Cache of 44 Byzantine-era solid gold coins uncovered in Israeli nature reserve

The coins are thought to have been buried around the time of the Muslim Conquest of the Levantine Byzantine Empire in 635 AD.

A cache of 44 solid gold coins from the Byzantine-era was discovered in Banias Nature Reserve, October 3, 2022 (photo credit: DAFNA GAZIT/ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY)
A cache of 44 solid gold coins from the Byzantine-era was discovered in Banias Nature Reserve, October 3, 2022
(photo credit: DAFNA GAZIT/ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY)

A cache of 44 pure gold coins from the Byzantine era was recently discovered during an archeological excavation at the Banius site within the Hermon River Nature Reserve, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced on Monday morning.

Upon the discovery of the coins, they were passed on to IAA numismatic expert Dr. Gabriela Bijovsky for examination. Bijovsky was able to identify several coins minted during the reign of Emperor Phocas (602–610 AD), as well as others minted during the reign of Emperor Heraclius between 610-641 AD.

The presence of coins minted by Heraclius towards the end of his reign help to place the cache of coins as being from around the time of the Muslim Conquest of the Levantine Byzantine Empire in 635 AD.

"What is particularly interesting is that in [Heraclius'] early years as emperor, only his portrait was depicted on the coin, whereas after a short time, the images of his sons also appear," explained Bijovsky. "One can actually follow his sons growing up – from childhood until their image appears the same size as their father, who is depicted with a long beard.”

 Gabriela Bijovsky examines the coins from Banias. (credit: YANIV BERMAN/ISRAELI ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY) Gabriela Bijovsky examines the coins from Banias. (credit: YANIV BERMAN/ISRAELI ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY)

A glimpse into days gone by

The collection of coins, weighing around 170g total, was concealed within the base of an ashlar stone wall during the time of the Muslim conquest, according to IAA excavation director Dr. Yoav Lerer. 

The discovery reflects a specific moment in time, when we can imagine the owner concealing his fortune in the threat of war, hoping to return one day to retrieve his property. In retrospect, we know that he was less fortunate,” he continued, painting a picture of the long-gone Byzantine Empire. “The discovery of the coin hoard may also shed light on the economy of the city of Banias during the last 40 years of Byzantine rule.”

Finding the coins in the Banias National Park 

The excavations, funded by the Israel Electric Corporation, were carried out prior to connecting the adjacent Druze holy site Maqam Nabi Khadr to the national electricity grid. They took place in the northwestern residential quarter of the ancient city of Banias, and uncovered the remains of buildings, water channels and pipes, a pottery kiln, bronze coins, and fragments of many pottery, glass, and metal artifacts, as well as the solid gold coins.

The artifacts uncovered date back to the end of the Byzantine period in the early seventh century and all the way to the early Middle Ages (11th-13th century).

Gold coin depicting Emperor Heraclius (credit: DAFNA GAZIT/ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY)Gold coin depicting Emperor Heraclius (credit: DAFNA GAZIT/ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY)

“The coin hoard is an extremely significant archaeological find as it dates to an important transitional period in the history of the city of Banias and the entire region of the Levant," said IAA Director Eli Escusido. "The Israel Antiquities Authority, together with the National Parks Authority, will work together to exhibit the treasure to the public.”

The history of Banias

Banias was first settled during the Hellenistic period as a worship site for the god Pan in the third century BCE. The Greek name for the site, Paneas, was taken from the name of the god worshipped there.  The settlement reached its peak in the Early Roman period, when Herod the Great, and his son Philip II, entirely rebuilt the city and named it Caesarea Philippi, in honor of the Roman emperor Augustus.

According to Christian lore, Banias is the place where Peter the Apostle proclaimed Jesus to be the Christ, and where Jesus gave Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and during the Byzantine era, a church was built next to the spring.

During the time of the Crusaders, they undertook the fortification of the city, turning it into a military base from which to attack and conquer Damascus. However, this was a short lived fortification, as the city was conquered by Muslim forces in 1132 AD.

“The Banias Nature Reserve, endowed with its unique nature and landscape, does not cease to surprise us from a historical-cultural point of view," said Nature and Parks Authority Director Raya Shurky of the discovery. "The gold coin hoard is on a par with the Byzantine Church, possibly the Church of St. Peter, that was recently discovered. 

"The finds include the remains of a mosaic floor and a stone engraved with many crosses, indicating that Banias became a Christian pilgrim site. The church, that was damaged in an earthquake that struck the north of the country, will soon be exhibited to the public visiting the nature reserve.”