2,000-Year-Old Coin Sheds Light on Roman Conquest of Jerusalem

July 30, 2015

3 min read

A rare coin minted almost 2,000 years ago during the conquest of Jerusalem was recently found at an auction in Zurich, NRG reported. The find has helped shed light upon the Roman attitude at the time over the conquest, resulting in a large commemoration of the Roman victory over the Judean rebels.

The coin depicts a Jewess standing and peering across a palm tree and bears the inscription “IUDAEA RECEPTA,” or “Judea is re-captured.” Coins bearing this inscription were used to publicize the news of a captured territory that had been part of the Roman Empire once before.

The newly discovered coin is unlike other numerous coins minted by the Romans after the conquest of Jerusalem and the Judean province between 67-73 CE. Those coins bear the inscription “IUDAEA CAPTA” and portray a woman sitting on the floor under a palm tree or a legionnaire resting on a spear while a Jewish slave is captive at his feet.

The slight changes make all the difference. Unlike the “CAPTA” coins, which were minted to proclaim Roman victory over a new province that was being absorbed into the empire, the “RECAPTA” coin, marks a Roman conquest over a rebellion, rather than a war.

Dr. David Yusselson, who holds the largest private Judean coin collection in the world, purchased the coin for over 100,000 Swiss Franks ($104,000 US). The coin is currently on display at the Israel Museum.

“The world of rare coin collectors is very small indeed,” said Yusselson, in a call to Israeli reporters from Zurich. “Usually everyone knows each other, the auction houses as well as the sellers and buyers. This is how I found out about the coin, which differs greatly from the regular ‘CAPTA’ coins, of which I have quite a number already in my collection. I immediately went to look at it, not simply because it was rare, but because of the story it tells.”

“The uniqueness of this coin is in its using of a phrase that we have not seen in use until now,” explained Dudi Mevorach, Chief archiver of Antiquities of the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods at the Israel Museum. “Recepta is the proper term for the Romans to use, as Judea was already a Roman province before the great revolt,” he said.

“However until now we have only come across coins that say ‘Capta’. So the question arises, why did the Romans change their tradition. Why did the mint a coin that says ‘Recepta’ and then change the majority of coins to ‘Capta’ meaning a province that was newly captured?”

The Chief Archiver of the Department of Archaeology and Numismatica at the Israel Museum, Dr. Haim Gitler, explained that “in place of newspaper or internet, the main form of media to spread propaganda in the time of antiquity was the minting of coins. You put the head of the ruling Caesar on one side of the coin, and on the flip side, you put Temples, Gods, or whatever the city is famous for in order to publicize it.”

Gitler explained the switch to Capta from Recepta. “When it comes to the Capta coins, it is simple propaganda. Vespasian wanted to make widely known to his people that it was he who conquered the Jews. Rome printed the coins until the year 81 CE For eleven years they minted these coins. This added on to the grand marches at the return of the army, as well as both arches that were erected to commemorate the event, and even the building of the Colosseum in Rome, which was likely paid for in part by the spoils of Jerusalem, show us that Vespasian and Titus, celebrated the victory in a grand fashion.”

“This war, and it was a war as opposed to a rebellion was a particularly tough one for Rome, and one whose victory they wanted to highlight,” continued Gitler.

Gitler and various scholars point to the fact that to date, only one of these coins has been found, signifying that there were very few of these coins minted. They explain the cause of this as being that Vespasian complied with Roman tradition, in printing ‘Recepta’ coins for a province already captured, but regretted his decision due to the toll that the war took on the Romans, as well as the need to promote his own victories following the revolving door of Caesars in the year 69 CE, of which he was the last.

Gitler said that it was very exciting for the Israel Museum, that possesses the third largest Judea coin collection in the world, to house this coin. “Coins fill in large parts of the story that we didn’t know before. Like this one. It is always exciting to uncover these details of our past. People often gloss over their importance, but they tell a story,” he said. “This one tells us that for a few weeks after the destruction, Rome held a certain outlook about Judea, that it was simply another reconquered province. But after a short time, perhaps a month perhaps six weeks, this outlook changed, and Judaea took on a much more important role as an adversary to Rome, than it ever had before.”

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