Israeli School Kids Find Rare 1,600-Year-Old Gold Coin

Thursday, April 18, 2019 |  David Lazarus

The pure gold coin, the first of its type discovered in Israel, was minted by the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II, whose edicts led to the abolishment of the Sanhedrin Council and to the large-scale emigration of Jews from the Land of Israel to the Diaspora.

How ironic that 1,600 years after this cruel antisemitic edict, four Israeli pupils walking alongside a stream running through the ancient Sanhedrin Trail, uncover a rare piece of evidence reflecting this dramatic moment in Jewish history – a coin representing the Byzantine Christians trying to put an end to the Jewish presence in the Land of Israel from about 415 CE!

The Sanhedrin Trail was recently dedicated in honor of 70 years to the founding of the renewed State of Israel!

Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) expert Dr. Gabriela Bijovsky explained the coin: “The gold coin is a solidus minted by the Emperor Theodosius II in Constantinople (now Istanbul) around 420–423 CE. Similar coins are known from the Eastern Byzantine Empire, but this is the first of its type discovered in Israel. One side depicts the image of the emperor and the other shows the image of the Goddess Victory holding the Staff of the Cross.”

According to Yair Amitzur, IAA chief archaeologist of the Sanhedrin Trail, “The Emperor Theodosius II abolished the post of the ‘Nasi’, the Head of the Sanhedrin Council, and decreed that all Jewish financial contributions to the Sanhedrin be transferred to the Imperial (Byzantine) Treasury.”

Amitzur continues: “The Sanhedrin Trail, initiated by the IAA, tells the story of the Jewish leadership in the Galilee at the time of the Mishna and the Talmud in the Roman and Byzantine periods. It is symbolic that the gold coin discovered adjacent to the Sanhedrin trail reflects the period of dramatic events when the Sanhedrin ceased to function in the Galilee, and the center of Jewish life transferred from the Galilee to Babylon.”

Theodosius II was one of the most influential emperors of the Byzantine Empire. His decree on Oct. 17, 415 stripped all authority from Raban Gamliel VI, ‘Nasi’ of the Sanhedrin, because he had refused to submit to the antisemitic Byzantine Christian laws against the Jews. The Byzantine Empire was the continuation of the Catholic/Christian Roman Empire in its eastern provinces with its capital city Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul). The empire continued for a thousand years until falling to the Turkish Ottoman Empire in 1453.

The four ninth grade students from the Haemeq Hamaaravi High School in Kibbutz Yifat in the Jezreel Valley were orienteering in the fields alongside the Zippori stream in the Galilee, adjacent to the Sanhedrin Trail, when they spotted the gold coin on the ground. The pupils realized immediately that this was a significant find, and they reported it to their geography and history teacher, Zohar Porshyan, who contacted the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The school kids handed the coin to Nir Distelfeld, the IAA anti-theft inspector, and showed him exactly where it was discovered in the field. Distelfeld awarded the boys certificates for their good citizenship, saying, "It is uncommon to find single gold coins as they were very valuable, and people took care not to lose them. I commend the pupils and their teacher for their good citizenship."

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