1,900-year-old coin celebrates Roman Emperor Augustus
On a recent hike with her friends in eastern Galilee in Israel, Laurie Rimon noticed something shiny in the grass. With her eagle eyes, she had spotted what turned out to be a rare 1,900-year-old Roman gold coin minted by an emperor.
The Roman gold coin was studied by Danny Syon, a senior numismatist at the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).
The reverse of the coin is decorated with a legionary eagle flanked by two military standards—symbols of the Roman army—and bears the name of Roman emperor Trajan, who reigned from 98 to 117 C.E. A portrait of a man is depicted on the obverse—but it’s not Trajan. As the inscription, “Divus Augustus,” tells us, the portrait is that of the deified Augustus, the first emperor of the Roman Empire (r. 27 B.C.E.–14 C.E.).
In an email to Bible History Daily, Nathan T. Elkins, Assistant Professor of Art History at Baylor University, explained the significance of the Roman gold coin found in Galilee:
“This Trajanic coin celebrating the deified Augustus is part of a much larger series of coins struck under Trajan that celebrated Roman Republican values and ideals and, in addition, well-remembered emperors of Rome’s past, such as Augustus, Claudius and Vespasian. These are called the ‘restoration coins.’ These coins suggested that Trajan, the Optimus Princeps (“the best ruler”), was the inheritor of Roman Republican qualities and depicted him as the successor of Rome’s great and noble emperors. The occasion for the striking of the coins may have been the 10th anniversary of the first Dacian triumph.”
The Galilee is one of the most evocative locales in the New Testament—the area where Jesus was raised and where many of the Apostles came from. Our free eBook The Galilee Jesus Knew focuses on several aspects of Galilee: how Jewish the area was in Jesus’ time, the ports and the fishing industry that were so central to the region, and several sites where Jesus likely stayed and preached.
Although a press release issued by the IAA suggests that the Roman gold coin found in Galilee is only the second of its kind known in the world, we actually know of several, according to Elkins:
“A look at numismatist Holger Komnick’s authoritative work on the Restoration Coinage counts five: one in the British Museum, one in Berlin, one in Paris, one in Naples and one in Rome. This count makes the one in the Galilee the sixth specimen, at least. Nonetheless, Komnick’s study of these coins showed they were all produced by a single obverse and reverse die pair, suggesting their production in antiquity was very limited. This new coin from Galilee is also struck from the unique die pair. Recent scholarship dates these coins no earlier than 112/113 C.E. and not later than about 113/114 C.E.”1
“The coin [found in Galilee] may reflect the presence of the Roman army in the region some 2,000 years ago—possibly in the context of activity against Bar-Kokhba supporters in the Galilee—but it is very difficult to determine that on the basis of a single coin,” said Donald T. Ariel, head curator of the coin department at the IAA, in the IAA press release.
“Historical sources describing the period note that some Roman soldiers were paid a high salary of three gold coins, the equivalent of 75 silver coins, each payday,” Ariel added. “Because of their high monetary value, soldiers were unable to purchase goods in the market with gold coins, as the merchants could not provide change for them.”
The first Roman emperor from the provinces, Trajan is best remembered for his expansions in the East, his conquest of Dacia (in modern Romania), his war against the Parthians and his public works in Rome, including the Markets of Trajan, the Forum of Trajan and the Column of Trajan.
1. See Holger Komnick, Die Restitutionsmünzen der frühen Kaiserzeit (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2001), pp. 175–178, 247 (type 57). For more information, Nathan Elkins recommends the following works: Bernhard Woytek, Die Reichsprägung des Kaiser Traianus (98–117), Moneta Imperii Romani 14 (Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2010), pp. 168–169 (type MIR 855), 525–526; Andrew B. Gallia, Remembering the Roman Republic: Culture, Politics, and History under the Principate (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2012), pp. 217–247.
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I agree with Franco. It was simply a lost coin.
Yes, the coin is gold from Dacia, and it was lost by someone during or after the Parthian War.
It is simple, Tim. The most common calendar system in use world wide is the Roman/Julian (as adjusted over the last 2,000 years) calendar, particularly for the sciences. However, because there are non-Christian scientists (Jewish, Chinese, Japanese, Hindu, Iranian, etc.) using the B.C./A.D nomenclature was considered to be insensitive so the BCE/CE nomenclature was adopted.
Most major and some minor religions have their own special calendars used for religious purposes.
Also, there are special calendars used by governments based on a historic (usually secular) for dating certain acts. An example is the one used by these United States where after the normal date a phrase similar to this is added: “…and in the Two Hundred and Fortieth year of the Independence of the United States of America”. This obviously starts from July 1776, but I don’t know if it is the actual dated of independence (July 2nd) or the date of the adoption of the Declaration (July 4th)
Garrett, your question has been addressed before, but I think it needs to be seen more than a few times. Here is what I know; archaeology is “the scientific study of material remains (as fossil relics, artifacts, and monuments) of past human life and activities” (From the Merriam-Webster online dictionary). The keywords here are “scientific study” and as such the field of science is obliged to deal with only those things that can be scientifically verified through the “scientific method.” The scientific method only accepts evidence from the physical world as we know it or as we come to know it through research. Therefore, anything that approaches the supernatural (i.e., God or other metaphysical subjects) cannot be used as evidence in a scientific investigation.
As you know, the original means of designating eras of times in archaeology used “Before Christ” (B.C.) and “ANNO DOMINI” (A.D.), Latin for “In the year of the Lord” or the more common “In the year of Our Lord.” Obviously, “In the year of Our Lord” is a direct reference to the era beginning with the birth of Jesus and beyond. Of course the name Jesus or his title “Christ,” immediately places an era designation in the realm of the supernatural, so in order to disassociate era designations from religion, science decided to use “Before the Common Era” (i.e. B.C.E.) and “the Common Era” (i.e. C.E.). However, one has to wonder, whose era was “common?” Well, of all things, B.C.E. is the same period of time as B.C. and C.E. corresponds directly to A.D. So, we have to ask ourselves, what did science game?
Interesting article. I imagine this has been addressed before, so apologize, but why do you use CE and BCE instead of AD and BC?