The Jewel of the Crown
The Israel Museumís Most Intriguing Coin

This unique "Philisto-Arabian" silver drachm issued at the mint of Ashdod in the fourth century BCE was acquired through the Abraham Bromberg Fund. It is one of the most intriguing coins minted in ancient Palestine, from both an artistic and a historical point of view.


The coinís obverse (fig. 1) bears the hybrid head of a man facing left and a monster-like animal facing right in a circular cable-pattern border. The man wears a circular earring, and the image of a lionís head and forearms adorns his forehead. The animal image combines the face of a lion with the horns of a bull and the beard of a goat. The lion appears to be roaring and has a protruding tongue. A wing extends backward above its human-like ear, which, like the manís ear, is also adorned with a circular earring. Besides forming part of the animal image, the wing and beard simultaneously serve as the manís headdress, covering the top of his head and extending down the back of his neck (fig. 2). This skillful illusion merges the two figures into a single image. Composite images of this type have yet to be fully understood; their closest parallels may be found on ring seal impressions on tablets from the Muras archive in Nippur and on seal impressions from Ur (fig. 3).


The reverse (fig. 4) shows a double-protome bull with bent forelegs, surmounted by the Aramaic inscription: (Ashdod). The double-protome motif, based upon the Achaemenid column capital (fig. 5), found, for example, at Persepolis and Susa, represents one of the most characteristic features of Persian art.


The appearance of complex Achaemenid motifs in our coin and other "Philisto-Arabian" issues of Ashdod, Ascalon, and Gaza dating to this time clearly testifies to an increase in Persian influence in the region. The increase may be related to a change in the status of this strategic strip of land, located in the southern end of the Fifth Persian Satrapy, during the last phase of the Persian period (ca. 380 BCE). Presumably because of its proximity to the border with Egypt, Gaza seems to have become a Persian garrison under a Persian governor, and thus Gaza, Ashdod, and Ascalon minted coins with motifs taken from the empire they represented.