Part 3: The fall of Jerusalem and the Bar Cochba War

In 70 CE, Jerusalem fell to the Romans, putting an end to Jewish national independence. Ostensibly, after the destruction of Jerusalem no more Jewish coins were minted. Strictly speaking, however, this was not the case. King Agrippa 11 maintained his allegiance to Rome, and one Roman emperor after another endorsed his designation as king of Judea and the Galilee. While the authority of Agrippa's position was limited, he was nonetheless still a Jewish king.

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Fig. 3*: Sestertius from the reign of Hadrian, struck in 130 CE in honor of the "Visit of the Emperor to Judaea" as indicated by the Latin inscription
Collection of the Kadman Numismatics Pavilion, K-4983

Agrippa 11 was relatively old when he was appointed king by the Romans. In this capacity, and contrary to the position of the Zealots and other rebels, he adopted an attitude of appeasement and submission. It seems that Agrippa began to strike coins during the Jewish War, and his minting ceased in 96 CE. Most of his coins date from the period of his long rule after the destruction of Jerusalem and were dedicated to the emperors of the Flavian dynasty, Vespasian, Titus and Domitian, whose portraits they bear.

After the destruction of Jerusalem, some of the Jews sought ways to cope with the prevailing situation, striving for rehabilitation and normalization. Others, however, tried to regain their national independence. The ascension of Hadrian to the emperor's throne in 117 CE roused feelings of optimism among the Jews of Eretz Israel. At the beginning of Hadrian's reign, he undertook a policy of reconciliation and peacemaking throughout the Empire. In 130 CE, however, Hadrian visited Judea (fig. 3) and established the Roman city Aelia Capitolina in Jerusalem:

At Jerusalem, he [Hadrian] founded a city in place of the one which had been razed to the ground, naming it Aelia Capitolina, and on the site of the temple of God he raised a new temple to Jupiter. This brought on a war of no slight importance nor of brief duration, for the Jews deemed it intolerable that foreign races should be settled in their city and foreign religious rites planted there. (Dio Cassius, Roman History 69:12).

There is a difference of opinion regarding the actual date that the city was founded. The writings of the Roman historian Dio Cassius clearly indicate that the city of Aelia Capitolina was founded before the Bar Cochba War. This claim coincides with what is known of Hadrian's widespread activities during his journey to the region in 129/130, which included the construction of cities, temples and public buildings and the development of a network of roads. Furthermore, coins struck by Hadrian on the occasion of the founding of Aelia Capitolina have also been found in some of the Bar Cochba coin hoards. The Christian Father, Eusebius (260-340 CE), however, is convinced that the city was founded to punish the Jews for their rebellion. His testimony on this subject is suspect due to his Christian bias, since such a claim apparently justified the Christians in punishing Jews for their refusal to accept Jesus as the Messiah. Though we cannot be certain of all the reasons for the outbreak of the Bar Cochba War, clearly the establishment of Aelia Capitolina was an important and perhaps primary catalyst.

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Fig. 4*: Bar Cochba tetradrachm, depicting a lulav and an etrog, with the inscription, "Year One of the Redemption of Israel"
Collection of the Kadman Numismatics Pavilion, K-758.94.

The suppression of the Bar Cochba War in 135 CE marks a dramatic end to a long period of minting ancient Jewish coins. Nonetheless, it was precisely during this life and death struggle that the Jews managed to issue their most impressive and eloquent coins. The Bar Cochba coins differ from other Jewish coins in that they were overstruck on contemporary coins already in circulation. The Jews used existing silver Roman coins such as tetradrachms, drachms and denarius, as well as various bronze coins, primarily those from the cities of Ashkelon and Gaza. When the war broke out, the Jews began a new reckoning of years. The first year was declared "Year One of the Redemption of Israel," (fig. 4) while the following year was proclaimed "Year Two of the Freedom of Israel." The inscriptions also mention the leaders of the revolt, "Shimon Prince of Israel" and "Eleazar the Priest." The symbols on these coins are outstanding in their variety and their strong and clear message. Notable among these symbols are the facade of the Temple, the "four species" (of the Feast of Tabernacles), musical instruments, vessels from the Temple, palm trees, vine leaves and grape clusters. With the suppression of the Bar Cochba War, autonomous Jewish coinage also drew to a close. From this point on, based on clear policies set by Rome, national entities in the Roman provinces were nullified. Instead, the Romans expanded the status of the cities and granted them a type of independent municipal authority that among other things included the minting of their own coins.



From: Christianity on Coins of the Holy Land, Exhibition Catalog, Eretz Israel Museum, Tel Aviv, 2000.

Part 1: Monetary system during Temple times    ll    Part 2: The striking of coins in first-century Palestine

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