Recently uncovered Jewish Revolt coin shows rebels aware of impending disaster
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Coin found in underground ditch where Jews hid from Romans

Recently uncovered Jewish Revolt coin shows rebels aware of impending disaster

Minted on the eve of the destruction of the Second Temple, coin discovered in City of David excavations reads, 'For the Redemption of Zion'

Amanda Borschel-Dan is The Times of Israel's Jewish World and Archaeology editor.

A rare bronze Year Four coin, minted in 69-70 CE during the Great Jewish Revolt, and depicting the Four Species, discovered in wet sifting of material from the City of David, June 2018. (Ilan Shilmaiv/City of David)
A rare bronze Year Four coin, minted in 69-70 CE during the Great Jewish Revolt, and depicting the Four Species, discovered in wet sifting of material from the City of David, June 2018. (Ilan Shilmaiv/City of David)

A rare bronze coin from the fourth year of the Great Jewish Revolt was recently discovered in excavations in the City of David National Park. A testament to the final days of the rebellion against the Romans, the coin was minted shortly before the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.

Symbolically, the coin was rediscovered on the eve of the 17th of Tammuz, the commencement of the three weeks commemorating the conquest by the Romans of Jerusalem and the Temple’s destruction. The three-week mourning period culminates on Tish B’av, considered the saddest day of the Jewish calendar.

In the first few years of the rebellion which lasted from 66-70 CE, coins inscribed in First Temple paleo-Hebrew lettering sounded the battle cry, “For the Freedom of Zion.” Illustrating the rebels’ waning confidence, Year Four coins (69-70 CE) are inscribed with the words, “For the Redemption of Zion.”

“The difference between ‘freedom’ and ‘redemption’ expresses the change occurring in the rebels’ subconscious, and the reality of those days,” said Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist Eli Shukron, who is leading the City of David excavation.

Year Four coins are also decorated with Jewish symbols. In the case of this coin, the four plant species associated with the pilgrim holiday of Sukkot — palm, myrtle, citron and willow. Others depict a chalice that may have been used by priests in the temple.

A rare bronze Year Four coin, minted in 69-70 CE during the Great Jewish Revolt, inscribed with ‘For the Redemption of Zion,’ was discovered in wet sifting of material from the City of David, June 2018. (Ilan Shilmaiv/City of David)

The coin was discovered during the recent systematic inspection of a bucket of dirt taken from a 600-meter drainage ditch which runs under Rehov Hagai, the main road for pilgrims ascending to the Second Temple.

The ditch, uncovered in 2007, is the largest in the underground system. It is currently part of the City of David National Park and runs from the Robinson’s Arch archaeological garden, under the Ophel excavations, to an area just north of the Silwan Pool, next to the valley.

According to the writings of Yosef Ben Matityahu, the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, some 2,000 rebels were killed by Romans while hiding in drainage ditches. Archaeological finds back up Josephus’s claim: Whole cooking pots, coins, and even a Roman sword of the era have been uncovered in the system of underground drainage ditches.

Shukron suspects rebels hid in this drainage ditch in the last days prior to the fall of the city to the Romans.

“It’s possible that this coin, which was placed in the pocket of a Jerusalemite hiding from the Romans in underground warrens,” said Shukron, “or maybe it rolled into the drainage ditch while the coin’s owner walked the streets of Jerusalem 2,000 years ago.”

The coin was uncovered during wet sifting by a volunteer at the City of David Sifting Project located near the Mount of Olives in Emek Tzurim.

Recent resurfacing of Year Four coins

A student from Armstrong College holds a coin discovered at the Ophel archaeological dig outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, where a hoard of rare bronze coins from the Jewish Revolt was recently discovered, dating to circa 66-70CE. (Eilat Mazar)

In March 2018, a rare hoard of Year Four bronze Jewish Revolt coins discovered at the recently renewed Ophel excavations was publicized. While discoveries of single coins occur somewhat frequently, this trove of dozens of bronze coins, uncovered in a cave just south of the Temple Mount by Hebrew University archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar, is exceptional.

Mazar called the cave a “time capsule” of Jewish life during the revolt. Indicating that rebels hid in the cave from the Romans are a number of Second Temple period finds: the Year Four coins and broken pottery vessels, including jars and cooking pots.

At the Ophel archaeological dig outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, a horde of rare bronze coins from the Jewish Revolt were recently discovered, dating to circa 66-70CE. (Eilat Mazar)

Until today, most discovered Jewish Revolt coins are dated to Year Two. “The small amount of coins minted in the third year, and almost a complete lack of coins from the fourth year, indicates that most of the country was re-conquered by the Roman army fairly soon after the beginning of the revolt,” writes Robert Deutsch in his 2017 “The Coinage of the First Jewish Revolt against Rome, 66-73 C.E.”

According to Deutsch, the bronze coins of the second and third years “are abundant and negligently manufactured.” The fourth year coins, however, “are of a slightly higher quality.”

A rare bronze Year Four coin, minted in 69-70 CE during the Great Jewish Revolt, discovered in wet sifting of material from the City of David, June 2018. (Ilan Shilmaiv/City of David)

A recently published essay in the journal Israel Numismatic Research, “The Coin Finds from the 1968–1969 Excavations at Herodium,” references studies which suggest the year four bronzes were minted by
Judean rebel leader Simon Bar Giora, but used by all the rebels. “The hoarded bronze coins dating to ‘year four’ were found around and quite close to Jerusalem. This accords with the historic situation whereby at that time much of the country was captured by the Romans and only Jerusalem was still under rebel control,” according to the article.

Almost exactly 50 years ago, the first excavations in the united capital following the 1967 Six Day War took place near Robinson’s Arch abutting the Western Wall. There, a large hoard of Year Four coins was discovered by Prof. Benjamin Mazar, Eilat Mazar’s grandfather.

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