When Jerusalem Stood between the Byzantine and Persian Empires

June 23 2021

In the 6th century BCE, Cyrus the Great famously conquered the Land of Israel, making possible the rebuilding of the Second Temple. Less well known is the Persian conquest of Jerusalem from the Byzantine empire, more than a millennium later. The invading Persian armies were even joined by a Jewish force eager to help wrest the Holy Land from Christian control. A recent study of a large cache of Roman coins, known as solidi, discovered in Jerusalem’s Givati parking-lot excavation several years ago, has revealed some rare evidence of this episode. David Hendin writes:

There were 264 gold solidi [bearing] a portrait of Heraclius in the Givati hoard. Heraclius ruled the Eastern Roman [or Byzantine] empire from 610 to 641 CE. None of the coins are clipped, carry graffiti, or have any other significant signs of use. . . . The Givati hoard is singularly homogeneous, and [the Israeli scholar Gabriela] Bijovsky concludes that “during this time (608-615 CE), and especially after the capture of Antioch by the Persians in 611 and until 613, the presence of a Byzantine military garrison in Jerusalem could explain the operation of a temporary mint in order to pay the troops and to emphasize Byzantine sovereignty over the city.”

Archaeological remains associated with the Persian conquest are quite sparse in Jerusalem. The archaeologists believe that the Givati hoard is correctly identified as an “emergency” hoard that was “concealed during times of imminent danger, siege, or war. These hoards usually reflect the coinage in current circulation at the time of their deposition.”

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Read more at Coin Week

More about: Ancient Persia, Archaeology, Byzantine Empire, Jerusalem, Jewish history

 

Why the Recent Uptick of Israeli Activity in Syria?

Sept. 23 2022

On September 16 and 17, the IDF carried out airstrikes in the vicinity of Damascus, reportedly aimed at Iranian logistical centers there. These follow on an increase in the frequency of such attacks in recent weeks, which have included strikes on the Aleppo airport on August 31 and September 6. Jonathan Spyer comments:

The specific targeting of the Aleppo airport is almost certainly related to recent indications that Iran is relying increasingly on its “air bridge” to Syria and Lebanon, because of Israel’s successful and systematic targeting of efforts to move weaponry and equipment by land [via Iraq]. But the increased tempo of activity is not solely related to the specific issue of greater use of air transport by Teheran. Rather, it is part of a broader picture of increasing regional tension. There are a number of factors that contribute to this emergent picture.

Firstly, Russia appears to be pulling back in Syria. . . . There are no prospects for a complete Russian withdrawal. The air base at Khmeimim and the naval facilities at Tartus and Latakia are hard strategic assets which will be maintained. The maintenance of Assad’s rule is also a clear objective for Moscow. But beyond this, the Russians are busy now with a flailing, faltering military campaign in Ukraine. Moscow lacks the capacity for two close strategic engagements at once.

Secondly, assuming that some last-minute twist does not occur, it now looks like a return to the [2015 nuclear deal] is not imminent. In the absence of any diplomatic process related to the Iranian nuclear program, and given Israeli determination to roll back Iran’s regional ambitions, confrontation becomes more likely.

Lastly, it is important to note that the uptick in Israeli activity is clearly not related to Syria alone. Rather, it is part of a more general broadening and deepening by Israel in recent months of its assertive posture toward the full gamut of Iranian activity in the region. . . . The increasing scope and boldness of Israeli air activity in Syria reflects this changing of the season.

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Read more at Jonathan Spyer

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syria, War in Ukraine