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The E-Sylum: Volume 16, Number 52, December 22, 2013, Article 20

ISRAEL MUSEUM ACQUIRES WORLD’S ‘FIRST JEWISH COIN’

This article from The Times of Israel describes the "first Jewish coin" as well as optical illusions on coins. interesting! -Editor
YHD-drachm-both-sides

The Israel Museum has acquired over 1,200 ancient silver Persian coins, among the earliest known currency from the area, including what the museum has identified as the world’s oldest Jewish coin.

The coins, dated to the 5th and 4th centuries BCE when the region was controlled by the Persian Empire, constitute “the largest collection in the world of Persian-period coins.” The collection includes a number of previously unknown varieties, the museum said. Chief among the rare artifacts is a silver drachm, an ancient coin based upon the Greek drachma, which, in clearly legible Aramaic script, bears the word yehud, or Judea.

“It’s the earliest coin from the province of Judea,” the museum’s chief curator of archaeology, Haim Gitler, said in an interview with The Times of Israel, calling the 5th century silver drachm the “first Jewish coin.”

The coin collection dates to the period a century or more after the Achaemenid Persian Empire under Cyrus II (the Great) conquered and annexed the Neo-Babylonian Empire in 539 BCE. The Persians ruled the Levant for the next two centuries, until Alexander of Macedon stormed through and toppled their empire. Roughly a century before Persia conquered the Middle East, the earliest known currency was minted from electrum — a silver-gold alloy — in Lydia, western Asia Minor. The idea of precious metal coinage spread across the empire. Judea, Samaria and Philistia, part of the satrapy of Syria and Jerusalem, began minting their own coins shortly thereafter.

The 3.58 gram yehud coin — a hair or two lighter than today’s one shekel coin — was reportedly found in the hills southwest of Hebron and was bought at auction by New York antiquities collector Jonathan Rosen. Rosen, ”one of the world’s most important private collectors of Mesopotamian art” according to The New York Times, agreed to donate his entire collection of Persian-era coins to the museum in March 2013. The acquisition was completed in November. Apollo, an international art magazine, ranked the collection among the top museum acquisitions of 2013.

Although there are a handful of other examples of coins bearing the name Judea, Gitler said the silver drachm was a “unique coin” in its design, and was likely minted in Philistia, the coastal plain encompassing the modern cities of Ashdod, Ashkelon and Gaza, for use in the province of Jerusalem. “Only later did Judea start to mint its own coins,” he said.

A Philistian drachm from the late 5th century BCE in the collection employs a clever example of “optical trickery” in its design, he noted. When turned 90˚ counterclockwise, the lion on the coin’s reverse becomes the helmet of the bearded man, and its paws becomes the man’s hair. Gitler said such illusions were fairly common, noting that a Samarian coin from the same period showed the head of a bearded man whose face is composed of two faces in profile. Hidden owls also roost within the designs of other creatures.

drachm optical trickery

I'm aware of several optical illusions in paper money design, such as hidden witches and devils (real or imagined). But this is the first time I've seen a coin exhibiting such "optical trickery". My numismatic education must be lacking. Can any of our readers enlighten me on this subject? What are some of the other coins exhibiting this trait? -Editor

To read the complete article, see: Israel Museum obtains world’s ‘first Jewish coin’ (www.timesofisrael.com/israel-museum-obtains-worlds-first-jewish-coin/)

Wayne Homren, Editor

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