1800-year-old coin found by soldier offers look at ancient life in Israel

One of its sides reads: “of the people of Geva Phillipi,” [civic] year 217 (158–159 CE) together with the image of the Syrian moon god, Men.

Coin obverse with head of the Roman emperor Antoninus Pius (photo credit: NIR DISTELFELD/ ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY)
Coin obverse with head of the Roman emperor Antoninus Pius
(photo credit: NIR DISTELFELD/ ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY)
Some 1,800 years ago, a traveler was making his way through the Carmel area and a coin fell from his pocket. Almost two millennia later, the artifact was found by an Israeli soldier during a training exercise, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Tuesday.
“This coin joins only 11 such coins from known locations in the National Treasures Department collection,” said Dr. Donald Tzvi Ariel, head of the IAA’s Numismatics Department. “All the coins were found in northern Israel,from Megiddo and Tzipori to Tiberias and Arbel.”
IDF soldier Ido Gardi with the coin he found in the Carmel area. (Nir Distelfeld/Israel Antiquities Authority)IDF soldier Ido Gardi with the coin he found in the Carmel area. (Nir Distelfeld/Israel Antiquities Authority)
The artifact bears images and text that allowed researchers to precisely identify its origin and dating. One of its sides reads: “of the people of Geva Phillipi,” [civic] year 217 (158-159 CE) together with the image of the Syrian moon god, Men. The other face carries the portrait of Roman emperor Antoninus Pius.
“At the time, the city stood about five kilometers away from a legionary camp stationing some 5,000 soldiers located underneath the city of Megiddo,” Dr. Avner Ecker, a lecturer in classical archaeology at Bar-Ilan University’s Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology, told The Jerusalem Post. “Geva Philippi, also known as Geva Parashim, was a polis, a city enjoying a certain level of autonomy and recognition from the Roman government, including the right to mint own coins

In the second century, the center of Jewish life in the land of Israel had moved from Judea to the Galilee.
“Geva Philippi represented a seam between the Greek or Roman style coastal cities and the Jewish region,” Ecker said.
The settlement of Geva was already mentioned by first-century historian Josephus, a Jewish soldier who eventually defected to Rome and whose works are considered a fundamental source on the Jewish revolt against the Romans and on life in the Land of Israel at the time. The ancient scholar located the town on the foothills at the edge of the Jezreel Valley, not far from the Carmel.
“Josephus reported that Herod the Great settled his cavalry forces there, hence the name Geva Parashim, City of Horsemen,” Ecker said. “Strategically, it was a good place to establish the cavalry because it granted control on both entrances from the coast to the valley. Moreover, he mentioned that during the Great Revolt, in 66-70 CE, local and Roman forces set out from there to fight Jewish rebels near Bet She’arim.”

The Syrian god MEN (the moon god) surrounded by the legend “of the people of Geva Phillipi”, civic year 217 (158–159 CE).  (Nir Distelfeld, Israel Antiquities Authority)The Syrian god MEN (the moon god) surrounded by the legend “of the people of Geva Phillipi”, civic year 217 (158–159 CE). (Nir Distelfeld, Israel Antiquities Authority)
Antoninus Pius ruled over the Roman Empire between 138 and 161 CE and earned the reputation of being a moderate and levelheaded sovereign.
“As far as the Jews are concerned, at least we know he did not do anything bad,” Ecker said. “We are talking about the period that followed the Bar Kokhba revolt, a catastrophic time for the Jewish population. The province’s name was changed from Judea to Palestina, and the territory underwent a complete transformation into a normal Roman domain, based on cities with local autonomy that functioned under a local Roman governor.”
Ido Gardi, the soldier who spotted the coin, received a certificate of appreciation from the IAA for good citizenship.
“This is an opportunity to call on any members of the public who have found coins or any other ancient artifacts to report them to the Israel Antiquities Authority,” said Nir Distelfeld, an inspector for the IAA Northern District’s Robbery Prevention Unit.
“We will come and transfer the find to the National Treasures Department, hopefully adding more data and enriching scholarly research with another piece of evidence from the past,” he said. “It should be stressed that antiquities are national treasures. It is forbidden to actively seek them, and any chance finds must be reported to the authority. The soldier, Ido Gardi, demonstrated exemplary civic behavior, and we hope he will act as an example for others who discover ancient finds.”
Ecker said: “Unearthing coins minted in a city or in its periphery allows us to know more about its economy, where its currency was accepted and how far it could travel. So these discoveries are always very important.”