy men shall fall by the sword and thy mighty in the war. And her gates shall lament and mourn, and she being desolate shall sit upon the ground” (Isaiah 3:8, 25-26).
In 70 CE, after the fall of Jerusalem, many thousands of Jews were taken to Rome as slaves and others were exiled from Judaea. Rome took over the collection of the annual Jewish head tax, which had been a half shekel (equivalent to two Roman denarii). The Romans collected this tax with much zeal … so much so that it caused embarrassment to Jews and non-Jews alike.
Following the reign of Domitian came the short but liberalizing rule of Nerva (96-98 CE). One of the first reforms he instituted concerned the department (Fiscus Judaicus) responsible for the collection of the Jewish head tax. In her paper “The Interpretation and Wider Context of Nerva’s Fiscus Judaicus Sestertius”, Marius Heemstra came to the conclusion that “Nerva’s coin … is very plausibly evidence that the new emperor no longer permitted people to be accused of living a Jewish life. This specific accusation became a ‘wrongful accusation’ (calumnia). Towards the end of [his predecessor] Domitian’s reign, high-ranking Romans accused of ‘living a Jewish life’ could have their property confiscated and they could even end up being executed.
A large bronze sestertius was issued to commemorate this reform. This scarce coin features a palm tree, that had become symbolic of the Jewish people on the Judaea Capta coins, and the Latin inscriptions “FISCI IVDAICI CALVMNIA SVBLATA” (the calumny of the Jewish tax is removed) and “S C” (by consent of the Senate).
The Roman emperor Hadrian (117-138 CE) visited many of the Roman provinces, including Judaea in 130 CE. Immediately, the rumor spread among the Jewish inhabitants that the Emperor, one of the great ancient builders, intended to rebuild the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. He did intend to build a temple on this holy site … however, it was to be a pagan Roman temple dedicated to the god Jupiter (Zeus).
Leo Kadman writes: “The Jews watched the stones of the Sanctuary being used to erect temples for heathen gods. No choice was left to them but to interrupt the building of the Roman colony by force of arms before it was completed” (The Coins of Aelia Capitolina).
At the age of 60, Hadrian returned to Rome from his travels and began to strike coins to commemorate his visits to the empire’s provinces– Egypt, Macedonia, Spain, etc.–and the Judaean visit was no exception. His ADVENTVI AVG IVDAEA bronze sestertius, issued sometime between 134 and 138 CE, shows the Emperor receiving a Jewish woman and two children who carry palm branches; in the background, a bull appears next to a sacrificial altar. The altar was a reference to the god Jupiter Capitolinus, to whom Hadrian had dedicated his new pagan temple. Hadrian renamed Jerusalem as Aelia (his family name) Capitolina.