| In the Holy Land coins were first minted
no earlier than 400 BCE. The first issues, which were apparently struck
at Gaza, then a principal center of commerce, were rather peculiar.
In order to produce the small denominations for the local market,
the authorities took the Athenian tetradrachma, the international
currency of the time, and cut it into fragments which were then heated
and reworked. The resulting silver coins were round or bean-shaped,
and they contained small segments of larger designs, such as the nose
of the goddess Athena or the legs of the Athenian owl.
Only later in the fourth century BCE were real coins struck at
Gaza and at other mints in the Holy Land (Ashdod, Ashkelon, Jerusalem,
and Samaria). Except for their Semitic inscriptions, these silver
coins (some of them among the most beautiful coins ever struck in
the region) usually imitated their Athenian prototype. During this
period the first Jewish coins, bearing the inscription YHD (Judea),
were minted in Jerusalem.
In the time of Alexander the Great, gold, silver, and bronze coins
were struck at Akko, but there is no certain evidence of minting
elsewhere. During the third century BCE the policy of the Ptolemies
was to allow no independent minting, yet surprisingly, Jewish coins,
imitating Ptolemaic coins but with Hebrew inscriptions, were struck
Under the Seleucids in the second century BCE, several mints were
active in Judea, and after the Hasmonean revolt at the end of the
century, Jewish autonomous coins were again struck by at least four
different Hasmonean rulers.
When Herod the Great came to power in 37 BCE, there began an era
of Herodian minting that lasted until 100 CE. Most conspicuous for
their beauty are the silver and bronze coins struck during the two
Jewish wars against Romans.
The tragic conclusion of the Second Jewish War marks the end of
Jewish coinage in ancient times.
Obol of Judah Struck in Jerusalem
Obv. Lily Flower
Rev. Falcon with spread wings, head to r., on r., inscription in
ancient Hebrew: YHD
Silver obol, approximate weight 0.35 gr. diam. 8.5 mm
This minute silver coin, minted in Jerusalem c. 350 BC, is one
of the earliest Jewish coins as well as one of the artistic highlights
of Jewish numismatics.
It depicts on the obverse a lily flower (fleur-de-lys). This white
flower, the lilium candidum , is a symbol of purity and was regarded
as the choicest among flowers. In the words of the prophet Hosea,
the lily became the flower symbol of Israel: "I will be like
the dew for Israel; he shall blossom like the lily" (Hosea
14, 6); and the lily was also allegorically referred to in the Song
of Songs (Cant. 2 .1.) and as a favourite simile later in Hebrew
poetry. This flower was also an important source of perfume, which
was certainly used for sacred purposes and constituted one of the
main kinds of spices used in ancient times. Though not found in
profusion in Israel today, we may assume that it was once common
in all parts of the country. The motif of the lily is apparently
derived from the design which graced the capitals of the two main
pillars which stood in front of the Temple - Jachin and Boaz. The
lily became a popular motif in Jewish art of the Second Temple period
and as so, it appears in other coins struck in Jerusalem during
the second and first centuries BC under Antiochus VII, John Hyrcanus
I and Alexander Jannaeus.
On the reverse side an image of a bird is portrayed. Zoologists
cannot determine the exact species from the depiction; however,
they suggest an identification of either a falcon or a hawk. The
heraldic form of the bird is copied from contemporary coins of Asia
Minor, which depict other birds, e. g. eagles, in a similar fashion.
Near the bird's head, the inscription YHD appears in ancient Hebrew
script. Apparently this expression had a twofold meaning and indicates
the name of the city Jerusalem as the capital ('Birta') of Judah
the province ('Medinta'). This assumption is based on the fact that
at the time of the minting of this coin and during the previous
centuries YHD was the name of Jerusalem. In the book of Chronicles
II, 26. 28, it is mentioned that Amaziah king of Judah was buried
with his fathers in the city of Judah (769 BC.). There is no doubt
that the 'city Judah' is Jerusalem, the burial place of Judean Kings.
On the other hand Yehud was the current name of the province Judah
during the fifth and fourth centuries BCE.
This specimen as well as other small coins bearing the YHD inscription
were probably minted by the autonomous authority of the province,
for if the Persian authorities had commissioned the coinage, they
could have afforded to produce larger denominations.
Silver hemiobl struck by the local authorities
in Jerusalem under Ptolemy II, depicting
the king's head and an eagle with
the Hebrew inscription YHDH (Judea).
Bronze prutah of John Hyrcanus II
with ancient Hebrew script and a double cornucopia.
Silver tetradrachma of Bar Kokhba,
depicting the facade of the Temple
in Jerusalem and the four species
for the Festival of the Tabernacles.