Rare gold coin, minted in AD 56 or AD 57, discovered at Mount Zion in Jerusalem. The coin may have been hidden and overlooked by looters during the Siege of Jerusalem in AD 70, according to archaeologists at UNC Charlotte.
Image courtesy UNC Charlotte

An ancient gold coin bearing the image of the Roman Emperor, Nero, has been dis­covered in archaeological excavations just outside the Old City of Jerusalem. The coin was found in the excavations of the Mount Zion Project, co-directed by Shimon Gibson, Visiting Professor of Archaeology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and James Tabor, Professor of Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity, also of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.1

Uncovered from rubble near the remains of first-century AD dwellings, the discovery of this coin is significant because it was unearthed in a scientific excavation. Unlike the unknown origin of many ancient coins, the source of this coin can be verified.

The dwellings near where the coin was found have been investigated by the Mount Zion Project for several years. It is thought that members of the Jewish priestly and aristocratic classes may have lived in this area of ancient Jerusalem. The excava­tions have uncovered “well-preserved rooms of a very large mansion, a Jewish ritual pool (mikveh) and a bathroom, both with their ceilings intact,” said co-director Shimon Gibson.

Judea was a Roman province during Nero’s reign, and discovery of this gold coin testifies to the subjection of the Jews to Rome. The coin was called an aureus and was introduced by Julius Caesar in 49 BC. It was the equivalent of twenty-five silver denarii.2 The silver denarius was the basic coin of the empire and was the penny paid to the labourers in Christ’s parable (Matt 20:1–16). It was also the coin produced in the discussion about the payment of tribute to Caesar (Luke 20:24).

The golden aureus uncovered during excavation has a portrait of the emperor Nero and an inscrip­tion reading “NERO CAESAR AVG IMP” (Nero Caesar Augustus Imperator) on its obverse side. On its reverse side it has an oak wreath surrounding the letters “EX S C” (Ex Senatus Consulto – “by order of the Senate”) as well as the inscription “PONTIF MAX TR P III” (Pontifex Maximus Tribunicia Potestas III).3

Nero was emperor of Rome between 54 and 68 AD. Under his rule, the Jewish revolt broke out in 66 AD. Tensions had been growing for some years and finally exploded with rioting at Caesarea and Jerusalem. As disorder spread, the Roman gover­nor, Gessius Florus, called upon the legate of Syria for help. But the Syrian legate’s attempt to enter Jerusalem with his army failed and his troops suf­fered significant losses in the retreat. Encouraged by this, the revolt became general and quickly spread throughout Judea.

Informed of the seriousness of the rebel­lion, Nero sent his best general, Titus Flavius Vespasianus, with three legions to put down the revolt.4 Vespasian was making good progress against the Jews when news of Nero’s suicide in 68 made him suspend operations. Proclaimed emperor by his troops in 69, Vespasian set off for Rome, leaving his son, Titus, to complete the siege of Jerusalem. The temple was burnt and Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD. Thousands of Jews died in the siege and many of those who did survive were sold as slaves as God had foretold (Deut 28:68).

Today, however, the Jews have returned to their homeland and re-established their state, while the Roman Empire has passed into history. God is thus seen to be faithful to His promises to the fathers of Israel and has also given us a clear sign that the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is near.

Footnotes

  1. Robin Ngo, “Gold Nero Coin Comes to Light in Jerusalem”, in Bible History Daily 17 October 2016 [Online] http://www. biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/ancient-cultures/daily-life-and- practice/gold-nero-coin-jerusalem/
  2. “Money”, in e Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1980, part 2, pp. 1022–1023.
  3. Robin Ngo, “Gold Nero Coin Comes to Light in Jerusalem”.
  4. H.H. Scullard, From the Gracchi to Nero: a History of Rome from 133 BC to AD 68, 3rd ed. London: Methuen, 1970, pp. 328–329.