1,400-Year-Old Coins Hidden by Fleeing Christians Found During Roadworks in Israel

Money purse may have been hidden by Christian pilgrims en route to Jerusalem as Persians invaded the land.

The cache of coins from the Byzantine period, featuring three Byzantine emperors.
The cache of coins from the Byzantine period, featuring three Byzantine emperors. Yoli Schwartz

A cache of nine bronze coins that may have been stashed by terrified Christians fleeing ahead of invading Persian forces has been found in an archaeological dig ahead of roadwork on the highway to Jerusalem.

The coins date from the 7th century C.E., which is the late Byzantine era, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority, which in June conducted a salvage excavation ahead of widening Highway 1 between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. As isn't rare in Israel, the archaeologists found pay-dirt. In this case they found a large two-story structure and winepress, the IAA says.

Dating the coins was a cinch because they bear the images of the Byzantine emperors Justinian (483-565 AD), Maurice (539-602 CE) and Phocas (547-610 CE). They were struck at three different mints, Constantinople, Antioch, and Nicomedia, all located in today's Turkey. An image of the emperor wearing military garb and carrying crosses is depicted on the obverse of the coins, while the reverse indicates the coin’s denomination.

“The hoard was found amongst large stones that had collapsed alongside the building," says Annette Landes-Nagar, director of the excavation on behalf of the IAA. "It seems that during a time of danger the owner of the hoard placed the coins in a cloth purse that he concealed inside a hidden niche in the wall. He probably hoped to go back and collect it." If so, he didn't.

The archaeologists believe that the coins were concealed by Christians as the Persians invaded in 614 C.E., marking the end of Byzantine rule in the land. The site was abandoned and, over time, disappeared, becoming just another bump in the agricultural terraces characteristic of the region.

Annette Landes-Nager, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, near the collapse of the wall in which the coins were discovered
Maxim Dinstein, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Author

The building and the winepress are part of a larger site that is bisected by Highway 1, including the remains of a Byzantine church.

Given that Israel is littered with archaeological remains, going back to the dawn of human history and even before, salvage excavations ahead of any construction works is routine.

As said, such serendipitous discoveries are not rare, and they don't have to be in heavily populated areas. In 2014, for instance, archaeologists found a magnificent mosaic floors done in rare colors, also from the Byzantine era, near the Bedouin village of Hura in the Negev. In 1996, a bulldozer working in Lod uncovered the tail of a tiger mosaic, leading archaeologists to unearth an ancient masterpiece from about 300 C.E., one of the largest and best-preserved Roman mosaics ever found.

A laborer in the excavation cleaning a collecting vat of a winepress that was revealed at the site
Yoli Schwartz
The excavation at the site
Yoli Schwartz