Coin Hoard from Meroth

The richest treasury of coins ever found in an ancient synagogue, this hewn pit beneath a storeroom floor in the Meroth synagogue held 485 coins, 245 of them gold and 240 bronze. Excavators even found a bronze scale in the treasury (see photograph). Most of the coins are Byzantine.

The gold coins are mainly of the tremissis value, equal to a third of a solidus. The solidus weighs about 4 grams, or .14 ounces. Tremissis coins are quite rare; the quantity in the Meroth treasury strongly suggests that they were donated by Meroth villagers, to be used for community needs as well as for the ongoing expenses of the synagogue. Until the end of the 12th century, that was no doubt the case, and the size of the donations confirms the affluence of the community.

But the coins seen here were never used. In 1193—the date on the latest coin in the hoard—or soon after that, some disaster struck or threatened Meroth. The inhabitants fled, leaving behind a treasure of gold and, for us moderns, an 800-year-long treasure of Jewish cultural life to be discovered as well.

Zvi Ilan and Emmanuel Damati, “The Synagogue at Meroth- Does It Fix Israel’s Northern Border in Second Temple Times?” BAR 15-02, Mar-Apr 1989.