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Ancient Jewish Coins:
The Coins of Herod’s Grandchildren

(37 - 96 CE)


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In 37 CE, Rome gave the lands of Herod Philip II to Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great and Miriam (of the Hasmonean line). When Herod Antipas was banished two years later, his territory also was assigned to Agrippa. By 41 CE, Agrippa I - descendent of both the Maccabees and Herod the Great - became the sold ruler of Judaea. Apparently, it is Agrippa I who is referred to in the Mishnah (Jewish Oral Law): When celebrating the Festival of the First Fruits “even King Agrippa carried the baskets (of fruit) on his shoulder” (Bik. 3:4). It was also Herod Agrippa I who “stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And ... he proceeded further to take Peter also”" (Acts 12:1-3).

The most common coin of Agrippa was also the only coin issued for circulation in his Jewish territories. This bronze prutah shows a royal umbrella on the obverse surrounded by the Greek inscription “King Agrippa;” the reverse features three ears of barley and the date “LS” (Year 6 = 42/43 CE).

Common Bronze Prutah of Herod Agrippa I (Herbst 1169)

All of his other coins of Herod Agrippa I contain graven images - portraits of the Emperor or even the Jewish ruler himself. One great rarity features a portrait of Agrippa along with his son Agrippa II on horseback.

Coin of Herod Agrippa I, featuring likenesses of himself and his son, Agrippa II (Brom. 40)

Other grandchildren and relatives of Herod the Great ruled over pagan areas by the will of Imperial Rome. One descendent, Tigranes, was a King of Armenia, and another Herod received the throne of Chalcis (ancient Syria). Herod of Chalcis (41-48 CE) was also guardian of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, and appointed the High Priest. Both Herod of Chalcis and his son Aristobulus of Chalcis (57-92 CE) felt no need to heed the Jewish prohibition of portraits on the coins issued for their pagan territories, and so their likenesses appeared. One particular rarity features a portrait of Aristobulus’ infamous wife - Salome -- daughter of Herod Philip. “When Herod’s birthday was kept, the daughter (Salome) of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod (Philip)” (Matthew 14:6).


Coin features portraits of Aristobulus of Chalcis and his wife Salome (Reif. p.27, 15 & 16)

The last ruler of the Herodian line - Agrippa II - reigned for an impressive 43 years (50-96 CE). This is the “Agrippa (who) said unto Paul, almost thou persuades me to be a Christian” (Acts 26:28). Coins issued by Agrippa II include both Jewish and pagan types.

Coin of Agrippa II, struck in Tiberias in 53 CE, features palm branch (Herbst 1171 - color plate)


Coin of Agrippa II (86 CE) features portrait of Emperor Vespasian and a Roman goddess (Reif. p.28, 18 & 19)

Sources: The Handbook of Biblical Numismatics

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