The Other Coin: Jewish Coins, part 1: Jewish Kingdom
Jewish coins, the Kingdom of Jews established by the last of the Maccabean brothers
Simon, is one of the most popular collection of ancient coins. Beginning with John
Hyrcanus (135-104 BC), then Judah Aristobulus (104-103 BC), Alexander Jannaeus
(103-76 BC), Jonathan Hyrcanus II (67, 63-40 BC), and Antigonus Mattathias (40-37
BC). Having achieved independence from the Seleucid empire during their dynastic
civil wars, the rulers of Jerusalem were high priest, king, and Seleucid governor
simultaneously with the independence being signified by no longer paying tribute to the
Seleucid Empire, although Jewish troops were often part of the Seleucid army as
separate units. The coins are mostly small bronze prutahs and half prutahs smaller than
a dime, and even in very fine condition less than $20. There are a few rare varieties,
but mostly in keeping with no graven images the coins have a double cornucopia on
one side and Hebrew lettering on the other, or the anchor symbol of the Seleucids on
one side and a sun wheel with the king's name in the spokes of a sun wheel, one letter
at a time.
Silver coinage including the shekels and half-shekels paid to the Temple were all coins
minted by the Seleucid government usually at Tyre, featuring the head of the god
Melqart on one side and an imperial eagle on the other. The coins might also feature a
Seleucid ruler and a Greek god on the reverse. The thirty pieces of silver paid to Judas
were also Seleucid silver coins. Jewish silver coins are very rare and were only
Herod the Great (37-4 BC) managed to come to power by playing off Julius Caesar,
Mark Anthony, and Caesar Augustus, supporting all sides in the Roman civil war.
Mark Anthony killed the last Maccabean ruler in battle. Herod's coinage is much more
varied and includes designs with eagles, helmets, pomegranates and tripods. There are
also larger bronze coins.
Upon Herod's death the Kingdom of Judaea was divided among his three sons--Herod
Archelaus, Herod Antipas, and Herod Philip. Archelaus and Antipas continued the
tradition of a variety of graven images including ships, grape clusters, and helmets.
Herod Philip put images of Roman emperors on his coins and Herod Agrippa I place
images of himself on coins as did the last Herodian Herod Agrippa II (50-96 AD).
These portraits coins are pricey often several hundred dollars in vfine.
Alongside the Herodian coinage were the coins of the procurators...but I will continue
Jewish coins next time and bring my collection to the July meeting. Unfortunately, the
Tuesday meeting is on my son's graduation day, so I will miss pizza and Al Shay.
Numismatically yours, David Elliott
For further info go to:
Handbook of Jewish Numismatics
The Lilly of David and Seleucid
anchor minted under John
Seleucid anchor and Jewish star
minted under Alexander Janaeus
Herod Antipas- palm/wreath
with (Emperor) Tiberius name
Herod Philip- Tiberius/ temple
Herod Agrippa II- himself/