Ancient coin tied to Jewish rebellion against Romans found in Jerusalem

Out of 22,000 ancient coins found in the Old City, only four can be traced back to Bar Kochba rebellion.

Bar Kokhba Revolt Coin inscribed with the word "Jerusalem" and a picture of a date palm (photo credit: KOBI HARATI/CITY OF DAVID)
Bar Kokhba Revolt Coin inscribed with the word "Jerusalem" and a picture of a date palm
(photo credit: KOBI HARATI/CITY OF DAVID)
To modern archaeologists, ancient coins whisper secrets about the life in their times. A bronze coin dating back to time of the Bar-Kochba revolt recently uncovered in Jerusalem’s Old City makes no exception.
Unveiled by the Antiquities Authorities (IAA) ahead of Lag Ba’omer, the coin represents a unique finding.
Among others, Lag Ba’omer traditionally celebrates the day when a plague that was decimating the great sage Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students ceased. Rabbi Akiva was a fervent supporter of Bar-Kochba, and later interpretations also connect the holiday to the revolt.
As explained to The Jerusalem Post by Donald Tzvi Ariel, IAA head of the Coin Department, out of 22,000 ancient coins found in the Old City, only four can be traced back to Bar-Kochba and the rebellion against the Romans that he led around 132-136 CE, after the Romans established a colony in the area and erected a temple dedicated to Jupiter on the Temple Mount.
“Jerusalem was the goal and the battle cry of the Bar-Kochba rebels, but they never did conquer the city,” Ariel pointed out. “The small number of coins minted by them found in the city also bear witness to that. This is the first time that one of such coins [was] found in the area in 40 years.”
Another feature that makes the coin so rare is the fact that together with a cluster of grapes on one side and with a palm tree on the other – common symbols on such coins – the artifact bears the inscription “Jerusalem” in ancient Hebrew letters. The other side reads “Year Two of the Freedom of Israel.”

Bar Kokhba Revolt Coin inscribed with the words "Return to Israel" with a cluster of grapes in the center. (Credit: Koby Harati, City of David Archive)Bar Kokhba Revolt Coin inscribed with the words "Return to Israel" with a cluster of grapes in the center. (Credit: Koby Harati, City of David Archive)
 
The coin was unearthed in excavations carried out by the IAA and funded by the Ir David Foundation (Elad) in the William Davidson Archaeological Park located between the Temple Mount and the City of David. The park is under the supervision of the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem, Ltd.
Ariel explained that in those times, coins were also used as a propaganda tool, to make announcements – such as the rise of the new king – or to advertise something.
“This was true especially for silver coins, while bronze coins, less valuable, were more commonly used in economic exchanges,” he said. “During Hasmonean times, Jews did not strike their own silver coins. The first time such coins were minted in Jerusalem since the Persian period was during the First Jewish Revolt against the Romans between 66 and 70 and they were definitely stating, ‘We are here, an independent nation from the Romans.’ Bar-Kochba rebels also wanted to affirm that they were on the map and made a statement against the Romans in producing coins.”
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Bronze coins, as the one recently found, might have been a propaganda tool at a lower level, but striking them, dealing in them and collecting them for taxes still sent a political message, the professor pointed out.
One of the questions that arises from the discovery of the coin, as well as from the other Bar-Kochba coins, is how they made their way into the Old City area if the rebels never arrived there.
Ariel highlighted that a possible explanation is that the coin was a form of souvenir picked up by a Roman soldier and brought back to their legion camp.
“Perhaps he found it in the pocket of a victim among the rebels and he brought it with him,” the archaeologist said.
“You can use coins to learn about history. Bar-Kochba wanted to conquer Jerusalem but he did not succeed, and after this period, Jewish autonomy disappeared for 2,000 years.”