Hebrew University researchers on Monday announced the discovery of a rare trove of Byzantine-era gold and silver artifacts, the most impressive of which is a 10-centimeter solid gold medallion emblazoned with a menorah and other Jewish iconography.
The find, unearthed in the area adjacent to the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount known as the Ophel, was dated to the early 7th century CE, in all likelihood the time of the brief Persian conquest of Jerusalem.
Professor Eilat Mazar described the discovery as a unique find with “very clear Jewish symbols.” She posited that the hoard of gold and silver objects, found beneath the floor of a Byzantine-era house meters from the massive walls of the Temple Mount, was brought by Jews who returned to the city after the Persians conquered it from the Byzantines in 614 CE.
“I have never found so much gold in my life!” she said with obvious excitement at a press conference on Mount Scopus. “I was frozen. It was unexpected.”
The centerpiece, a medallion that Mazar posited may have been used as ornamentation for a Torah scroll, is emblazoned with a seven-armed candelabrum — a menorah — a Torah scroll, and a shofar, a ram’s horn.
The Torah scroll, she explained, is a unique icon that is not commonly found in artifacts from this time period.
Excavators also found a collection of 36 gold coins marked with the visages of Byzantine emperors from Constantine II to Mauricius, ranging over 250 years, and gold bracelets, earrings, a silver ingot and a gold-plated hexagonal prism.
Mazar stated that her supposition was that the hoard was a communal treasure, meant to help the sparse Jewish community survive hard times or rebuild what the Jews hoped would be a free community under Persian rule. “What is certain is that their mission, whatever it was, was unsuccessful,” she said.
The Byzantine Empire — the Eastern Roman Empire — ruled the Holy Land from Constantinople almost unimpeded until Muslim armies under Omar ibn Khattab conquered the city in 634 CE.
Mazar, a third-generation Israeli archaeologist, has overseen the excavations of the Ophel and Jerusalem’s City of David, the lower slope of the Temple Mount. The digs, while contentious for taking place in East Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood, have yielded the earliest known artifacts in the city, dating as far back as the 12th and 11th centuries BCE and, according to Mazar, evidence of the Biblical Kings of David and Solomon.