1,400-year-old rare coin treasure chanced upon in Israel

Israeli archaeologists recently exposed a cache of Byzantine-period coins, hidden while fleeing an invading army.

A cache of nine bronze coins from the end of the Byzantine period (7th century CE) was recently discovered by chance during salvage excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) prior to the widening of Highway 1, the main route between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

During the course of the excavations, carried out in June, a large two-storey structure and adjacent winepress were exposed.

“The hoard [of coins] was found among large stones that had collapsed alongside the building,” Annette Landes-Nagar, director of the excavation on behalf of the IAA, said. “It seems that during a time of danger the owner of the hoard placed the coins in a cloth purse that he concealed inside a hidden niche in the wall. He probably hoped to go back and collect it, but today we know that he was unable to do so”.

The coins bear the images of three important Byzantine emperors: Justinian (483-565 AD), Maurice (539-602 CE) and Phocas (547-610 CE). They were struck at three different mints – Constantinople, Antioch, and Nicomedia – all of which are located in what is today Turkey. An image of the emperor wearing military garb and carrying crosses is depicted on the front of the coins, while the reverse indicates the coin’s denomination and is usually inscribed with the letter M.

Landes-Nagar said that the hidden treasure has a bleak setting. “The historical background to its having been hidden is apparently related to the Sassanid Persian invasion that occurred in 614 CE. This invasion, was one of the factors that culminated in the end of Byzantine rule in the Land of Israel,” she explained.

Fearing an invasion and imminent danger, the residents of the site buried their money against the wall, hoping to return home at the end of the disturbances, which did not happen. The site was abandoned and destroyed, and ultimately covered over and incorporated in the agricultural terraces that characterize the area.

The building and the winepress beside it belong to a larger site that extends across Highway 1, and which was exposed on the other side of the road about a year ago. A Byzantine church was revealed in that part of the excavation.

The investigation of the site raised the hypothesis that this is a town called Einbikumakube, whose name was preserved in the neighboring Arab village of Beit Naquba.

The site is situated alongside a main road leading from the coastal plain to Jerusalem. Hamlets and way stations, some of which were near flowing springs, were developed next to the road that was used by Christian pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem.

By: Aryeh Savir, World Israel News