Objects of Jewish life

From a collector in Győr

Coins before, under and after the first Jewish Revolt

The coinage of the first Jewish war (66-70 AD) shows the symbols and slogans of the rebels and was therefore particularly important for their self-image. The minting of silver coins was a declaration of independence from the Roman Empire, since only the emperor had the right to issue silver coins. The new coinage, which was introduced and circulated in large numbers, was a feature of the Jewish rebellion, which did not generally characterise the rebellions of other subject peoples. They were coins that bore sacred objects of worship and celebration instead of the image of the hated Roman emperor, and their inscription proclaimed the redemption of Israel instead of the imperial ‘deity’.

When the Zealots took control of the Jerusalem temple, they also had the temple treasury and the temple tax, collected in the so-called Tyrian shekel. These coins, with a silver content of more than 94%, were the basis for the new coins minted in the temple. The minting of the coins could have taken place anywhere in the city, but both the silver to be minted and the new silver coins had to be stored safely, which could only be guaranteed in the temple.

This means that the priests encouraged the minting, but they may also have organised it. The silver content of the new coins is unusually high (98%). This high silver content indicates that other silver objects in the Temple’s treasury were probably also melted into the new coins. In Jerusalem, a large number of silver shekels and half-shekel coins were produced during the war. Noteworthy, that none of the Jewish military leaders had their names engraved on them.

The fact that minting ceased to exist in 70 AD, after the fall of Jerusalem, indicates that the most important mint was located in Jerusalem.

In the 2nd, 3rd and 4th years of the revolt, the Jerusalem mint also produced bronze coins (prutah).  All the motifs on the bronze coins (amphora, grape leaf, palm tree, fruit basket, etrog and lulav) are common in ancient Jewish iconography and can be found on the mosaic floors of synagogues in the late antiquity.

If one wants to give a symbolic meaning to the motif of the vine leaf, one might think of the golden vine, a work of art that decorated the entrance to the inner house of the temple in Jerusalem.

After the victory over Judea, a sobering series of celebratory Roman coins replaces the coins of the revolt. These ‘Judaea Capta’ coins proclaimed the outcome of a difficult war in every part of the empire, reminding other provinces that even if they had it, all their aspirations for freedom were hopeless. The coins also commemorate the elevation to the rank of emperor of Vespasian, commander of the Roman forces in Judea.

Below are some coins from the period.

Aulus Plautius silver denarius BC 55

Mint in Rome

Obv: Turreted head of Cybele (Mother of the Gods)
Res: Bacchius Judaeus (Aristobulus II, High Priest and King of Judaea) kneeling right, holding reins and offering up olive branch; behind, camel standing

Prutah, Júdea, Herodian Dynasty, Herod the Great, 40-4 BC

1,8 gramm, 15,2 mm, Jerusalem mint

Obv: Anchor surrounded by Greek inscription (of king Herod)
Res: double cornucopia with caduceus (symbol of Hermes) between horns and above pellets

Prutah, Judaea, Procurators, Pontius Pilate, 26-36 AD

15 mm, 1,94 g, 11 h

Obv: RY 16 (29 AD). IOYΛIA KAICAPOC (Julia [wife] of Caesar)
Res: three bound grain ears / TIBЄPIOY KAICAPOC (Emperor Tiberius), simpulum (a small vessel).

Prutah, Judea, Procurator under Claudius, 52-59 AD

Obv: Two crossed shields and spears
Res: six branched palm tree bearing two bunches of dates

Prutah, Claudius, procurator, 54 AD (14th year of Claudius’ reign)

Obv: KLAYDIOC KAICAP GERM (Emperor Claudius GERmania) and two crossed palm branches
Res: IOYΛIA AGRIPPINA (Julia Agrippina, wife of Claudius) in four rows in a wreath

Silver Shekel (copy), First Jewish Revolt, AD 66-70 (Year 3)

22mm, 13,19 g, 12h; attractive dark gray toning

Obv: Omer cup (ancient Israelite unit of dry measure used in the era of the Temple) with pearled rim; date above, “Jerusalem the Holy,”
Res: sprig of three pomegranates, (mentioned by Meshorer 202; Hendin 662, numismetic experts, ref. numbers)

Prutah, First Jewish Revolt, AD 69

Obv: dates on revolutionary coins count from the beginning of the war; the third year coin differs in the shape of the amphora, which has an ornate lid
Res: a leaf of the grape vine hanging from a branch; surrounding it is the legend Herut Tzion, (for the freedom of Zion)

Bronze Prutah eighth of a shekel of year 4 of the First Jewish Revolt (69–70 AD)

4,96 g

Obv: for the redemption of Zion
Res: lulav with two etrogens, “fourth year”

Vespasian Denarius, 70/71 AD


Obv: the head of Vespasian wearing a laurel wreath, surrounded by the inscription of his name and titles: IMP CAESAR VESPASIANVS AVG
Res: Judaea weeping beneath a Roman trophy, and the inscription IVDAEA

Roman AR denarius, Traianus, 103-111 AD

18,3 mm, 3,35 g, 7 h

Obv: IMP TRAIANO AVG GER DAC P M TR P (IMPerator TRAIANO AUGustus GERmanicus DACicus Pontifex Maximus TRibunitia Potestas), laureate bust, right, with drapery on left shoulder
Res: Arabia, draped, standing left, holding branch in right hand over camel walking before her and a bundle of canes (?) in left hand

Sources of descriptions:

Photos of the coins: © the collector; Featured image: Jewish Museum, Basel, display cabinet, © editor