JERUSALEM — The shiny object was just sitting there in the grass, waiting to be found. It was a 2,000-year-old gold coin with the face of a Roman emperor, so rare that only one other such coin is known to exist.
Laurie Rimon discovered the gold coin while hiking in eastern Galilee recently, not far from the biblical site where it’s written that Jesus walked on water and performed the miracle of the multiplication of the fish and bread. Rimon, from a kibbutz in northern Israel, turned it over to the Israel Antiquities Authority. It was her own little miracle.
“It was not easy parting with the coin,” she said. “After all, it is not every day one discovers such an amazing object, but I hope I will see it displayed in a museum in the near future.”
“This coin is rare on a global level,” said Dr. Danny Syon, a coin expert with the Israel Antiquities Authority.
The coin shows the face of Emperor Augustus, Caesar’s heir and the founder of the Roman Empire. Augustus ruled from 27 BC to AD 14, during the time of Jesus. In AD 107, Emperor Trajan minted a series of coins to honor the Roman emperors who came before him, according to Donald Ariel, head curator of the coin department at the Israel Antiquities Authority. This gold coin was created as a tribute to the reign of Augustus. It refers to him as “Divus Augustus,” or Augustus the Divine, who Ariel says was considered a deity after his death.
The hiker’s discovery has created a mystery: What was such a valuable coin doing around the Sea of Galilee?
“It’s the only coin we know for the site in which it was found in Eastern Galilee. Eastern Galilee is a place where we don’t know very much about this time period,” Ariel said.
The coin would have been too valuable for everyday use, like using a $100 bill to buy a pack of chewing gum. Common merchants in the Roman province probably would not have had change for such a high-value coin, Ariel said. It may have been part of a payment to a Roman soldier, Ariel hypothesized, perhaps stationed in the area to suppress the Bar Kochva revolt, a Jewish action against the Romans. The revolt had sympathizers near Galilee, said Ariel, and the soldiers may have been there to maintain order.
“You find one coin, you cannot very easily reconstruct what was going on. You don’t find gold coins on the ground, so you start fantasizing and thinking what could it be,” Ariel said. Trajan’s bronze and silver coins are common in the region, but his gold coins are extremely rare, he said.
Only one such other gold coin has ever been found, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority. That coin, with an image of Emperor Augustus minted by Emperor Trajan, sits at the British Museum.
Now it has a twin.