Archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) have uncovered a rare bronze coin from the period of the Bar Kokhba Revolt. The obverse of this coin is decorated with a cluster of grapes and the inscription ‘Year Two of the Freedom of Israel;’ its reverse features a palm tree and the word ‘Jerusalem.’
Bar Kokhba Revolt coins were issued by the Judean rebel state, headed by Simon Bar Kokhba, during the revolt against the Roman Empire of 132-135 CE.
During this period, large quantities of coins were minted in silver and bronze with rebellious inscriptions, all being overstruck over foreign — mostly Roman — coins.
“Coins from the period of the Bar Kokhba Revolt, which declared the rebels’ purpose — to liberate Jerusalem from Roman occupation after the destruction of the city — are well-known in archeology,” explained Dr. Donald Tzvi Ariel, head of the IAA Coin Department, and colleagues.
“Discovering such coins helps archaeologists map out the revolt, which took place approximately 1,900 years ago.”
“It is interesting to note that the rebels minted these revolt coins on Roman regime coins with stripped or damaged faces, possibly out of defiance of the Roman occupation.”
“The revolt coins featured the Temple facade, trumpets, a harp/violin, as well as the inscriptions: ‘Redemption of Israel’ and ‘Freedom of Israel’.”
The 1,890-year-old bronze coin, reverse. Image credit: Koby Harati, City of David Archive.
The archaeologists examined over 22,000 coins discovered in archaeological excavations in the area of the Old City in Jerusalem and identified only four coins from the period of the Bar Kokhba Revolt.
“One of these coins is the only Bar Kokhba coin found in the area on which the word ‘Jerusalem’ appears,” they said.
“Despite their desire to do so, the Bar Kokhba rebels failed to breach the boundaries of ancient Jerusalem. This fact gives rise to the question of how four coins from the revolt period still managed to make their way into the city.”
IAA archaeologists Dr. Moran Hagbi and Dr. Joe Uziel believe these coins were brought to Jerusalem by Roman legionnaires of the Tenth Legion, who participated in suppressing the revolt and saved the coins they found on the battlefields as souvenirs.
“In the archaeological and historical research based on the testimony of the Roman historian Cassius Dio, it is accepted that the Bar Kokhba Revolt broke out in 132 CE, after Emperor Hadrian declared the establishment of a Roman colony called Aelia Capitolina,” the researchers said.
“This colony was built on the ruins of Jewish Jerusalem and began with the construction of a temple dedicated to the god Jupiter on the Temple Mount.”
“The establishment of the Roman city and the construction of an idolatrous temple in place of the Jewish Temple, in addition to restrictive religious decrees, distressed the Jewish population that had remained in Judea. This launched a widespread revolt against the Roman government under the leadership of Shimon Ben-Kosiba, known as Bar Kokhba.”
“The revolt itself lasted about five years, causing heavy casualties among the Roman legions — so much so that they had to deploy large military units from around the Roman Empire to complete their ranks.”
“The revolt ended with the destruction of hundreds of Jewish communities and villages that took part in the revolt. However, Bar Kokhba remains etched into the memory of the Jewish nation as a historical hero.”