By Hubert Walker for CoinWeek ….
On Monday, March 14, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced that a hiker in the northern region of Galilee had discovered an incredibly rare ancient Roman gold coin.
Until this discovery, an example held in the British Museum’s numismatic collection was perhaps the most famous specimen.
During an excursion into the eastern Galilee, a group of hikers including Laurie Rimon ended up on the grounds of an area archaeological site. Rimon noticed something shiny on the ground and picked it up. Realizing that it was important for the coin to be properly dealt with, Rimon told Irit Zuk-Kovacsi, the group’s guide, of her find. With the help of archaeologist and tour guide Dr. Motti Aviam, Zuk-Kovacsi contacted the IAA.
After about two hours, a representative of the Israel Antiquities Authority arrived at the site. And instead of pressing a claim on the coin, Rimon gave it to the IAA rep.
“It was not easy parting with the coin. After all, it is not every day one discovers such an amazing object, but I hope I will see it displayed in a museum in the near future,” she said.
Because of her selfless deed, Rimon will receive a good citizenship certificate from the government.
Nir Distelfeld, an inspector from the IAA’s Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery, said that Rimon “demonstrated exemplary civic behavior by handing this important coin over to the Antiquities Authority … 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. It is important to know that when you find an archaeological artifact it is advisable to call IAA representatives to the location spot in the field. That way we can also gather the relevant archaeological and contextual information from the site”.
All images courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority
According to Dr. Danny Syon, a senior numismatist with the Israel Antiquities Authority, the coin–a gold aureus of the emperor Trajan minted in 107 CE–is unusual in that it doesn’t depict the Roman ruler on the obverse. Rather, it features an effigy of Augustus, the first emperor and founder of the Roman Empire. It was part of a series of Imperial circulating commemoratives that Trajan produced to honor previous emperors.
Specifically, the coin refers to DIVUS AUGUSTUS (“Divine Augustus”); Augustus died on August 19, 14 CE and was deified the next month.
The reverse depicts three standards, symbols of the Roman Legion usually borne into combat by a standard-bearer. The abbreviated inscription gives Trajan’s name and imperial titles, and celebrates some of his many military victories – such as the conquest of Dacia (in modern-day Romania and Moldova).
As to how the coin ended up at the site, Dr. Donald T. Ariel, head curator of the IAA coin department, said:
“The coin may reflect the presence of the Roman army in the region some 2,000 years ago – possibly in the context of activity against Bar Kokhba supporters in the Galilee – but it is very difficult to determine that on the basis of a single coin. Historical sources describing the period note that some Roman soldiers were paid a high salary of three gold coins, the equivalent of 75 silver coins, each payday. Because of their high monetary value soldiers were unable to purchase goods in the market with gold coins, as the merchants could not provide change for them … Whilst the bronze and silver coins of Emperor Trajan are common in the country, his gold coins are extremely rare. So far, only two other gold coins of this emperor have been registered in the State Treasures, one from Giv‘at Shaul near Jerusalem, and the other from the Qiryat Gat region and the details on both of them are different to those that appear on the rare coin that Laurie found”.
Images of the British Museum specimen can be seen by visiting their online collection.