A woman hiking with friends in Israel’s Galilee region stumbled upon an extremely rare 2,000-year-old gold coin that offers a unique glimpse at the experience of soldiers serving in the Holy Land during the days of the Roman Empire.
The Israel Antiquities Authority said Monday that the coin — minted by Emperor Trajan in 107 A.D. in homage to Roman Empire founder Emperor Augustus whose image is on the front of the coin — was the second such coin ever found in the world.
Until now, the only known ancient gold coin of this kind was located in the British Museum.
Danny Syon, senior numismatist at the Israel Antiquities Authority, explained that the coin was one of a series minted by Trajan as a tribute to the emperors who ruled before him, calling it a “world class find” and a “fantastic discovery.”
“This coin, minted in Rome in 107 C.E., is rare on a global level,” Syon said in a statement Monday announcing the discovery. “On the reverse we have the symbols of the Roman legions next to the name of the ruler Trajan, and on the obverse — instead of an image of the Emperor Trajan, as was usually the case — there is the portrait of the emperor ‘Augustus Deified.’”
Laurie Rimon said she noticed a shiny object in the grass while hiking recently in the eastern Galilee. She said that at first she thought that she’d stumbled on a toy but then, when she showed it to her guide, realized it was an ancient gold coin.
After a phone call to the Israel Antiquities Authority, an archaeologist with the agency showed up two hours later to confirm it was a once-in-a-lifetime discovery.
“It was not easy parting with the coin. 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,” Rimon said.
Donald T. Ariel, head curator of the coin department at the Israel Antiquities Authority, noted that even though some soldiers of the Roman Empire received generous compensation in the form of gold coins, the high value meant they weren’t always able to spend them.
“Historical sources describing the period note that some Roman soldiers were paid a high salary of three gold coins, the equivalent of 75 silver coins, each payday. Because of their high monetary value, soldiers were unable to purchase goods in the market with gold coins, as the merchants could not provide change for them,” Ariel explained.
Ariel offered a hypothesis that the second century soldier who was paid with the coin may have lost it or had it stolen, which would explain how it ended up in a field for 2,000 years.
During the Roman period, gold coins were struck for large financial transactions and for the Roman army.
“Whilst the bronze and silver coins of Emperor Trajan are common in the country, his gold coins are extremely rare,” Ariel said. “So far, only two other gold coins of this emperor have been registered in the State Treasures, one from Giv‘at Shaul near Jerusalem, and the other from the Qiryat Gat region and the details on both of them are different to those that appear on the [newly found] rare coin.”
The Israel Antiquities Authority said that it plans to award Rimon who found the coin a certificate of appreciation for displaying good citizenship.