Israeli Hikers Stumble Upon Rare Byzantine Gold Coin

The coin, minted in Constantinople around 420, shows Emperor Theodosius II on one side and the goddess Victory on the other

Byzantine-era coin bearing the image of Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II, April 16, 2019.
Nir Distfield / IAA

Four high school students who were on a hike along the Zippori stream in the western Galilee in February found a rare Byzantine gold coin, never found before in Israel.

The four ninth-graders were orienteering in fields alongside the stream, on what is known as the Sanhedrin Trail, and spotted the gold coin from the 5th century bearing the image of Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II.

The students immediately realized that the find was important and reported it to their history teacher, who then called the Israel Antiquities Authority.

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The IAA’s numismatic expert Dr. Gabriela Bijovsky researched the coin and discovered it was from the Byzantine era and minted in Constantinople (Istanbul today) around the years 420 to 423. Theodosius’ image appears on one side and the goddess Victory holding the large staff of the cross appears on the other side. Similar coins are known from the Eastern Byzantine empire, but this is the first of its kind discovered in Israel.

Theodosius II was one of the most influential emperors of the Byzantine Empire, compiling an Imperial Code of Laws, designated the Codex Theodosius. “The emperor Theodosius II abolished the post of the ‘Nasi’, the head of the Sanhedrin council, and decreed that the Jews’ financial contributions to the Sanhedrin be transferred to the Imperial Treasury,” said Yair Amitzur, the chief archaeologist of the Sanhedrin Trail.

Byzantine-era coin bearing the image of the goddess Victory holding the large staff of the cross, April 16, 2019.
Nir Distfield / IAA

“The Sanhedrin Trail initiated by the IAA, tells the story of the Jewish leadership in the Galilee at the time of the Mishna and the Talmud in the Roman and Byzantine periods. That the gold coin was discovered adjacent to the Sanhedrin Trail reflects the period of dramatic events when the Sanhedrin ceased to function in the Galilee, and the center of Jewish life transferred from the Galilee to Babylon,” said Amitzur.

Nir Distelfeld, an anti-theft Inspector for the IAA, awarded the youths certificates of appreciation for their good citizenship, saying: “It is uncommon to find single gold coins as they were very valuable, and people took care not to lose them. I commend the students and their teacher for their good citizenship.”