Silver Shekel from the First Jewish Revolt, 66-70 CE
The Rebels Mint their Own Coins
"shekel of Israel"
Date: 66-70 CE
Language and Script: Hebrew, paleo-Hebrew alphabetic
• Before the summer of 66 CE and the beginning of the First Jewish Revolt against Rome, the ordinary bronze coins used in Judea were struck at local mints in Jerusalem and nearby regions, while larger denomination silver coins were struck at Tyre in Phoenicia. Jews paid the yearly Temple tax using Tyrian shekels. When the Romans closed the Tyrian mint during the tense days before the start of the revolt, the Jews were deprived of the regular means of funding the Temple. To compensate, the Jewish rebels began to mint coins early into the revolt that mimicked the Tyrian shekel in weight and other features. Naturally, minting coins was a form of rebellion in itself.
• Silver and bronze coins of this kind were struck in Jerusalem during the five-year revolt. They included shekel, half-shekel, and quarter-shekel denominations. The deliberately non-Jewish designs of Herodian coinage were replaced by Jewish symbols and a dating system numbering from the beginning of the revolt. Greek was supplanted by paleo-Hebrew, an archaic use of the script of pre-Exilic Judah. These coins circulated throughout Judea, as shown by their discovery at numerous sites.
• The example shown here is typical of First Revolt coins. On the obverse (at left) is a chalice from the Temple topped by a shorthand dating formula of the letters shin and bet, an abbreviation for “Shanah Bet,” or “Year 2 [of the Revolution].” Around the perimeter is inscribed “shekel of Israel.” On the reverse is a stem with three pomegranates surrounded by the words “Holy Jerusalem.” This slogan is clearly polemical as the antithesis of the Tyrian shekel, which bore the motto “Holy Tyre.”
As the war progressed and the Jewish resistance weakened, silver coins were replaced by less expensive bronze ones. Many coins struck in years two and three of the revolt were inscribed with the words, “for the redemption of Zion.” After the revolt was crushed and the Temple destroyed in 70 CE, the minting of coins in Judea returned to Roman hands and the shekel was abandoned altogether in favor of Greco-Roman weights such as the tetradrachma.