A new coin exhibition at the Davidson Center in the Jerusalem Archaeological Park recently opened to the public. The exhibition of coins from the collections of the Israel Antiquities Authority is the first in the new Karen Davidson exhibition gallery located in the arched room on the Davidson Center’s second floor.
The exhibition focuses on the international character of Jerusalem, and of the Temple Mount in particular, by showing a selection of hoards and isolated coins discovered during the excavations of Professor Benjamin Mazar between 1968 and 1977. The wide geographic provenance of these coins extends from the Sasanian Empire in Persia, Chartres in France and Carthage in North Africa. The coins provide exceptional insight into the relationships between different peoples, the coins they used and the value they placed in those coins. The coins that found their way to Jerusalem are testimonies to the importance of the capital as a cosmopolitan center and focus of pilgrimage. In times of peace, Jerusalem attracted visitors, traders and pilgrims of all religions. In times of war, the political and strategic importance of Jerusalem brought invading and conquering armies into the city. All these visitors also left their mark in the coin finds in Jerusalem, especially from the excavations close to the Temple Mount.
The exhibits in the Davidson Center include a selection of coins representing a wide range of mints, periods and materials. Some of the coins are most unusual in our region, such as the silver drachm from Ephesos in Ionia, southwest Turkey; the gold aureus of Emperor Tacitus struck in Rome, and the bronze follis of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine IV minted in Syracuse, Sicily. Other coins, such as Carthage or Ravenna were actually integral part of the coins in circulation during the Fifth and Sixth centuries CE. Some of these "foreign" coins also figure in the Jewish tradition. For instance, the silver Sheqels and half-Sheqels minted in Tyre, were singled out as the ideal means of payment of the half-Sheqel head tax to the Jerusalem Temple.
A hoard of Sasanian silver drachms discovered within a drainage channel of a large public latrine, built in the Roman period and still in use during the Byzantine period is also on exhibit. It seems that the owner lost this handful of coins around 535 CE, at the time he was in the public latrine. The coins come from several cities in Iran, among them Shīrāz, Kermān, Ray, Echbatana and Merv. A Fatimid coin hoard containing fifty – one gold coins, dated from 982 to 1095 CE is also on exhibit. Most of the coins were minted during the last fifteen years of reign of Caliph Al-Mustansir, known as the one who brought the Fatimid dynasty to its zenith. The high gold content of the coins gives evidence to the dynasty's prosperous economy. A hoard of French coins and a lead Papal Bulla dated to the Crusader period were uncovered during the excavations. Both exceptional finds are dated to the Twelfth century CE and were found in a sector that was under the control of the Order of the Templars. It seems most likely that the hoard and the bulla were among the possessions which the Templars abandoned when the city of Jerusalem capitulated to Saladin in 1187.
The exhibition in the Davidson Center is part of the continued efforts of the Israel Antiquities Authority, the preeminent organization in the fields of Biblical and Israeli Archaeology, to share the archaeological treasures of the Land of Israel with the public in Israel and around the world. We invite you to visit the Davidson Center and see the new exhibition when you are next in Jerusalem.
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