Roman Coins Boast “Judaea Capta”
by Robert Deutsch

With hands bound behind his back, a Jewish captive stands with a second captive, a despondent woman sitting under the palm tree.

The late great Israeli numismatist Yaakov Meshorer wrote in 2001: “The Judaea Capta [coins] were minted in a quantity that is surprising for Roman coins in general, and for those celebrating victories over other peoples in particular, as if the victory over Judaea was the most important of them all. No other victory was commemorated by such a large number of coins.”1

Despite its minute size within the empire, suppression of the Great Jewish Revolt of 66–70 C.E. required a massive Roman military force. Three Roman legions were brought into Judea from Syria and Egypt. The Jewish historian Josephus, who was an eye-witness to the fighting, tells us that the Roman army included the fifth, tenth and 15th legions, plus 23 annexed cohorts, as well as auxiliaries furnished by local kings such as Agrippa and the Arab Malichus, and numbered more than 60,000 soldiers.2 The revolt effectively ended in 70 C.E. with the destruction of Jerusalem and the burning of the Temple.a

The obverse of the coin showing Jewish captives under a palm tree.

It was not simply that the Jews had revolted, however, that accounts for the large number of Judea Capta coins. It is that the Jews had dared to mint their own coins during the revolt. Minting coins was an imperial privilege. No one could issue coins without permission. Thus, striking so-called freedom coins was no less severe a transgression by the Jews than the revolt itself. The freedom coins were produced in silver and bronze. The silver coins were of high quality metal and according to high minting standards. The silver coins bear the legend “Jerusalem the Holy” and indicate their weight unit: “shekel of Israel,” “half shekel” or “quarter shekel.”

All the silver Jewish coins, with a single exception, display the same cultic iconography: a chalice on the obverse, and a staff with three buds of pomegranates on the reverse.


A silver shekel from the second year of the revolt bears a Hebrew inscription, “shekel of Israel,” and a chalice.

The inscription on the reverse of the coin reads “Jerusalem the Holy” and depict three pomegranate buds. A common ancient Jewish icon, the pomegranate with its abundance of seeds adorned the priestly robes, as described in the Bible (Exodus 28:33–34). Until quite recently, the vertical stem of the three pomegranate buds on this coin was interpreted as just that -- stem. More recently (and more likely), it is seen as a manmade staff with three buds; that is, a sacred object of the priests. Thus the staff is likely to represent the minting authority, namely, the high priesthood of the Temple as an institution.

The freedom coins also always bear a year, indicating the year of the revolt.

Bronze coins of the second and third years carry the legend “Freedom of Zion.” This is the first time that the term “Zion” appears on a Jewish coin. In the fourth year the legend became “To the Redemption of Zion.”


“To the redemption of Zion” is inscribed on this bronze coin from the revolt’s fourth year. Palm trees and dates represent Jewish festivals.

The Jewish revolt coins are dated from year 1 to 5 to correspond with 66–70 C.E. Even after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., however, a group of rebels held out in the desert stronghold of Masada until 73 or 74, but no coins bear a date later than the fifth year of the revolt. The revolt coins had apparently been minted in Jerusalem, so when Jerusalem fell so did the minting of revolt coins.

The iconography on the bronze coins are emblems connected with the Jewish cult and festivals: vine leaves and amphoras, palm trees and dates, lulavs and etrogs, a palm branch and lemon-like fruit used on the festival of Sukkoth. The palm tree is of special interest because it is a symbol of Israel—and it is a symbol that the Romans adopted in their Judea Capta coins. Judea Capta coins were minted in gold, silver and bronze. Legends included IUDAEA CAPTA “Judea captured” and IUDAEA DEVICTA “Judea defeated”. The most popular images for the reverse of the Judea Capta coins were a Jewess mourning or Jewish captives.3 The Jewess mourning, sometimes with her hands tied behind her back, is usually seated under a palm tree. Occasionally a male captive with hands tied behind his back appears with the woman. On others the captive Jew is replaced by the emperor standing, holding a spear, stepping on his enemies’ helmet.

A woman representing Judea (identified by the inscription beneath her) sits dejectedly with her bound hands behind her back on this gold coin. David Sofer Collection

A victorious Roman emperor stands with one foot on the helmet of his defeated enemy. A captive woman sits under the palm tree on this bronze coin.

The obverse of the Judea Capta coins features the head of the emperor, most often Vespasian, the general who was appointed by Nero to lead the Roman army in Judea before he himself became emperor in 69 C.E. At this point his son Titus took over and completed the victory over the Jews. A minority of the Judea Capta coins features Titus on the obverse.

A very rare gold coin with Vespasian’s head on the obverse features him on the reverse standing in a triumphal chariot with four pacing horses (a quadriga), and in front of the horses, a naked captive Jew with hands bound behind his back escorted by a Roman soldier.


Naked and captive, a leader of the Jewish revolt, Simon son of Giora, leads the procession of the triumphant emperor Vespasian who stands in his four-horse chariot. Simon is escorted by a Roman soldier who guards him. Beneath the scene on this rare gold coin is an inscription: Triumph of [Vespasian] Augustus (The Israel Museum, Jerusalem).

The obverse of the coin features the head of the Roman emperor Vespasian.

We can identify this captive. It is Simon son of Giora, whom the Romans considered the leader of the revolt. The triumphal procession pictured on the coin is described by Josephus. Both Titus and Vespasian were “crowned with laurel” and “clad in the traditional purple robes.” The triumphal procession displayed most promiscuously the treasures from the Temple. At the Forum Romanum the leader of the revolt, Simon son of Giora, having been scourged, was executed. The announcement that Simon “was no more” was met with “shouts of universal applause.”4

The figure of Simon son of Giora engraved on this coin at the head of the procession is the only known image of a leader of the revolt. A close examination of the coin reveals even the features on his face.

http://members.bib-arch.org/publication.asp?PubID=BSBA&Volume=36&Issue=1&ArticleID=27

Discussion

  1. What publication says that the pomegranates are a scepter of the high priest?
    Aaron, 01/09, 03:56 AM
  2. The ivory pomegranate with the inscription:
    "To the Temple of Yahweh, Holly for the priests"
    published by Avigad and by Lemaire.
    Dr. Robert Deutsch, 01/09, 07:03 AM
  3. I thought that this was not yet proved authentic. Is this staff just an assumption, seeing how it looks like a staff rather then a branch, and the fact that there may be a pomegranate that could be from this staff?
    Aaron, 01/09, 04:08 PM
  4. I went to the museum two years ago with my microscope to investigate the authenticity of the inscription on the pomegranate and there is not even a small doubt regarding its authenticity!
    Dr. Robert Deutsch, 01/09, 05:14 PM
  5. "In 2005 a committee of the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Israel Museum found the inscription to be a forgery, claiming that the forger artificially stopped short of an ancient break in the pomegranate when he engraved the letters. If that is true, the inscription is a forgery."
    I have also seen this pomegranate about 4 years ago. I, as much as anyone, would want this pomegranate to be authentic. I also note that there is a hole on the bottom of the pomegranate, suggesting that it was the head of a wand or scepter.
    The pomegranate has partial letter, which makes us ask "[Could] these three partial letters reveal whether the inscription is the work of a modern forger or is ancient and therefore authentic?"
    This pomegranate has undergone many tests, the results are still inconclusive.
    "Although Demsky admits he is now only 80 percent sure the inscription is a forgery, in their post-May 3 report, they reflect no hesitancy, no “probably” or even “very probably.” The judgment is very clear: “The inscribed pomegranate is a modern forgery.”"
    Another thing is that if this pomegranate is authentic, it would still be hard to prove that this is what's on the shekel.
    Aaron, 01/09, 05:32 PM
  6. Aaron
    There is much more than that. I already give a lecture on it in Vienna after I checked it. The committee you are mentioned was formed by one single person: Yuval Goren who asked the others to join him and declare the inscription as a forgery. In the ??Israel Exploration Journal??, Goren and another 7 "scientists" signed a paper in which they concluded that the inscription is a forgery. BUT, this was a big lie. In the Jerusalem District Court, Michal Dayagi testified that her name was added as an Author without her knowledge and the only think she checked was the height of the pomegranate. She never read the article on which her name was added by Goren!

    In short, the article was a fabrication of Mr. Goren. Demsky and Ahituv never checked it under microscope! I have the pictures of the two looking on it through a magnifying glass (as such as one who never looked through a such tool !!!!). If you like I can send you the pictures to your personal e-mail.

    I want to remind you that the IAA declared the pomegranate as fake BEFORE they checked it because the pomegranate was not in Israel at all but on display in Canada. In the press conference the IAA declared that the item is a fake because it was not found in a proper excavation, AND when the item will be back in Israel they will check it to prove that it is a fake. That's why I went myself to the museum with my microscope to check it.

    In any event, in the convention organized by Hershel Shank about two years in Jerusalem Lemaire demonstrated that the letters are fractured by the ANCIENT brake and is no doubt of the authenticity.

    But you can't convince daft people.

    Once an idiot declared that it is fake 1000 clever ones can't change it. It was spoiled.
    Dr. Robert Deutsch, 01/09, 06:15 PM
  7. Thank you Mr. Deutch.
    Don't take my comments the wrong way, I was just posting this because I wanted to know why you though it was real. I just remember seeing this piece when I was in Israel, and reading that it still is unknown if the piece is real.
    Do you know why these people wrote an article knowingly with wrong information?
    Thank you,
    Aaron
    Aaron, 01/09, 06:24 PM
  8. Because Goren can't stand that he is wrong! And can't admit he make a mistake. His testimony in court will crash!

    Make no mistake -- I am going to sue him for his crimes.
    Dr. Robert Deutsch, 01/09, 06:36 PM
  9. I was also wondering why on shekels the pomegranates seem to have little beads on the left and right part of the "flower", that are not on the Hippo tooth pomegranate. Is this because it is an artist depiction, and is not completely accurate?

    Thanks again,
    Aaron
    Aarmale, 01/09, 06:56 PM
  10. The ivory is a copy of the natural fruit in its early stage and the one on the coin is a staff, an artifact made of ivory or precious metal. It is more safe to have it with bids rather than sharp points. It was a ritual item used every day.
    Dr. Robert Deutsch, 01/09, 07:52 PM
  11. The Shekel Magazine published by the American Israel Numismatic Association (http://www.theshekel.org) would like to publish your excellent article Roman Coins Boast “Judaea Capta.”
    Can we have your permission?
    Mel Wacks, 01/29, 06:08 PM
  12. Dear Mel,

    Permission is granted.

    Best wishes from the Holy Land,

    Robert
    Dr. Robert Deutsch, 01/29, 07:01 PM
  13. Do you know why these people wrote an article knowingly with wrong information?
    Thank you,
    Reisebuch, 11/18, 10:40 AM
  14. Robert, Has there been an article published that the pomegranate Shekel design represents a staff? Is there any chance that you could prepare such an article for The Shekel, with appropriate illustrations? I am sure that our members would be most interested as would I.
    Mel Wacks, 12/09, 09:20 PM
  15. Nice, accurate and to the point. Not everyone can provide information with proper flow. Good post. I am going to save the URL and will definitely visit again. Keep it up.
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  16. Is there any chance that you could prepare such an article for The Shekel, with appropriate illustrations? I am sure that our members would be most interested as would I.
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    Dr. Robert Deutsch, 02/18, 09:20 AM
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