Coin struck by vilified king from Hanukkah story found in Jerusalem
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Coin struck by vilified king from Hanukkah story found in Jerusalem

Conservator stumbles upon bronze penny bearing face of Antiochus IV Epiphanes during routine cleaning at Tower of David

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

The visage of Antiochus on the observe of a bronze coin found at the Tower of David Citadel courtyard (Courtesy Tower of David)
The visage of Antiochus on the observe of a bronze coin found at the Tower of David Citadel courtyard (Courtesy Tower of David)

A bronze penny minted by the Greek tyrant from the Hanukkah story was recently stumbled upon by archaeologists amid the ruins of Jerusalem’s Tower of David during routine cleaning of the site, the museum said in a statement Tuesday ahead of the commencement of the eight-day festival on Saturday night.

Orna Cohen, chief conservation officer at the iconic Jerusalem landmark, found the small bronze coin a few weeks ago during routine conservation work after a section of the Hasmonean-era city wall that runs through the citadel’s courtyard suffered minor damage (from either recent stormy weather or schoolchildren, nobody’s really sure).

The head of Antiochus IV Epiphanes appears on the front of the bronze penny, and the reverse has a goddess holding something — perhaps a torch — in her hand.

Antiochus IV was a Seleucid monarch remembered in Jewish history for his promotion of Hellenization and suppression of religious observances. While he was battling the rival Ptolemaic kingdom in Egypt for control of the Levant, Jewish zealots rose in revolt against Antiochus and the Hellenized high priest installed in the Jerusalem temple.

Archaeologist Orna Cohen with the ancient coin found in the Tower of David courtyard (Courtesy Shay Amiran)
Archaeologist Orna Cohen with the ancient coin found in the Tower of David courtyard (Courtesy Shay Amiran)

Antiochus returned from Egypt and attempted to quell the uprising. After his death on a subsequent campaign in Persia, Hasmonean rebels lead by Judah Maccabee and his clansmen succeeded in wresting control of Judea from the Seleucid Greeks, restoring the Jewish temple and forming a Jewish kingdom that ruled for a century. The Hanukkah holiday celebrates the Maccabees’ victory over the Greeks and Hellenized Jews.

Last year archaeologists said they may have found the remnants of a fortress Antiochus’s army used to besiege Jerusalem in 168 BCE.

The Tower of David sent the coin to the Israel Antiquities Authority for authentication.

The coin’s precise date wasn’t clear, but thousands of others of the same type were minted at the port of Acre, then called Antiochia Ptolemais, between 172 and 168 BCE, during Antiochus IV Epiphanes’s reign.

The reverse of a Seleucid bronze coin found at the Tower of David dated to the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the king from the Hanukkah story (Courtesy Tower of David Museum)
The reverse of a Seleucid bronze coin found at the Tower of David dated to the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the king from the Hanukkah story (Courtesy Tower of David Museum)

Its serrated edge helped pinpoint it to a 50-year window when that style was in vogue among Seleucid kings.

“Acre seemed to like the idea of serrated coins,” IAA Coin Department head Donald Ariel told The Times of Israel.

The coin may have been struck by the Seleucid army to pay troops used to quell the Maccabee revolt, he said. Such coins were used as small change by soldiers in the employ of the Greeks.

The coin was of little value then, and not too rare nowadays either. Ariel said there are at least 2,000 coins minted by Antiochus IV minted at Acre in the IAA collection. This is “the second most common coin type from the Seleucids,” he said, and is only outnumbered by coins minted by Antiochus III, Antiochus IV’s father.

Jerusalem under the snow: Tower of David snowstorm (photo credit: Noam Chen)
Jerusalem under the snow: Tower of David snowstorm (photo credit: Noam Chen)

Because the Tower of David isn’t an active archaeological dig, however, the museum management didn’t expect a new original finds, director Eilat Lieber told The Times of Israel. Israel captured the Old City from Jordan during the 1967 Six Day War, and archaeologists first excavated the citadel a year later. The last archaeological digs at the Tower of David were wrapped up in 1988.

“It was really a big surprise for us,” Leiber said, noting most Hasmonean artifacts tend to be from later in the period. Moreover, they were “surprised by the timing” just before Hanukkah.

But if you’d like a coin minted by the vilified Antiochus of your own for Hanukkah, there are several for sale online, including these on eBay for NIS 81.

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