The Israel Antiquities Authority on Monday revealed a coin minted during the Bar Kochba revolt that was unearthed near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City.
The announcement of the coin’s discovery was timed to coincide with the Lag B’Omer holiday, which begins Monday evening and marks the death of second-century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai.
The festival is usually celebrated in Israel with large bonfires, which are meant to honor both Bar Yohai and those who took part in the Bar Kochba revolt, an uprising against Roman rule in Judea in 132-135 CE.
The coin, which was found in the William Davidson Archaeological Park next to the Western Wall, is adorned with a cluster of grapes and the words “Year Two of the Freedom of Israel” on one side — declaring the rebels’ purpose — while the other side has a palm tree and the word “Jerusalem.”
Dr. Donald Tzvi Ariel, head of the Israel Antiquities Authority’s coin department, said of the thousands of coins found in the area of the Old City, only four have been from the time of the Bar Kochba revolt, though many more have been discovered elsewhere in the country.
He also said the new coin was the only one from that era found in Jerusalem that bears the city’s name. Israeli Antiquities Authority archaeologists Moran Hagbi and Dr. Joe Uziel speculated the coins may have been brought to Jerusalem by Roman legionaries who helped crush the revolt and saved them as souvenirs, noting Bar Kochba’s forces were never able to penetrate the city’s ancient borders.
The Bar Kochba revolt, which lasted three and a half years, was the last and arguably greatest of several Jewish uprisings against foreign rulers in ancient times. The rebels prepared well ahead of time and according to the 3rd century historian Dio Cassius, Roman legions were brought from other empire outposts to quell it.
Dio Cassius wrote that some 50 Jewish fortresses and over 1,000 settlements were destroyed, along with hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives lost. Rabbinical leaders who supported Bar Kochba were executed, including the scholar Rabbi Akiva, who had renamed Shimon Bar Coseba as Bar Kochba (Son of the Star), a messiah for the Jews.