Israeli Hiker Stumbles on Rare Gold Coin of Emperor Augustus in Galilee

The coin, only the second known of its kind, was issued as part of a commemorative series by Emperor Trajan, a successor of the founder of the Roman Empire.

The rare gold going bearing Emperor Augustus' image, along with the words "Augustus deified." The coin was discovered in the Galilee by an Israeli hiker in early 2016.
Courtesy of Samuel Magal / IAA

An extremely rare gold coin, bearing the image of Emperor Augustus has been found in the Galilee, by a hiker visiting an archaeological site – who noticed something glinting in the grass.

Issued by Emperor Trajan, who ruled Rome rather briefly, from 98 C.E. to 117 C.E., the coin shows the likeness of Augustus, founder of the Roman Empire and its first emperor, who ruled from 27 B.C.E. until his death in 14 C.E.

It is only the second coin of its type that is known to exist in the world. The other is in the possession of the British Museum, and had been thought until now to be the only one of its kind.

Laurie Rimon, of Kibbutz Kfar Blum, who discovered the rare gold coin bearing the likeness of Emperor Augustus, at an excavation in the Upper Galilee, in early 2016.
Courtesy of Samuel Magal / IAA

It wasn't. The currency was minted not long before the end of Trajan’s rule as part of a series of coins modestly dedicated to the Roman emperors who ruled before him.

“The reverse side of the coin shows symbols of the Roman legions next to the name of the ruler Trajan,” says Danny Syon, a senior numismatist at the Israel Antiquities Authority. But on the obverse, instead of an image of the emperor Trajan as would have been expected, there is the portrait of the emperor “Augustus deified.”

How might the coin have ended up in the Galilee? Maybe a soldier with a hole in his pocket?

Dr. Donald T. Ariel and the coin.
Shai Halevy / courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

“The coin may reflect the presence of the Roman army in the region some 2,000 years ago – possibly in the context of activity against Bar Kochba supporters in the Galilee – but it is very difficult to determine that on the basis of a single coin,” says Donald T. Ariel, head curator of the coin department at the IAA.

“Historical sources describing the period note that some Roman soldiers were paid a high salary of three gold coins, the equivalent of 75 silver coins, each payday. Because of their high monetary value, soldiers were unable to purchase goods in the market with gold coins, as the merchants could not provide change for them,” Ariel adds.

Gold is a noble metal; hence the coin is in an excellent state of preservation.
Irit Zuk-Kovacsi / Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

Several non-gold coins minted by Trajan have been found in Israeli digs, as well as two other gold ones: one in Givat Shaul, a Jerusalem neighborhood, and one in Kiryat Gat, a city in the south of the country. However, they were not of the commemorative series.

This extraordinary find was made by Laurie Rimon, who lives on Kibbutz Kfar Blum in the Upper Galilee, and had hiked with a group to an archaeological site that the IAA declines to name, for fear that enthusiasts might start arriving in droves and digging. Picking it up after noticing it in the grass, Rimon realized it was an ancient gold coin.

The group’s guide, Irit Zuk-Kovacsi, contacted the IAA and within two hours, says the authority, it sent over a representative, who took charge of the find.

“It was not easy parting with the coin,” Rimon confessed.

The IAA has announced that it will award Rimon a certificate of appreciation for good citizenship, as not everybody hands over archaeological finds that they serendipitously make – let alone gold coins of clearly ancient provenance.