December 23, 2008

Byzantine coins from the time of the sack of Jerusalem

Tourist discovers trove of 1,300-year-old coins in Jerusalem's City of David
A British tourist working in an archaeological dig in Jerusalem on Sunday unearthed a treasure of 264 gold coins from 1,300 ago. Archaeologists called the find "one of the most impressive deposits ever found in the capital."

The coins were found by Nadine Ross, who came to Israel for one month to volunteer at the archaeological site at the City of David. They all carry the portrait of the Roman emperor Heraclius, who ruled the empire between 610 and 641.

On one side of the coins, Heraclius is depicted wearing a uniform while clasping a cross in his right hand. The flipside of the coin also features the sign of the cross. According to archaeological records, these coins were made during the early years of Heraclius' rule, between 610 and 613 - one year before the 614 Persian conquest of Jerusalem.
Such a large cache of coins from one place is unusual, and is usually a sign that they were deliberately hidden away, their secret lost with the death of their owner.

In 630AD, the emperor Heraclius liberated Jerusalem from the Persians and Jews who sacked it it in 614AD. Thus, the owner of the coins, or his descendants, could quite easily have retrieved the hidden treasure, since only ~15 years had passed.

What seems likely is that the owner never lived to claim his property, being one of the ~90,000 victims of the slaughter of 614AD. By the time the Romans liberated Jerusalem the secret of the buried treasure was already lost.

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