Four 1,000-year-old Gold Coins Unearthed Near Jerusalem's Western Wall

The rare discovery at an Israel Antiquities Authority dig sheds light on the historical and political shifts between the ancient Muslim dynasties ruling the city

Nir Hasson
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The juglet and four gold coins from the Islamic period that were found in the Israel Antiquities Authority's dig opposite the Western Wall Plaza, in Jerusalem's Old City, November 2020.
The juglet and the gold coins that were found in the Israel Antiquities Authority's dig opposite the Western Wall Plaza, in Jerusalem's Old City.Credit: Dafna Gazit/IAA
Nir Hasson

Four gold coins were recently discovered inside a pottery jar found during an excavation in the Western Wall Plaza of Jerusalem's Old City. The precious 1,000-year-old coins reflect the political and historical shift of power between the two Muslim dynasties that ruled the city at the time.

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Coins from the Islamic period that were found inside a small jar discovered by the Israel Antiquities Authority, opposite the Western Wall Plaza of Jerusalem's Old City, November 2020
The coins from the Islamic period that were found in a small pottery jar by Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists, opposite the Western Wall Plaza of Jerusalem's Old City.Credit: Dafna Gazit/IAA

The small container, or juglet, was discovered by inspector Yevgenia Kapil of the Israel Antiquities Authority about two months ago, during preliminary digging as part of a plan by the Jewish Quarter Development Corporation to build an elevator facilitating access to the plaza from the . Last month, David Gellman, director of the excavation, emptied out the dirt inside the juglet and discovered four gold coins in excellent condition.

Robert Kool, the antiquities authority's coin expert, examined them and determined that they dated from the late 940s through 970s C.E., the early era. Two of the coins are gold dinars that were minted in Ramle under the rule of the Caliph Al-Muti’ (946-974) and his regional governor, Abu ‛Ali al-Qasim ibn al-Ihshid Unujur (946-961 C.E.). The other two coins were minted in Cairo by the Fatimid rulers al-Mu‘izz (953-975 C.E.) and his successor, al-‘Aziz (975-996 C.E.).

Excavation director David Gellman of the Israel Antiquities Authority at the excavations opposite the Western Wall Plaza in Jerusalem's Old City, pointing to where the juglet with four gold coins from the Islamic period was found, October 2020
Excavation director David Gellman of the antiquities authority pointing to the place where the juglet with the coins was found, opposite the Western Wall Plaza.Credit: Yoli Schwartz/IAA

“The profile of the coins found in the juglet are a near perfect reflection of the historical events. This was a time of radical political change, when control over Eretz Israel passed from the Sunni Abbasid caliphate, whose capital was Baghdad, Iraq, into the hands of its Shiite rivals – the Fatimid dynasty of North Africa," Dr. Kool explains.

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Dr. Robert Kool of the Israel Antiquities Authority examining four gold coins, which date from the late 940s to the 970s C.E. and were unearthed in the Western Wall Plaza of Jerusalem's Old City, October 2020
Dr. Robert Cool of the antiquities authority examining the coins found in the Western Wall Plaza in Jerusalem. They date from the late 940s to the 970s C.E.Credit: Shai Halevi/IAA

“Four dinars was a considerable sum of money for most of the population, who lived under difficult conditions at the time. It was equal to the monthly salary of a minor official, or four months’ salary for a common laborer,” he says, adding that for members of the elite in those days, however, it was a relatively small sum.

“The small handful of wealthy officials and merchants in the city earned huge salaries and amassed vast wealth. A senior treasury official could earn 7,000 gold dinars a month, and also receive additional incomes from his rural estates amounting to hundreds of thousands of gold dinars a year.” 

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