Hiker finds rare 2,000-year-old gold coin in northern Israel
The coin, minted by the emperor Trajan in Rome in 107 CE, is extremely rare on a global level. It is the identical twin brother” of an ancient gold coin in the British Museum – the second such coin of its kind now known to exist.
The famous British Museum possesses an ancient gold coin that until now was apparently the only one of its kind known in the world – a coin that bears the image of Emperor Augustus and was minted by Emperor Trajan. This coin, from 107 CE, was part of a series of nostalgic coins that Emperor Trajan minted and dedicated to the Roman emperors that ruled before him.
A surprising random discovery by Laurie Rimon, a member of Kibbutz Kfar Blum, who was hiking with friends in the countryside, uncovered the “identical twin brother” of this rare coin – the second such coin of its kind now known to exist.
During a recent trip to the eastern Galilee a group of veteran hikers, including Laurie, arrived at an archaeological site. Suddenly Laurie discerned a shiny object in the grass. When she picked it up she realized it was an ancient gold coin. The group’s guide, Irit Zuk-Kovacsi contacted the Israel Antiquities Authority with the help of archaeologist and veteran tour guide Dr Motti Aviam, and within two hours an IAA representative joined the group of hikers in the field. Laurie turned the rare find over to him admitting, “It was not easy parting with the coin. After all, it is not every day one discovers such an amazing object, but I hope I will see it displayed in a museum in the near future”.
According to Dr. Danny Syon, a senior numismatist at the Israel Antiquities Authority, “This coin, minted in Rome in 107 CE, is rare on a global level. On the reverse we have the symbols of the Roman legions next to the name of the ruler Trajan, and on the obverse – instead of an image of the emperor Trajan, as was usually the case, there is the portrait of the emperor “Augustus Deified”. This coin is part of a series of coins minted by Trajan as a tribute to the emperors that preceded him.”
Symbols of the Roman legions next to the name of the ruler Trajan – Photo: Samuel Magal, courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority
Portrait of the emperor “Deified Augustus” – Photo: Shai Halevy, courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority
According to Dr. Donald T. Ariel, head curator of the coin department at the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The coin 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. 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. 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”. Dr. Ariel added, “Whilst the bronze and silver coins of Emperor Trajan are common in the country, his gold coins are extremely rare. So far, only two other gold coins of this emperor have been registered in the State Treasures, one from Giv‘at Shaul near Jerusalem, and the other from the Qiryat Gat region and the details on both of them are different to those that appear on the rare coin that Laurie found.”
Nir Distelfeld, an inspector with the IAA Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery, noted, “Laurie demonstrated exemplary civic behavior by handing this important coin over to the Antiquities Authority. It is by not, especially when it comes to a spectacular gold coin. This is an extraordinarily remarkable and surprising discovery. I believe that soon, thanks to Laurie, the public will be able to enjoy this rare find. It is important to know that when you find an archaeological artifact it is advisable to call IAA representatives to the location spot in the field. That way we can also gather the relevant archaeological and contextual information from the site.” In the near future the Israel Antiquities Authority will award Laurie a certificate of appreciation for her good citizenship.
Danny Syon, a senior numismatist at the IAA, explained that Trajan ordered coins struck with images of previous Roman emperors to honor their memory.
“On the reverse we have the symbols of the Roman legions next to the name of the ruler Trajan, and on the obverse – instead of an image of the emperor Trajan, as was usually the case, there is the portrait of the emperor ‘Augustus Deified,’ Syon said. “This coin is part of a series of coins minted by Trajan as a tribute to the emperors that preceded him.”
“It was not easy parting with the coin,” Rimon admitted. “After all, it is not every day one discovers such an amazing object, but I hope I will see it displayed in a museum in the near future.”