Sarcophagus Fragment, Roman, ca. 240-250 CE, The Art Institute of Chicago

Friday, September 18, 2009

Second Century Coin Hoard Found in Israel

I love Roman coins. The first Roman 'thing' I remember seeing was a collection of Roman coins being sold at a flee market. I was just a kid at the time and didn't know the first thing about the ancient world, but I do remember that the coins I saw looked just like American coins! Roman coins are extremely valuable from historical and archaeological perspectives, since they give us a documented chronology of important events and give us a terminus post quem for dig sites. Coins are also important from an art historical perspective; Roman coins have been the best, and in some cases only, way to assign names to the countless statues of emperors and other important persons. I consider ancient coins invaluable for the reasons above, but they also offer something for the non-scholar. When looking at Roman coins, one can't help but see the similarity between today's currency and that of the ancient world. Ancient coins are great for education because they are so familiar and they can help teach that people in the ancient world weren't that much different than us.

If you go through your change jar today, you'll find coins that are mostly the same. Aside from the redesigned quarters of the past years, most change hasn't changed much. The penny has looked the same for 50 years! Not so in Romans times. In the empire, when a single man held the reigns of power, coinage was the best way to advertise one's self. In an age of no newspapers or TV, everyone still had a pocket full of change. Issuing coins to commemorate both the emperor and important events happened all the time. So it was basically through money that the emperor could articulate to the empire his deeds and accomplishments. Also unlike today, the images struck on Roman coins, during the empire at least, were usually of the living emperor. Today we view coins as more commemorative, honoring great leaders of the past.
The largest Roman coin hoard from the period of the Bar Kokhba Revolt in the 2nd century CE was recently found in Israel. Some 120 gold, silver and copper coins were discovered in a cave and were minted in Israel and abroad. Many of the coins were over-struck with insignia of the Jewish rebels, making this an extremely valuable find. Follow the link below for full details on this exciting find!