In honor of Lag B’Omer, the Israel Antiquities Authority presents this rare bronze coin from the period of the Bar Kokhva revolt (circa 132 CE), which was discovered in archaeological excavations of the IAA in the William Davidson Archaeological Park, under the supervision of the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem, Ltd. located between the Temple Mount and the City of David. The excavations are conducted by the IAA and funded by the Ir David Foundation (Elad), which operates the site.
The coin is decorated with a cluster of grapes and the inscription “Year Two of the Freedom of Israel,” and the reverse side features a palm tree and the inscription “Jerusalem.”
Coins from the period of the Bar Kokhva revolt, declaring the rebels’ goal of liberating Jerusalem from Roman occupation after the destruction of the city, are relatively common. The discovery of these coins helps researchers map out the revolt, which took place approximately 1,890 years ago. It is interesting to note that the rebels minted these revolt coins on Roman coins with stripped or damaged faces. The revolt coins featured the Temple facade, trumpets, a harp, as well as the inscriptions: “Redemption of Israel” and “Freedom of Israel.”
Dr. Donald Tzvi Ariel, Head of the Coin Department at the IAA, has examined more than 22,000 coins discovered in archaeological excavations in the area of the Old City in Jerusalem. His studies have revealed that only four of the coins are dated to the period of the Bar Kokhva revolt. This is a very small number, even more so when compared to the large number of Bar Kokhva coins that have been found outside Jerusalem. The recently discovered coin is the only Bar Kokhva coin found in the area on which the word “Jerusalem” appears.
The Bar Kokhva rebels failed to breach the boundaries of ancient Jerusalem. This fact gives rise to the question of how four coins from the revolt period still managed to make their way into the city. The excavators, archaeologists Moran Hagbi and Dr. Joe Uziel of the IAA, raise the possibility that the coins were brought to Jerusalem (where the Legion camp was posted) by Roman legionnaires of the Tenth Legion, who participated in suppressing the revolt and saved the coins they found on the battlefields as souvenirs.
In the archaeological and historical research based on the testimony of the Roman historian Cassius Dio, it is accepted that the Bar Kokhva revolt broke out in 132 CE, after Emperor Hadrian declared the establishment of a Roman colony called “Aelia Capitolina” in Judea. This colony was built on the ruins of Jewish Jerusalem and began with the construction of a temple dedicated to the god Jupiter on the Temple Mount. The establishment of the Roman city and the construction of an idolatrous temple in place of the Jewish Temple, in addition to restrictive religious decrees, distressed the Jewish population that had remained in Judea. They launched a widespread revolt against the Roman government under the leadership of Shimon Ben-Koziva, known as “Bar Kokhva.” The revolt lasted about five years, causing heavy casualties among the Roman legions – so much so that they had to deploy large military units from around the Roman Empire to complete their ranks. The revolt ended with the destruction of hundreds of Jewish communities and villages. However, Bar Kokhva remains etched in the memory of the Jewish nation as a historical hero.