Archaeologists Find Ancient Collector's Hoard of Hasmonean Coins

Archaeologists find rare cache of 2,150-year old silver drachms in Modiin in a crack in an ancient wall. Who dunnit?

Some of the 16-coin hoard of Hasmonean-era coins found in Modiin, during a salvage excavation by the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Gil Cohen Magen

A rare cache of silver coins dating to the Hasmonean period, some 2,140 years ago, has been discovered in a salvage excavation in central Israel.

The 16 coins, shekels and half-shekels (tetradrachms and didrachms), date from around 126 BCE. They had been minted farther north, in the city of Tyre, and bear the images of the king, Antiochus VII and his brother Demetrius Israeli, stated Avraham Tendler, director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The small hoard was found hidden in a rock crevice by a wall of an impressive agricultural estate, the Israel Antiquities Authority stated. Its archaeologists made the discovery while digging at a site slated for the construction of a new neighborhood in Modi‘in.

Closer analysis of the coins showed that the cache contains one or two coins from every year between 135 to 126 BCE. Altogether, coins from nine years are there, says Dr. Donald Tzvi Ariel, head of the Coin Department at the IAA, adding. "It seems that some thought went into collecting the coins, and it is possible that the person who buried the cache was a coin collector. He acted in just the same way as stamp and coin collectors manage collections today."

True, we may not all stick our collections of coins and stamps in cracks in the wall, but we do try to put them somewhere safe.

Or maybe: "The cache that we found is compelling evidence that one of the members of the estate who had saved his income for months needed to leave the house for some unknown reason," Tendler speculated. "He buried his money in the hope of coming back and collecting it, but was apparently unfortunate and never returned. It is exciting to think that the coin hoard was waiting here 2,140 years until we exposed it."

The ancient collector, or wayward traveler, may have hailed from an ancient Jewish homestead.

Some of the 16-coin hoard of Hasmonean-era coins found in Modiin.
Gil Cohen Magen

“The findings from our excavation show that a Jewish family established an agricultural estate on this hill during the Hasmonean period," Tendler stated. "The family members planted olive trees and vineyards on the neighboring hills and grew grain in valleys. An industrial area that includes an olive press and storehouses where the olive oil was kept is currently being uncovered next to the estate."

The diggers also found no less than dozens of rock-hewn winepresses by the estate house, which had massive walls to discourage marauders, Tendler says.

Aside from the wall-ensconced cache, the archaeologist found numerous bronze coins minted by the Hasmonean kings at the site, bearing the names of the kings such as Yehohanan, Judah, Jonathan – and Mattathias, the High Priest and Head of the Council of the Jews.

In short, this wine-producing Jewish household evidently survived throughout the Early Roman period, and, says the IAA, apparently adhered ritual purity and impurity: laws, digging mikvehs and using vessels made of chalk, which – according to Jewish law – cannot become ritually unclean.

Maybe one day they had enough, though, and participated in the first revolt against the Romans, that broke out in 66 CE. For one thing: some of the coins bear the date “Year Two” of the revolt and the slogan "Freedom of Zion".

For another, the inhabitants filled the rooms next to the outer wall of the estate building with big rocks, creating a fortified barrier, Tendler says. The archaeologists also found caves hewn into the bedrock underneath the floors of the estate house.

"These refuge complexes were connected by means of tunnels between water cisterns, storage pits and hidden rooms," Tendler says. "In one of the adjacent excavation areas a mikveh of impressive beauty was exposed; when we excavated deeper in the bath we discovered an opening inside it that led to an extensive hiding refuge in which numerous artifacts were found that date to the time of the Bar Kokhba uprising."