A trove of Byzantine-era gold coins has been unearthed within the confines of a stone wall, suggesting a clandestine hiding place for this historical treasure.
The discovery, made during a broader excavation in the ancient city of Banias, now part of the Hermon Stream Nature Reserve in the Golan Heights, holds valuable insights into a specific historical moment and the city’s economic landscape during the waning years of Byzantine rule.
The 44 gold coins, meticulously adorned with depictions of Emperors Phocas and Heraclius from the first half of the seventh century, are believed to date back to 635 CE. Scholars posit that this cache was concealed during the Muslim conquest of the region, precisely toward the conclusion of Heraclius’ reign. This find was part of an extensive excavation project, and the artifacts were discovered in excellent condition, maintaining the intricate details of their craftsmanship.
Yoav Lerer, the excavation’s director, shared his insights, remarking, “The discovery reflects a specific moment in time, when we can imagine the owner concealing his fortune in the threat of war, hoping to return one day to retrieve his property.” Lerer further notes that, in hindsight, the owner’s fortunes took a less fortunate turn.
The historical backdrop includes the establishment of Constantinople, the capital by Constantine I in 330 CE, marking the inception of the Byzantine Empire. Though this empire thrived for over a millennium, it gradually lost territories to Muslim invaders. The recently discovered coin hoard could offer valuable clues about the economic dynamics of Banias during the final four decades of Byzantine rule.
Coin expert Gabriela Bijovsky, associated with the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), drew attention to the distinctive portrayals on each coin. She explained, “In the early years of Heraclius’ rule, only his portrait was depicted on the coin, whereas after a short time, the images of his sons also appear.” The progression of these depictions allows a visual narrative of Heraclius’ sons growing up, evolving from childhood until their images mirror their father’s stature.
Banias holds cultural and religious significance for various faiths, including Christianity. It is identified in the New Testament as the site where Saint Peter acknowledged Jesus as the son of God, a momentous event accompanied by Jesus granting him the keys to heaven.
Beyond the gold coins, the excavation yielded a trove of artifacts spanning different periods. Archaeologists uncovered remnants of structures, a pottery kiln, bronze coins, and fragments of pottery and glass, providing a comprehensive glimpse into the city’s historical timeline from the late Byzantine era to the 11th-13th centuries.
Notably, the gold coins stand out not only for their historical value but also for their remarkable preservation. Lerer highlighted this aspect, stating, “One of the most exciting things about finding gold is the coins’ quality. The gold isn’t damaged by the soil chemical processes. It almost looks as if it just came out of the mint, maybe in Constantinople.”
This archaeological endeavor, conducted by the IAA, has brought to light a hidden chapter in Banias’s history, unraveling the tales of wealth concealment, economic dynamics, and the enduring allure of Byzantine craftsmanship. The artifacts discovered serve as tangible links to a bygone era, inviting scholars and enthusiasts alike to delve into the intricate narratives of this ancient city.