Numismatic and History Discussions > Biblical & Judean Coins

Who minted the First Revolt coins?


This is an intriguing question; there's no direct evidence, the situation, like that in any revolution, was confused and shifted rapidly, and our only major source is extremely partisan, to say the least. But maybe it's possible to make some sense out of it all.

Intially, the Jewish government was made up of aristocrats, who probably did want freedom from Rome, but definitely didn't want to make concessions to the peasants, as their main agenda was doubtless to hang onto their property and power. They must have lost the trust of the peasants very quickly, if they ever had it at all. When Josephus became governor of Galilee, he was never trusted by the people, and fought a short and unsucessful campaign against a militia led by Simon bar Giora, who will crop up again later. Herestoredproperty to Agrippa II, a Roman puppet, and eventually changed sides. The rest of them were no different. Their first attempt at a government only lasted a few months; it was succeeded in the autumn of 66 by a second led by the High Priest, Ananus ben Ananus. Year 1 coinage is all AR, and consists of shekels, half-shekels, and avery rare quarter-shekel. This fits a priestly agenda, which would presumably give priority to the Temple Tax, and if it was Ananus' government which minted them, that would fit the common pattern of governments minting coin to suit their own needs; he may not have been too bothered about whether the people had Ae's to fit their wants. The shekels have no images, which fits the radicalization of Jerusalem at the time, and the inscription 'Freedom of Zion' reflects the reality of the day; Judea had indeed been freed from Roman rule.

In late autumn of 67, or the following winter, this government collapsed, and Jerusalem came under the control of peasant militias dominated by John of Gischala, a wealthy man who became the leader of the largest militia. The typical War prutoth were minted during Years 2 and 3, and if John was responible for their production, this would fit both with the period of his dominance in the city, and with his likely concerns; the people no doubt wanted coin which was free from images like the new Temple coinage. Coining of AE's in Judea had traditionally been desultory and designed purely to suit local requirements; they were produced in vast quantities, and minting probably stopped when enough had been produced. If I'm right, the 'barbarous' Year 2 prutoth would most likely have been their first attempts, and then better dies were cut as they gained skill. Hendin suggests that these could have been produced by Simon bar Giora, but he was leading an insurgency in southern Judea at the time, and the resources may well not have been avilable out in the countryside. I suspect he came into the picture later. Production of AR for the Temple tax continued as before.

In April 69, the regime was overthrown by an alliance of the high priests with Simon, who then joined the new government. He seems to have been a 'social bandit' like, say, Sancho Panza, rather than an opportunist as John of Gischala seems to have been. Josephus says that he 'proclaimed liberty to slaves and rewards to those who were free', which sounds very much like the redistribution of property and freeing of slaves required by the Law of Jubilee. Never observed in practice that we know of, this lays down that every 50th year, slaves were to be freed and property returned to the families who originally owned it. In theory there should have been no inherited wealth of poverty, and hence no extremes of wealth and poverty. This had become the radical dream of the poor, and crops up in the Gospels. After Simon established himself in Jerusalem, the inscription on the coinage changed to 'The Redemption of Zion'; I had thought that this referred to hopes of divine deliverance from the advancing Romans, but I'm now thinking that I may have been wrong, as it was only at the end of Year 4, in April 70, that the Romans arrived outside Jerusalem, and many or most of the coins were presumably minted earlier than this. The collapse of the Nero regime and the subsequent civil war must have looked providential, and there's no reason for morale to have been low at this time.

In Hebrew tradition, a 'redeemer' (go'el in Hebrew) is a relative who buys back property which has had to be sold, or a person who has had to sell himself into slavery; both of these must have been common as a result of debt. This fits with Simon's apparent aim of redistributing property to the poor, so he may well have been responsible for the change in inscription, and thus probably the production of coin.

What do the rest of you think? In particular, does Meshorer, which I don't have, have anything to say on the issue?


--- Quote from: Robert_Brenchley on August 23, 2005, 03:02:26 pm ---After Simon established himself in Jerusalem, the inscription on the coinage changed to 'The Redemption of Zion'; I had thought that this referred to hopes of divine deliverance from the advancing Romans, but I'm now thinking that I may have been wrong,

--- End quote ---

I think that your original belief was correct.  Her is what hendin says on that issue:

By the middle of the year 68 Vespasian's troops had succeeded in crushing the revolt throughout Palestine.  Only Jerusalem and a few zealot fortresses such as Masada remained.  Masada, for now, was ignored, and Vespasian prepared to besiege Jerusalem. 

He goes on to say that Vespasian was proclaimed Emperor, and sent Titus to finish up the job.  So by year four, the Jews needed a miracle, and hence, "For the Redemption of Zion."

everything else you said makes complete sense to me.

 :Judean_kaf_3: :Judean_alef_1: :Judean_tsad_3:

I should apologise for one error; I got distracted by my family, and said that Josephus fought Simon bar Giora in Galilee; it was in fact John of Gischala.

I think Hendin may have been exaggerating the situation a bit; Vespasian crushed the rebellion in Galilee and Samaria by the end of 67, due at least in part to the vacillations of the aristocratic leadership. He then attacked Idumea, Perea and northern Judea, but at this point Nero's fall led to a halt in the campaign. The rebels still held southern Judea and southern Perea, and Jerusalem seems to have remained an open city. Thus, they still controlled a significant area, and the Roman civil war must have significantly raised morale. Vespasian's forces captured Rome in Decmber of 69, but in the Year of Four emperors, why would they have assumed that this marked the return of stability? It's not until April 70 that Titus resumed the advance, and reached Jerusalem, leaving Southern Judea to be mopped up later. Unless you assume that the Year 4 coins were produced right at the end of the year, I don't think it fits well. I should add that I have been unable to find any Hebrew scholars who support Hendin's interpretation, but precise meanings of words are often unclear, as no word has exactly the same meaning every time it's used, and we unfortunately don't have the rebels' side of the story to explain what they meant by it.


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