Rare Roman gold coin discovered during Jerusalem excavation

Archaeological excavations at Mount Zion in Jerusalem have for the first time discovered a gold coin bearing the likeness of Roman Emperor Nero, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte researchers in charge of the dig revealed earlier this week in a press release.

Drs. Shimon Gibson, James Tabor, and Rafael Lewis confirmed that the coin, better known as an aureus (an ancient Roman gold piece valued at 25 silver denarii) contained the portrait of a bare-headed Nero as Caesar and the inscription “NERO CAESAR AVG IMP” along the edge.

On the other side of the coin is the image of an oak wreath containing the letters “EX S C” with the inscription “PONTIF MAX TR P III” surrounding it. These inscriptions enabled the research team to determine that the coin had been struck in either 56 and 57 AD.

“The coin is exceptional because this is the first time that a coin of this kind has turned up in Jerusalem in a scientific dig,” said Gibson, a British-born archaeologist and a professor in the UNC-Charlotte Department of Religious Studies. “Coins of this type are usually only found in private collections, where we don’t have clear evidence as to the place of origin.”

Coin is evidence of the Roman occupation of the region

The coin would have been minted a little more than a decade before the city of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, the archaeologists said. It was discovered in rubble located outside the ruins of first-century Jewish villas they were in the process of excavating.

“The coin probably came from one of the rich 2000-year old Jewish dwellings which the… team [has] been uncovering at the site,” said Gibson. “These belonged to the priestly and aristocratic quarter located in the Upper City of Jerusalem. Finds include the well-preserved rooms of a very large mansion, a Jewish ritual pool (mikveh) and a bathroom, both with their ceilings intact.”

The archaeologists hypothesized that the gold coin was part of one of these individual’s stores of wealth, amassed before their mansions were razed – along with the rest of the city – by Titus and the Roman legions. The valuable coin was likely hidden prior to the destruction of Jerusalem and simply overlooked by Roman soldiers looting in the aftermath of their demolition.

According to Gibson, the aureus was “a valuable piece of personal property” that “wouldn’t have been cast away like rubbish or casually dropped. It’s conceivable that it ended up outside these structures in the chaos that happened as this area was destroyed.” It is also historically significant because it is evidence of the Roman occupation of Jerusalem and the surrounding area, and gives researchers a clear late date for said occupation, he and his colleagues added.


Image credit: Shimon Gibson