Ancient Jewish Coins Related to the Works of Josephus

The sources for this article include David Hendin's Guide to Biblical Coins and Y. Meshorer's Ancient Jewish Coinage. David Hendin's book is especially recommended for the general public and coin collectors.


Ancient coins have been found throughout Israel in large numbers.

The variety of coins reflects the history of the rulers of Judaea. In learning about the coins, one learns and appreciates the transitions of power that took place over the centuries.

Their dates of issue have been determined by archaeologists using a variety of techniques.

Often the coins date themselves by the year of a ruler's reign, but if not, the location in which they were found will give clues.

If not dated, a useful method arises from the finding of carefully buried coin horde in which undated coins are mixed with coins of known date. By comparing a large number of such hordes and using studies of portraiture, lettering, minting technique, and materials, archaeologists have produced a fairly confident picture of the series of coinage in Judea.

The resuilting dated coin series determined by archaeologists can be compared with the history written by Josephus. The writings assists in explaining the coins, and the coins help confirm the accuracy of Josephus.

Drawings are by myself, based on coins in a private collection. - G. J. Goldberg

Before Coins
Under the Persian Empire
Alexander the Great
The Hasmonean (Maccabean) Dynasty

Hyrcanus I (ruled 135-104 BCE)
Alexander Jannaeus (ruled 103-76 BCE)
Aristobulus II (ruled 67-63 BCE)
Hyrcanus II (ruled 63-40 BCE)
Antigonus (ruled 40-37)
The Herodian Dynasty
Herod the Great (ruled 37 BCE - 4 BCE)
Herod Archelaus (ruled 4 BCE - 6 CE)
Herod Antipas (ruled 4 CE - 40 CE)
Herod Philip II (ruled 4 CE - 34 CE)
Aristobulus of Chalcis (ruled 57 CE - 92 CE)
Agrippa I (ruled 37 CE - 44 CE)
Agrippa II (ruled 56 CE - 95 CE)
The Procurators (ruled 6 CE - 66 CE)
The Tyrian Shekel and The Temple Tax
The Revolt Against Rome (66 CE - 70 CE)
The Silver Shekels
The Amphora Bronze
The Succoth Bronzes
Judaea Capta

Before Coins

 Coins began to be widely used in the Mediterranean region just at the end of the period described in the canonical Hebrew Bible. Before the minting of coins, careful weights of precious metals were used as a means of exchange, with the shekel and talent of the Bible a frequent as units of measure. Many weights in these measures have been found in Israel.
Josephus identifies the shekel as equal in weight to four Athenian drachmas. (Antiquities 3.8.2), about 14 grams. This reflects the weight of his own day, and is larger than the Biblical shekel, which was about 11 grams (less than half an ounce). See the discussion in the following of the Tyrian shekel and Jewish Revolt coins.

Under the Persian Empire

The first coins to be used in Judea appeared in the 4th century BCE while Judea was part of the Persian Empire. These tiny silver coins depicted a falcon and the head of a Persian king, and had inscribed on them the name of the region, YEHUD, in the ancient Hebrew alphabet. This period is described in Book 11 of Josephus' Antiquities.

Alexander the Great

Judea came under Greek rule when Alexander the Great conquered the area from the Persians in 333 BCE. Josephus describes this victory and the encounter between Alexander and the High Priest of Jerusalem in Antiquities 11.8.1-7.

Alexander's empire was divided after his death among his generals, with Ptolemy taking Egypt and Seleucus ruling Syria. The people of Judea fell under the dominion of one or the other of these dynasties for the next two centuries, "so that they were like a ship in a storm, which is tossed by the waves on both sides" (Antiquities 12.3.3).

The coins of the period found in Israel include the Greek-lettered coins of the Ptolemaic and Seleucid rulers minted in their respective countries, but also there are found coins minted in, or specifically for, Judea.

These latter coins include small silver coins, half the size of a U.S. dime, with the head of Ptolemy I on one side and an eagle on the other with the inscription YEHUDAH (Judea) in ancient Hebrew. Variations of these coins are also found, including those bearing the bust of the goddess Athena.

This period is described in Book 12, Chapters 1-11, of Josephus' Antiquities.


The Hasmonean (Maccabean) Dynasty

The Seleucid rule over was Jerusalem unexpectedly ended in by the revolt of the Jews led by Judah Maccabee (December, 165 BCE).

"Now Judah celebrated the festival of the restoration of the sacrifices of the Temple for eight days…And from that time to this we celebrate this festival, and call it Lights. I suppose the reason for the name was because this liberty beyond our hopes appeared to us." (Antiquities 12.7.7 323-325)
This restored of a Jewish kingdom for the first time since the Babylonian captivity. (And so it also served as inspiration for the revolt against the Romans two centuries later.) Judah and his brothers were descended from Asmoneus Accompanying this rule was the first Jewish coinage. The series of coins record the rule of the Hasmonean dynasty (named after Asmoneus, the ancestor of Judah and his brothers).

The coins of the Judean kingdom are quite different from the coins of its neighbors. Most distinctive is the absence of any depiction of a human head, bird, or animal throughout the entire series. The obvious explanation is that the kings were obeying the Second Commandment to make no graven images. Thus the coins attest that the government was officially dedicated to preserving the Jewish religion.

Instead of symbols of living animals, the coins of the Hasmoneans were filled on one side with text written in ancient Hebrew script. This script differs from the calligraphic Babylonian-style lettering familiar today. The older script had been used to write the holy books prior to the Babylonian captivity, and even in the Hasmonean days it was antique (the Dead Sea scrolls, for example, are written in the later script). The use of the older lettering may have been to draw a direct link between the new kings and the kings of Israel prior to the captivity.

On the reverse of the coins one finds pictures of inanimate objects or plants that symbolize the nation or its religion. Most commonly found are cornucopia, "horns of plenty," representing the abundance of the land, combined with a pomegranate, a priestly symbol.

All of these coins are bronze and about three-quarters the size of a U.S. dime.


Hyrcanus I (ruled 135-104 BCE)

The coins of the first king were essentially the same as the Seleucid coins that preceded it. The new coins combined the anchor symbol of the Seleucid kingdom with a lily representing Jerusalem. The rule of Hyrcanus is described in Antiquities Book 13, Chapters 7-11.

Hyrcanus was succeeded by his son Aristobulus, who died before long; his widow awarded the kingdom to his younger brother, Alexander.


Alexander Jannaeus (ruled 103-76 BCE)

During the time of Jannaeus the coinage evolved from Seleucid imitations to the distinctive Hasmonean style.
The first style of coins are half Greek, half Hebrew. The Greek side is the familiar anchor of the Seleucid dynasty (the king Seleucus the First supposedly had a birthmark in the shape of an anchor); surrounding the anchor, in Greek letters, are the words KING ALEXANDER. On the other side is shown a Jewish symbol -- either a lamp representing the Temple, or a star, or a palm branch representing the land or the festival of Succoth. Around this symbol, usually in the ancient Hebrew script, are the words YEHONATAN THE KING. Most Jews, then as now, had both a Hebrew name and a name in the language of the dominant culture; Alexander's Hebrew name was Yehonatan (Jonathan), and so appears in the appropriate script. There is one early style of coin in which the inscription appears not in the ancient lettering but in the Babylonian.

The newer style of coin is purely Jewish. On one side is the combination of two cornucopia and the priestly pomegranate; the combination happens to mimic the shape of the Seleucid anchor. The obverse is entirely filled with the inscription, in Hebrew, YEHONATAN THE HIGH PRIEST AND THE COUNCIL OF THE JEWS.

 Alexander Jannaeus Coin

Oddly, on these coins Alexander does not designate himself as king. Evidently High Priest is the more important title; the coin shows that the king was subservient to the Laws of heaven and shared power with a representative body of Jews.

Alexander was succeeded by his wife Alexandra (ruled 76-67 BCE). No coins have been found bearing her name.

See Antiquities Book 13, Chapters 12-16, for a description of this period.


Aristobulus II (ruled 67-63 BCE)

The younger of Alexander and Alexandra's two sons, Aristobulus, seized the crown from his elder brother. He continued the coinage style of his parents, changing only the inscription to include his Hebrew name, Yehudah (Judah): YEHUDAH THE HIGH PRIEST AND THE COUNCIL OF THE JEWS.

Aristobulus appears at intervals in Antiquities, Book 14, Chapters 1-8.


Hyrcanus II (ruled 63-40 BCE)

"Now this misery which came upon Jerusalem was caused by Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, who raised a sedition one against the other. For now we lost our liberty and became subject to the Romans." (Antiquities 14.4.5 77)

Although Hyrcanus II regained the throne from his little brother, he was controlled by Rome and by his own ambitious advisor, Antipater. Although a tributary king, he was still allowed to issue the coins of a king. For the most part, he retained the style of his parents and brother, altering the name to his own Hebrew name of Yehohanan (John). There are some interesting variations, however.

The coinage experiments with other symbols: a lily or helmet replace the usual cornucopias-pomegranate combination. On the inscription side, on one coin a palm branch bisects the lettering, on another the lettering is in a ring that surrounds double cornucopia.

Of political significance is a change in wording. Hyrcanus' earlier coins read


but his later coins are inscribed


Thus Hyrcanus is no longer implicitly king, but is instead explicitly called a council head. Is this a decrease in authority? Perhaps this is due to the decree of in 47 BCE, Julius Caesar in 47 BCE, in which Hyrcanus is named not king but "ethnarch," and the true power of procuratorship of Judea is awarded to Antipater. (Antiquities 14.8.5 143; 14.10.2 190-194).

The long story of Hyrcanus is told in Book 14 of the Antiquities and in Book 15, Chapters 2 and 6.

Antigonus (ruled 40-37)

The son of the late Aristobulus II made an attempt to take control of the nation from Rome. The result was his death and the appointment by the Senate of Antipater's son Herod as King of Judaea.

Antigonus, whose Hebrew name was Mattatayah (Mattathias), issued a large coin with cornucopia, an ivy wreath, Greek lettering that read King Antigonus, and the Hebrew inscription of the type hat had been introduced by his grandfather, MATTATAYAH THE HIGH PRIEST AND COUNCIL OF THE JEWS. Smaller coins just have a rudimentary "Mattatayah."

But Antigonus also issued one of the most historically interesting coins, quite rare, which commands a high price among collectors. This is a coin depicting two holy objects that stood within the sanctuary of the Temple: on one side, the showbread table, and on the other, the seven-branched menorah. This is the only image of the menorah found on ancient Jewish coins.


The Herodian Dynasty


Herod the Great (ruled 37 BCE - 4 BCE)

Herod, the son of Hyrcanus' advisor Antipater, was proclaimed King of Judaea by the Roman Senate in 40 BCE, but did not secure his position by force until he defeated Antigonus in 37 BCE. His long reign gave opportunity for a wide variety of coinage, or several denominations, all in bronze. Denominations included the lepton (the smallest standard Greek coin size) and the prutah (the smallest standard Jewish size), and multiples of the prutah. He did not repeat the style of the Hasmonean coins, but he did continue to respect -- with one exception -- the Second Commandment injunction against depicting humans and animals.

The most common symbols throughout Herod's coins are various implements used in religious ceremonies: an incense burner, a tripod table. Next in popularity were military equipment, shields and helmets. The palm branch and anchor make their appearance again, as do the pomegranate (if it is a pomegranate, and not a poppy).

No Hebrew lettering appears on these coins -- only KING HEROD in Greek, BASILEOS ERODOU.

An interesting common coin of Herod depicts a tripod table and palm leaves on one side, and the usual inscription on the other surrounding a cross within a circle. The circle apparently represents the royal crown, but the cross creates some speculation. The most interesting idea is that in the inauguration ceremonies kings were sprinkled on the head with anointing oil in a circular motion, and priests were anointed with a cross symbol. The coin may depict Herod's domination of both the royal and priestly realms, although he himself did not take the role of priest.
The one exception to the rule against graven images of living things is found in a not uncommon small coin with a cornucopia on one side, with the king's name, and on the other a standing eagle. This brings to mind the affair of the golden eagle in the Temple that brought forth the first actions of revolt against Roman domination.

When Herod died, Augustus Caesar partitioned the kingdom among Herod's sons, of which there were many; for after Mariamme, Herod married eight more times. In the New Testament there are several references to these Herodian kings. Herod the Great is the ruler during the time of the birth of Jesus that is referred to at the beginning of Matthew and Luke; Herod Antipas is the king of Galilee who was involved in the deaths of John the Baptist and Jesus; Herod Agrippa I is the one who appears in the early part of Acts, and Herod Agrippa II meets with Paul in the later part of Acts. The name "Herod" practically became a royal title, in the same way that the name "Caesar" had in Rome.

Herod's reign is the subject of Antiquities, Book 14 Ch. 11 through Book 17 Ch. 8. The partitioning of his kingdom among his sons is described in Antiquities 17.11.4.

Herod Archelaus (ruled 4 BCE - 6 CE)

Archelaus was appointed "ethnarch" over Judea, Samaria, Idumaea (north-south axis of Judea). He failed at governing and was removed, and authority over these areas was transferred from the Jews to Roman civil servants, the "procurators."

The coins of Archelaus bear maritime symbols, anchors and ships; the usual cornucopia and palm branches; a helmet; a bunch of grapes. They bear only Greek inscriptions, variations on HEROD and ETHNARCH, often abbreviated.

The reign of Archelaus is described in Antiquities Book 17, Ch. 8-13.


Herod Antipas (ruled 4 CE - 40 CE)

Antipas was more successful than his brother. He ruled with the Roman title of "tetrarch" over the lands of Galilee and Perea (part of what is currently Jordan). Coins in four denominations were struck, all bronze, all today rare. They depict palm leaves and wreaths, with one interesting issue showing a full palm tree. They bear the inscriptions HEROD TETRARCH in Greek and his capital city of TIBERIAS. Some also have the name of the Emperor Caligula, GAIUS CAESAR GERMANICUS, who led the Empire during the last three years of Antipas' reign.


Herod Philip II (ruled 4 CE - 34 CE)

Philip received a corner of his father's kingdom along with the title of Tetrarch. This portion was dominated by non-Jewish Greeks, and accordingly his coins resemble those of his Greek neighbors. In particular, they depicted humans, including the heads of Augustus Caesar and his wife. Inscriptions were in Greek, the predictable PHILLIP TETRARCH along with the names of Caesar and Julia. They are also dated, with one coin showing the head of Philip himself revealing that it was minted in 30 CE (denoted by Year 34 of his reign), the time of the Gospel events.


Aristobulus of Chalcis (ruled 57 CE - 92 CE)

The portion of Lebanon called Chalcis was given to the son of Aristobulus (Mariamme's son). Herod III eventually passed his land on to his own son named Aristobulus.

One extremely interesting coin was known to have been issued by Aristobulus. On one side is shown the head of Aristobulus with the inscription OF KING ARISTOBULUS in Greek. On the other side is the head of a woman wearing a crown. surrounded by the inscription QUEEN SALOME. This is Aristobulus' wife (Antiquities 18.5.4 137), who is the same Salome as in the John the Baptist story. It is a rare depiction of a person from a New Testament story.


Agrippa I (ruled 37 CE - 44 CE)

As the son of Aristobulus, who was one of the two sons of Mariamme, Agrippa I bore the lineage of the original Hasmonean dynasty. He was therefore a popular favorite to become the next ruler of a reunited Judaea, and slowly the Roman emperors awarded him territory, including the predominantly non-Jewish areas formerly belonging to Philip. Thus many of his coins are of Greek type and show heads of the Emperor and of himself and his son.

Agrippa issued a variety of artistic coins, with horses, multiple figures, and dramatic scenes. Many coins were fairly large, the size of a U.S. quarter. All were bronze. They bore the date, KING AGRIPPA in Greek, and at times the names of his son or the Emperor.

Only one coin seemed to circulate within Jewish areas, and unlike the others is not rare today. This shows no human figures, only a royal parasol on one side, with the name of the king, and three ears of barley on the other, with the date Year 6 of his reign, which translates to 42 CE.

Agrippa I's story is told at intervals in Books 18 and 19 of the Antiquities.



Agrippa II (ruled 56 CE - 95 CE)

"King Agrippa to Josephus, his dear friend, sends greetings.

I have read over your book with great pleasure, and it appears to me that you have done it much more accurately and with greater care, than have the other writers. Send me the rest of these books.

Farewell, my dear friend."

The son of Agrippa I, the great-grandson of the Hasmonean Mariamme, inherited his father's popularity and lands. Agrippa II accrued more over time from the Roman emperors, Nero awarding him cities in Galilee and authority over the Temple and the High Priest.

He was a friend of Josephus and the two corresponded frequently on historical matters; in his autobiography, Josephus states that Agrippa wrote him sixty-two letters concerning his work (Life 1.65 364). The above quotation is one of the letters he cites.

The coins of Agrippa form a long series both before and after the war against Rome, to which he was opposed. The heads of the Emperors are on most of the coins. Inscriptions are all in Greek, giving the name of the emperor, his own KING AGRIPPA, and the date in terms of his regnal year. Some of the coins after the war are modeled on the Judea Capta coins issued by Rome to commemorate the defeat. The implication throughout is that Agrippa did all he could to remain friendly with Rome even at the most tumultuous times.

Agrippa II appears throughout the War and the Life and in Book 20 of the Antiquities.


The Procurators (ruled 6 CE - 66 CE)

Herod Archelaus, whose territory included Jerusalem, was succeeded in power by Roman administrators; fourteen of these procurators governed until the outbreak of the war.

Their coins show attention to Jewish sensibilities in their avoidance of human and animal images. They are all small bronze coins and usually depict palm trees, ears of barley, cornucopias, and wreaths. The name of the emperor and the year appear in Greek inscriptions. The procurators did not put their own name on the coins, so we can only associate the two groups through the dates given by Josephus.

Only one governor shows an insensitivity in his coins, perhaps even a deliberate intent to provoke. These coins show not neutral agricultural symbols but pictures of implements used in Roman religious ceremonies. Thus they stood, by association, for Roman gods themselves, the closest a coin designer can come without actually depicting a god. Interesting enough, the governor responsible for these coins was Pontius Pilate. This accords with Josephus' accounts of his provocation of the Jews of his time, and perhaps sheds some light on the Gospel events.
The procurators are discussed particularly in Antiquities Book 18 Ch. 1-4 and Book 20 Ch. 5-9.


The Tyrian Shekel and The Temple Tax

A requirement for Jews everywhere, whether or not they lived in the land of Israel, was to make an annual payment to support the Temple in Jerusalem. The Biblical amount of the payment was one-half shekel. As Josephus tells it:

"And when Moses had gathered the multitude together again, he ordained that they should offer half a shekel for every man, as an oblation to God; which shekel is a piece among the Hebrews, and is equal to four Athenian drachmae." (Antiquities 3.8.2)

As noted before, the weight of the Biblical shekel was actually less than four drachmae, but in Josephus' time these two were equated, probably out of convenience in dealing with the Greek monetary system.

Only one coin was acceptable to the Temple for the paying of the tax at the time of Josephus: this was the four-drachmae silver piece minted at the city of Tyre (located on the coast of Lebanon). Throughout the region people gave this coin its highest confidence due to the purity of its silver, which had been maintained for the two centuries of the coin's production. This four-drachmae or "tetradrachma" piece was equated with one Hebrew shekel of silver and therefore was acceptable for two payments of the Temple tax. A half-shekel coin was also produced.

The Tyrian shekel is referred to by name at one point by Josephus:

"He then bought up all the oil, paying Tyrian coin of the value of four Athenian drachmas for four amphoras and proceeded to sell half an amphora at the same price." (War 2.21.2 592)
The coin is large and thick, about the diameter of a U.S. quarter, and weighed the 14 grams of the shekel (about half an ounce). On the obverse is the sturdy head of the Phoenecian god Melkart wearing a laurel wreath on his head and a lion skin on his shoulders. On the reverse is a fierce eagle facing left, in a style resembling that of the American eagle that at one time was on the silver dollar; it clutches the prow of a ship in its right claw, and around it is the legend in Greek, OF TYRE THE HOLY AND INVINCIBLE. With imagery like this it is no wonder the coin inspired confidence among traders.
The coin is dated on the reverse. It began to be minted in 126 BCE and ceased production in 70 CE -- coincidentally, the last year of the Jewish war. There is somewhat of a change in style for coins dated after 18 BCE, and numismatists suggest that these later coins were actually minted in Jerusalem expressly for use in the Temple. It is odd that coins bearing the image of a foreign god would be produced in Israel and accepted by the Temple, but perhaps necessity and a careful interpretation of the Law swayed the authorities: one should not make graven images, so as long as they are made by Gentiles, and are not worshipped by Jews, they might have been deemed safe for use.



The Revolt Against Rome (66 CE - 70 CE)

The revolutionary government during the war against Rome minted its own coins. These announced the government's goals and authority as well as serving as a medium of exchange.

 The coins of the revolt are an exciting series with vivid imagery and defiant slogans that were at once nationalistic and messianic. Contrasting them to the dry Hasmonean money one sees a religious dedication and even fervor in the revolt coins that is lacking in the earlier government's; the old kings inscribed their own name and did not use the name of a nation, while the revolt coinage used the name of no leader and put the nation's names everywhere. As a consequence, however, we do not know who in fact issued the revolt coins; Josephus does not tell us.

All the coins of the revolution use the same antique Hebrew lettering as the Hasmonean coins, deliberately recalling the old kingdom of Israel. Greek is never used on these coins.


The Silver Shekels

The most famous coins of the revolt are the large, thick silver shekels. As discussed above, the Temple would only take the Tyrian shekel as payment for the Temple tax. The new revolutionary coins of the same weight were undoubtedly intended as nationalist replacements for the foreign and idolatrous Tyrian shekel.

The shekels have about the same diameter as a U. S. quarter and the same weight as the U. S. half dollar.

These coins are beautifully made. On the obverse is a chalice surrounded by the inscription sheqel yisroael, SHEKEL OF ISRAEL, and an indication of the date, YEAR 1,2,3, or 4, with coins of the last year (69/70 CE) being extremely rare.

On the reverse is a stem with three of what appear to be pomegranates. The careful positioning of the fruits implies this symbol was of great importance to the revolt, but we do not know what that was. Surrounding this is the inscription yerushalaim hakodesh, JERUSALEM THE HOLY.

A half-shekel of similar design was also minted.

Josephus makes reference to a shekel coin twice in his history of the war. One of them was already quoted above (see the Tyrian Shekel section). The other appears in the context of the intense famine that Jerusalem suffered during the Roman siege:

"Others devoured tufts of withered grass; indeed some collectors of stalks sold a trifling quantity for four Athenian drachmas." (War 6.3.3 198)
As we saw, Josephus equates the shekel with four Athenian drachmas, so it is most likely he is referring to a tetradrachm coin, either the Tyrian or the Israeli shekel. Another interesting reference to money demonstrates the inflation that resulted when the Temple treasury was opened:
"Gold was so abundant in the town that they could purchase for twelve Athenian drachmas coin formerly worth twenty-five." (War 5.13.4 550)


The Amphora Bronze


The most plentiful issue of the revolutionary government is a small bronze coin with the same diameter as a U.S. dime. On the obverse is a vase with two handles, an "amphora." It is surrounded by the date in large antique Hebrew letters, and reads either shanat shtayim, YEAR TWO, or shanat shalosh, YEAR THREE. The dates on all revolutionary coins count from the beginning of the war in 66 CE, so these are from 67/68 and 68/69 CE. The third year coin differs in the shape of the amphora, which has an ornate lid.

The reverse of the bronze depicts a leaf of the grape vine hanging from a branch. Surrounding it is the legend herut tzion, FOR THE FREEDOM OF ZION.

The imagery shows a chief source of wealth of Israel, wine production. The amphora perhaps contains the finished product of which the leaf is the beginning. Wine also was important in Jewish religious ceremonies. The image may involve symbolism we can only guess at today; for example, the vine leaf may also represent the immense and finely crafted golden vine that hung over the entrance to the Temple (Antiquities 15.11.3 395).  

Many variations of the amphora bronze have been found, and numismatists suggest there may have been many different minting centers. Because of their plenty their price is relatively low, and many visitors to Israel buy them as souvenirs.


The Succoth Bronzes

A more ornate set of larger bronzes appeared later in the war, in 69 CE. These are relatively rare and highly priced in today's market.

These bronzes depict religious articles related to the celebration of Succoth, the Festival of Tabernacles. One way to interpret this is to recall that the festival celebrates the journey from Egypt before the Israelites reached the promised land. The coin may be suggesting that the people have freed themselves from a foreign power but have not yet attained a peaceful and safe nation.

One coin of this category shows on the obverse an etrog with a lulav on either side of it, surrounded by the inscription YEAR FOUR HALF. On the reverse is a seven-branched date palm tree, recalling not only a chief product of the land but also the seven-branched menorah in the Temple. Two baskets of fruit are at its base. It is surrounded by the inscription l'goalit tzion, FOR THE REDEMPTION OF ZION.

The inscription doubtless reminded the people of the Biblical promises of redemption by the Lord. "Redeem" is almost a technical term in Biblical language signifying a future era of freedom, brought about, potentially, by a specially appointed messenger -- a Messiah. The Greek equivalent appears only twice in the Gospels, oddly enough both in Luke in strategic positions: once in the first chapter and once in the last chapter. The latter reference occurs in the Emmaus narrative which parallels the Testimonium passage of Josephus (as discussed elsewhere on this web site): "For we thought he would be the one to redeem Israel." This ties Luke to the language of the revolution as shown on the Succoth coins, and makes plain the expectation among many Jews that Jesus would bring political freedom, if not more, thirty-five years before actual war broke out.

Other types of Succoth coins show variations of the lulav and etrog symbols, as well as an ornate chalice.


Judaea Capta

A sobering series of Roman coins celebrating their victory over Judaea replaces those of the revolution. These "Judaea Capta" coins advertised the outcome of the difficult war to all parts of the empire, serving as a reminder to other provinces not to have similar ideas of freedom. They also celebrated the war that elevated the Vespasian, the commander of the Roman forces in Judaea, to the rank of Emperor.

Josephus had predicted this to Vespasian (War 3.8.9 399) and as a consequence was rewarded (War 4.10.7 622) and, eventually, made a member of Vespasian's family, the Flavians. One might say that the victory coins served the same purpose as Josephus' history of the war: to tell of the capture of the rebellious province and to gratify the new emperor.

Many different coins referring to the victory were struck throughout the empire over a period of more than a decade, both by Vespasian and by his son Titus when the latter became Emperor. The most famous type is the Vespasian denarius. These coins, about the size of a U.S. dime, were minted in both silver and gold.  

On the obverse is the head of Vespasian wearing a laurel wreath, surrounded by an inscription naming him and indicating by his titles the year it was struck. Those minted at the war's end in 70 CE bear the Latin inscription IMP CAESAR VESPASIANVS AVG, i.e., EMPEROR CAESAR VESPASIAN AUGUSTUS.  

On the reverse is a design depicting a personification of Judaea as a captured woman. This occurs in a variety of forms. The most common shows Judea as w woman in long robes, sitting on the ground in a position of mourning; at her back is a victory trophy, a post with Roman armor. Below her is the name of the country, IUDAEA.

Another variety shows Judaea seated with her hands bound behind her; a nearby date palm aids in depicting the country.
Large bronze coins were also struck on the same theme. The sestertius denomination was large enough to present an ornate picture of a weeping Jewish woman sitting on the ground by a date palm tree, together with a bearded Jewish man with his hands bound behind him and a shield on the ground. Others show a tall Roman soldier holding a spear standing over the woman. These coins bear the legend IVDAEA CAPTA (JUDAEA CAPTURED).

Many coins were actually struck at Caesarea in Judaea rather than in Rome. They were widely circulated in Judaea. These bear Greek inscriptions (the common language of the region). The obverse bears the usual head of Vespasian, but with the inscription in Greek; the reverse shows Nike, the Goddess of Victory, writing on a shield that hangs on a palm tree. The surrounding Greek inscription reads JUDAEA DEFEATED.

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