This evening begins the fast day of Tisha b’Av, which commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples. The Romans razed the latter, and the city of Jerusalem with it, in their successful effort to repress the revolt in Judea that began in 66 CE. Thus Israeli archaeologists’ recent discovery of coin from the time of the uprising is especially timely. Melanie Lidman writes:
The coin was engraved with the words “Holy Jerusalem,” using ancient Hebrew script rather than the vernacular Greek of the time, in a defiant nod to their Jewish identity and the decision to mint the coins autonomously, explained Yaniv David Levy, a numismatic scholar with the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).
“For almost 200 years, people made the pilgrimage by foot and used silver coins for paying a tax called the ‘half-shekel tax,’” [described in the book of Exodus], said Levy. “And apparently these coins were used for tax in the Temple and also the internal economy during the revolt.”
The decision to mint coins autonomously during the rebellion was a political statement and an expression of national identity, the IAA said. At the time, the authority to mint coins was held only by the Roman emperor, and almost always featured the image of the ruling emperor and animals.
The coins minted by the Jewish rebels bear a depiction of three pomegranates. The other side of the coin features a chalice, similar to what could have been used by the priests in the Holy Temple, the words “half-shekel,” and the letter aleph, denoting the first year of the revolt against the Romans. Prior to the revolt and the decision to mint their own coins, early Jews paid the half-shekel tax using coins minted in Tyre, in Lebanon, using fine silver, Levy said.