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Coins and Currency

Jewish and Non-Jewish Coins in Ancient Canaan


Means of payment are mentioned in the Bible on various occasions; the relevant passages in their chronological order reflect the development of these means from stage to stage. When compared with the material extant from contemporary cultures of the region, these passages show that the underlying concepts were region-wide in the Near East. The earliest form of trade was barter. Certain commodities became generally accepted means of payment such as cattle and hides. This is reflected in Genesis 21:28–30: "Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock by themselves" (in connection with the settlement with Abimelech in Beersheba) and Genesis 13:2, "Abraham was very rich in cattle, in silver and in gold." This last quotation, however, reflects the fact that Abraham lived in the period of transition from the use of cattle to the use of weighed quantities of metal, which is the next stage in the development of the means of payment – a fact which is well illustrated when he weighs four hundred shekels of silver as payment for the cave of Machpelah in Hebron (Gen. 23:15–16). Onkelos renders 100 kesitah, paid by Jacob for a field in Shechem (Gen. 33:19), by 100 lambs (hufrin). Cattle as a means of payment is reflected in many usages, such as the Latin pecunia (derived from pecus sheep), the Greek polyboutes ("rich in oxen," a rich man), and the cattle-shaped weights depicted on Egyptian tomb wall-paintings found in excavations. The shekel was a unit of weight of 8.4 grams in the time of Abraham, based on the Babylonian šiqlu, which was divided into 24 gerah (Babyl. giru); 60 Babylonian shekels were one minah and 60 minah one kikkar (Babyl. biltu).

The shape of the metal ingots varied. Egyptian tomb wall-paintings depict them as shaped like bracelets or oxhides. In Genesis 24:22 Eleazar "took a golden ring of half a shekel [beka] weight, and two bracelets for her hands of ten shekels weight of gold." When Joshua conquered Jericho, Achan took booty against orders, among other things 200 shekels of silver and a "golden wedge" of 50 shekels weight (Josh. 7:21). Such a "golden wedge" was discovered during the excavations of Gezer. In the pre-monarchy period the word kesef ("silver") was frequently used instead of shekel (Judg. 9:4; and II Sam. 18:11; et al.). During the period of the kingdoms of Israel and especially of Judah, payments are mentioned in the Bible in the shekel weight, the unit used to weigh the metal bars which were in those days the main means of payment. Jeremiah bought a plot of land and weighed his payment (silver) on scales (Jer. 32:9). Subdivisions of the shekel were the beka or half-shekel (Gen. 24:22; Ex. 38:26) and the gerah, then a 20th of the shekel (Ex. 30:13). The shekel, in turn, was a 50th part of the maneh, and the maneh was a 60th part of the kikkar, which thus was equal to 3,000 shekels. The maneh and the kikkar, however, were only units of account and remained so during the Second Temple period when the shekel became a coin denomination. Gold, silver, and bronze ingots were discovered during excavations conducted in Ereẓ Israel and so were scales and weights of the shekel unit and its multiples and fractions.


The earliest known coins originate in Lydia in northwest Anatolia in the late seventh century B.C.E. (i.e., before the destruction of the First Temple). No coins of that period have yet been discovered in Ereẓ Israel. The earliest coins found on Israeli soil are from the second half of the sixth century and the first half of the fifth century B.C.E. They are Greek coins from Athens, Thasos, and Macedon, brought apparently to the country by Greek merchants. In the late fifth and first half of the fourth centuries the land was under Persian rule and Phoenician coins, especially those from Sidon and Tyre, circulated in the northern part of the country and the coastal strip down to south of Jaffa. At the same time there was an abundance of small coins of the obol and hemi-obol denomination, struck in the Gaza area in a great variety of types, which are also artistically interesting. During that period the Athenian coinage, bearing the head of Pallas Athene and the owl, her holy bird, were the hard currency of the eastern Mediterranean. The owl type coin was so widely imitated on a local level that the local money had the same value as the Athenian coins.


Alongside the above-mentioned issues, imitations of the Athenian coinage were also issued in Judea. These silver coins are rather rare, but at least six coin types are known with the inscription Yehud (Aramaic: Judea). Some follow the "head/owl" type, while others show a falcon, a fleur-de-lis, a Janus head, a god seated on a winged chariot, and a bird of an unidentified kind. It cannot be determined whether the Jewish high priest or the local Persian governor was the issuing authority. On one coin, however, the Hebrew name Hezekiah (Yeḥezkiyyah) can be deciphered and could be related to the high priest mentioned by Josephus (Apion, 1:187–9). The largest denomination of this type which has been discovered is the drachm, but the bulk is composed of oboloi and hemi-oboloi.


During the third century B.C.E. Palestine was ruled by the Ptolemies and their currency not only circulated there but was struck in local mints at such coastal towns as Acre (then already called Ptolemais), Jaffa, Ashkelon, and Gaza. This changed after the battle of Panias in 198 B.C.E., when the Ptolemies were replaced by the victorious Seleucids. The latter used the local mints of Acre, Ashkelon, and Gaza for the production of their own currency, besides the many mints they had in other parts of their kingdom. Their coins circulated in Palestine at least until the first coins were issued by the Hasmonean rulers. The Ptolemies issued gold, silver, and bronze coins, some of the latter of heavy weight in place of the small silver. Their silver standard was lighter than that of the Seleucids, which still leaned on the Attic standard.

The Jewish Coinage


The consecutive history of ancient Jewish coinage begins after the establishment of the independent Hasmonean dynasty in the 2nd century B.C.E. The bulk of Hasmonean coins were of the small bronze denomination, namely the perutah or dilepton. In accordance with the Second Commandment no likeness of living beings, men or animals, are found on them. Most of the emblems, for example the cornucopia – single or double – the wreath surrounding the legend, the anchor, the flower, the star, and the helmet, were copied from emblems found on the late issues of the Seleucid coinage. All Hasmonean coins bear Hebrew legends, but those of Alexander *Yannai and Mattathias *Antigonus also have legends in Greek. The Hebrew legend, written in the old Hebrew script, almost always appears in the formula, "X the high priest and the *ḥever of the Jews" (ḥever probably means the assembly of the elders of the state). The Hasmonean rulers are thus styled on most coins as high priests. The only exception is Alexander Yannai who eventually also styled himself king on some of his Hebrew legends. On the Greek legends the Hasmonean rulers styled themselves throughout as "king." With one exception all Hasmonean coins are undated, which presents scholars with difficulties in arranging them chronologically, especially as different rulers went by the same names. In spite of earlier opinions, *Simeon , the first independent Hasmonean ruler (142–135), never issued any coins. According to I Maccabees 15:2–9, Antiochus VII granted Simeon the right to issue coinage, but it has been proved that this grant was withdrawn before Simeon could make use of it. The series of Shenat Arba (the "Year Four") formerly assigned to him were actually issued during the Jewish War (66–70 C.E.). It has been suggested that Simeon's son John *Hyrcanus I (135–104 B.C.E. ) did not start issuing coins immediately on succeeding his father, but only considerably later, probably in 110 B.C.E. This suggestion is based on the fact that cities in Phoenicia and in Palestine received the right to coin their own money from the declining Seleucid kingdom: Tyre in 126 B.C.E., Sidon in 110 B.C.E., and Ashkelon in 104 B.C.E. John Hyrcanus' coins are the main pattern for the whole series of Hasmonean coins. The obverse depicts a wreath surrounding the legend, "Johanan [Yehoḥanan] the high priest and the ḥever of the Jews," while the reverse depicts a double cornucopia with a pomegranate. All his coins are of the perutah denomination. The coins of his successor, *Aristobulus I (104–103 B.C.E.), are in brass with the same denomination and type, but the name was replaced by Judah (Yehudah). At the beginning of his reign Alexander Yannai (103–76 B.C.E.) issued coins of the same type as his predecessors, changing the name to Jonathan (Yehonatan). Later, he issued another series of coins (in Hebrew and Greek) on which he styled himself king. Their emblems are star, anchor, both sometimes surrounded by a circle, and flower. A lepton or half-perutah with a palm branch, and a flower also belong to this "king" series. One type of this series, the star/anchor surrounded by a circle, is very frequent. This is the only coin type in the whole series of Jewish coins which bears an Aramaic legend written in square Hebrew letters and which has been dated. The Hebrew as well as the Greek date 25, which is the 25th year of reign of Alexander Yannai (78 B.C.E.), were recently discerned. As in the Greek legends and this Aramaic one as well, his name is given as "Alexandros." Alexander Yannai also apparently issued lead coins which belong to his "king" series. It is believed that in his final issues he reverted to the early Hasmonean coin type, styling himself again as high priest but altering his Hebrew name from Yehonatan to Yonatan probably in order to avoid the formula of the tetragrammaton. The bulk of the coins of John Hyrcanus II (67, 63–40 B.C.E.) are in the same shape as those of John Hyrcanus I. There are, however, varieties which are peculiar to his issues. Greek letters, single or as monograms, eventually appear on his coins. An A is to be found on the obverse and sometimes on the reverse; other letters are Δ, Λ or Π. These letters probably refer to the magistrates who were responsible for the mint. A change in the traditional legend, namely "Johanan [Yehoḥanan] the high priest head of the ḥever of the Jews," may indicate the privileges bestowed upon Hyrcanus II by Julius Caesar who confirmed him as high priest (Jos. Wars 1:194). Besides the regular coin type, Hyrcanus II also issued lepta or half perutot of the same type as did his father Alexander Yannai, bearing the palm-branch/flower. One larger trilepton shows a helmet and a double cornucopia. On all his coins he styled himself high priest.

During the short reign of the last Hasmonean ruler, Antigonus Mattathias (40–37 B.C.E.), a fundamental change occurred in the coin issue of the Hasmoneans. His Hebrew name Mattityahu (Mattathias) is only given on his perutah denomination. The pomegranate between the double cornucopia is replaced by an ear of barley. He issued two larger denominations which can be compared with the Seleucid chalcous and dichalcous. Antigonus was the only Jewish ruler who depicted the holy vessels of the Temple of Jerusalem on his coins, i.e., the table of shewbread and the seven-branched candelabrum. In his Hebrew legends he styles himself high priest and in his Greek legends "king." His Hebrew name is known to us only from his coins.


(37 B.C.E.–C. 95 C.E.). The coins of Herod the Great (37–4 B.C.E.), all of bronze as those of his successors, can be divided into two groups: those which are dated and those which are not. The dated coins all bear the same date, the year three. As Herod no doubt reckoned his reign from his appointment as king of Judea by the Romans in 40 B.C.E. and not from his actual accession three years later, the "year three" is equal to 37 B.C.E. All legends on his coins are in Greek and no Hebrew legends appear on the coins of the Herodian dynasty. The legends render his name and title, Βασιλέως ʿΗρώδου. The emblems on his coins are the tripod, thymiaterion, caduceus, pomegranate, shield, helmet, aphlaston, palm branch, anchor, double and single cornucopia, eagle, and galley. It may be concluded from this selection of symbols that Herod the Great did not wish to offend the religious feelings of his subjects. The denominations of his coins were the chalcous and hemi-chalcous (rare), the trilepton, and frequently the dilepton or perutah.

The coins of Herod Archelaus (4 B.C.–6 C.E.) are undated and bear mainly maritime emblems, such as the galley, prow, and anchor. Other types are the double cornucopia, the helmet, bunch of grapes, and wreath surrounding the legend. His main denomination was the perutah, but he also issued a trilepton. Herod Antipas (tetrarch of Galilee 4 B.C.E.–c. 39 C.E.) began to issue coins only after he founded and settled his new capital Tiberias. All his coins are dated. The earliest date is from the 24th year of his reign (19/20 C.E.). On his coins he is called Herod, but they can easily be distinguished as they bear his title "tetrarch." The emblems on his coins are all of flora such as the reed, the palm branch, a bunch of dates, and a palm tree. Though the emblems are the same on all denominations, three denominations can be distinguished. The obverses show a wreath that surrounds the legend "Tiberias"; only the series of the last year refers to Gaius Caligula. As the territory of the tetrarch Herod Philip I (4 B.C.E.–34 C.E.) was predominantly non-Jewish, he allowed himself to strike coins with a representation of the ruling Roman emperor and the pagan temple erected by his father in his capital Panias. His coins are dated from the year 5 to the year 37 of his reign, though not all dates occur. Three denominations can be observed, though their units cannot be distinguished.

The most common coin struck by King Herod Agrippa I (37–44 C.E.), grandson of Herod the Great, was a perutah of the year 6 of his reign (42/3 C.E.), depicting an umbrella-shaped royal canopy and three ears of barley. This coin was obviously struck for Judea. For the other districts of his kingdom he issued coins that would have offended Jewish religious feelings as they carried his own portrait or that of the Roman emperor and even gods or human beings in the Greco-Roman style of the period. On one very rare coin two clasped hands are shown; the legend seems to refer to an alliance between the Jewish people and the Roman senate. All Agrippa's coins are dated, and in his non-Jewish series two different groups of two denominations each can be discerned belonging to the reigns of Caligula and Claudius respectively. Herod of Chalcis (41–48 C.E.), brother of Agrippa I, regularly put his portrait on his coins, calling himself "friend of the emperor." Some of his extremely rare coins bear the date "year 3," others are un-dated; a system of three denominations can be observed in this coinage too.

From the time of the son of Herod of Chalcis, Aristobulus of Chalcis (57–92 C.E.), only a few rare specimens have been preserved. They bear his portrait and sometimes also that of his wife *Salome . His coins can be identified by their legends which mention him and his wife Salome as king and queen.

Because of his long reign, the series of coins assigned to Herod Agrippa II (c. 50–93 C.E.) is the largest and most varied among the coin series of the Herodians. Two types bear his likeness, and others issued in the year 5 of Agrippa with the name of Nero have a legend surrounded by a wreath. There are two coins which have a double date (the years 6 and 11) and which belong to the two different eras used on his coins. These double dated coins bear "inoffensive" symbols such as double cornucopias and a hand grasping various fruits. All his coins, like those of his father Agrippa I, are of bronze and dated, making it easy to arrange them in chronological order. There are however some difficulties. The first is the parallel issue of coins in the name of Vespasian and in the name of his sons Titus and Domitian. It has been accepted that all his Greek coins belong to an era starting in the year 56 C.E. The Latin series issued in the name of Domitian belongs to an era starting in 61 C.E. The bulk of his coins were struck during the reign of the Flavian emperors, with Tyche, the goddess of destiny, and the goddess of victory as emblems. A unique specimen, with the victory inscription on a shield hanging on a palm-tree, refers to the Roman victory in the Jewish War (66–70 C.E.). Agrippa thus put himself into the Roman camp against his own people. His coinage, as described above, shows the most far-reaching deviation from Jewish tradition among the ancient coinage issued by Jewish rulers.


By the time the Jewish War broke out, the Tyrian mint had ceased to issue silver shekels but shekels were needed by every Jewish adult male for the payment of the annual Temple tax of a half-shekel (Ex. 30:11ff.; II Kings 12:5ff.). This reason and the resolve of the Jewish authorities to demonstrate their sovereignty over their own country led to the decision to strike the well-known "thick" shekels and half- and quarter-shekels dated from the first to the fifth year of the era of the war. These are the first silver coins Jews struck in antiquity. They are of an extraordinarily good quality, artistically as well as technically. The emblems are as simple as they are beautiful: a chalice with pearl rim and three pomegranates. The legends which are, of course, only in Hebrew and written in the old Hebrew script, read, Yerushalayim ha-Kedoshah ("Jeru-salem the Holy") and Shekel Yisrael ("Shekel of Israel") with the abbreviated dates: ש׳ה׳ ,ש׳ד׳ ,ש׳ג׳ ,ש׳ב׳ ,ש׳א׳ (shin alef, shin bet for sh[enat], a[lef], "year one," sh[enat] b[et], "year two," etc.). Small bronze coins of the perutah denomination were struck during the second and third year of the war, and three larger denominations were issued during the fourth year, two of which indicate the denomination as revi'a ("quarter") and ḥaẓi ("half"). The emblems of the bronze coins are the vine leaf, the amphora, the lulav, the etrog, the palm tree, the fruit baskets, and the chalice.


During this war the last Jewish coin series in antiquity was issued. Bar Kokhba became the head of the Jewish community, and the bulk of the coins issued bear the name Simeon and eventually his title "prince of Israel." However, other coins exist from that period which bear the name of one "Eleazar the Priest" or simply that of "Jerusalem" as the minting authority. The coins were issued over a period of a little more than three years (i.e., during the entire war). The coins of the first two years are dated, but the formula of the era changed from "Year one of the redemption of Israel" to "Year two of the freedom of Israel." During the third year and until the end of the war, the coins issued were undated and bear the war slogan "For the freedom of Jerusalem." These coin types, too, are as numerous as they are beautiful, and artistically rank first in the series of Jewish coins. During this war as well coins were issued in silver and in bronze. What makes this series exceptional from all other coin series in antiquity is the extraordinary fact that the whole issue was overstruck on coins then current in Palestine, such as on the Roman provincial tetradrachms (mainly from Antiochia) and on the Roman denarii or provincial drachms, as well as on local bronze city coins mainly from Ashkelon and Gaza. Bar Kokhba possibly obtained the gentile coins needed for overstriking by means of a public loan for the national war effort.

There are two silver denominations, the tetradrachm or sela and the denarius or zuz. The Temple front and a lulav and etrog appear on the tetradrachms, while a rather large number of emblems occur on the denarii, such as a wreath surrounding the legend, a bunch of grapes, a juglet, a lyre, a kithara, a pair of trumpets, and a palm branch. These emblems are used in many die combinations, thereby creating a large number of coin types. The bronze coinage can be divided into four denominations, a system taken over from the city coinage then current in Palestine and which was reused for the Bar Kokhba issues. On the large denomination, which was issued during the first and second year only, a wreath surrounding the legend and an amphora are depicted. On medium bronze א׳, which is the commonest denomination, a palm tree and a vine leaf are shown. On medium bronze a wreath surrounding a palm branch and a lyre or a kithara appears. The small bronze denomination shows a palm tree and a bunch of grapes. In general, the Bar Kokhba coinage is based on the tradition of the coinage of the Jewish War, 66–70. The amphora, vine leaf, and palm tree occur on the coins of that period, and the similarity of the legends is all the more striking, with the name of Zion replaced by the name Israel during the Bar Kokhba War.

Non-Jewish Coins During the Roman Rule


After the banishment of Herod Archelaus in 6 C.E., his territory (Judea and Samaria) came under direct Roman rule administered by a procurator of equestrian rank. Some of these procurators issued coins of the perutah denomination as follows: coin types with a palm tree and an ear of barley; coin types with a wreath surrounding legend, a double cornucopia, olive spray, three lilies, a vine leaf or leaves, kantharos, amphora, and a palm branch; coin types with three ears of barley, simpulum, lituus, and a wreath surrounding the date of issue; and coin types with a wreath surrounding legend, two crossed spears, a palm tree, and a palm branch. It is believed that these coins were issued at *Caesarea Maritima , the administrative center of the Romans in Palestine. All coins bear the regal years of the respective Roman emperors and can therefore be arranged in chronological order without difficulty.


After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E., Palestine became a separate administrative unit called provincia Judaea. The Flavian emperors appointed a legatus pro praetore as head of the local administration and he was also the commander of the military forces stationed in the province. During the reigns of Vespasian (69–79 C.E.) and Titus (79–81 C.E.) the coins issued refer in their types and legends to the Roman victory; the legends are the Greek equivalent to the well-known legend Judaea Capta. Under Domitian (81–96 C.E.) four series of coins were issued, which do not refer to the victory over the Jews, but to Domitian's victories in Germany and Britain. All but the last two coin types of Domitian are undated and their chronological order was conjectural until recently.


The following cities in Palestine proper struck coins in antiquity: *Aelia Capitolina (Roman Jerusalem), Anthedon, Antipatris, Ashkelon, Caesarea Maritima, Diospolis, Eleutheropolis, Gaza, Joppa (Jaffa), Neapolis (Shechem), Nicopolis-Emmaus, Nysa-Scythopolis, Raphia, Sepphoris-Diocaesarea, and Tiberias. Other cities beyond the border of ancient Palestine struck coins as well, such as Dora and Ptolemais (then part of Phoenicia), and the following cities in Transjordan: Abila, Dium, Gadara, Gerasa, Hippos, Kanatha, Kapitolias, Panias, Pella, Petra, Philadelphia, and Rabbath-Moab. Older cities which struck coins were Ashkelon, whose era began in 104/3 B.C.E., and Gaza, whose era began in 61/60 B.C.E. The era beginning between 64 and 60 B.C.E., which was adopted by many of the above cities, refers to Gabinius' invasion of the Hasmonean kingdom under Pompey, when many cities became independent, especially the so-called *Decapolis in the northeast. The coin types are numerous. City coins issued under Roman rule customarily had the head of the emperor on the obverse while the reverse bore images referring to the city, such as temples built there, the gods worshiped by their inhabitants, and military garrisons stationed in them. The legends frequently indicated the status of the city within the Roman empire, such as colonia, autonomous, etc. The archaeological finds suggest that the circulation of these coins was not restricted to the city by which they were issued, but was countrywide. In some cases (Ashkelon, Gaza, Neapolis, Sepphoris, and Tiberias) the money systems consisted of three or more denominations. Their equivalency with the Roman coin system cannot be ascertained. All these coins are of bronze. The only city in Palestine that issued an autonomous silver coinage was Ashkelon (between 51 and 30 B.C.E.) – coins bearing portraits of Ptolemy XIV, Ptolemy XV, and Cleopatra VII. The city coinage came to an end in about 260 C.E. when it became known that the value of the metal was greater than their nominal value. It was then replaced by debased Roman imperial coins.

[Arie Kindler]

Coins in Talmudic Literature

The currency system most commonly found in tannaitic literature is a syncretic one, based on the Greek drachm-obol – 6 obols = 1 drachm – but otherwise following the Roman monetary system both in terminology and metrological structure. Its standard was linked to that of the Tyrian tetradrachm (sela). In tabular form it appears as follows (above the talmudic terms are the Roman ones from which they derive.

Bronze Silver
  Quadrans Semis As Dupondius Denarius  
Perutah Kardionts or Kuntrun(K) Musmis Issar Pundion Ma'ah Dinar
192 96 48 24 12 6 1
32 16 8 4 2 1  
16 8 4 2 1    
8 4 2 1      
4 2 1        
2 1          

There were also two (silver) tarapiks (quinarii) to the dinar, 24 or 25 dinars to the gold dinar (aureus), and 100 dinars to a maneh (theoretical unit of Babylonian origin).

The Talmud (Kid. 12a) also records what is apparently an earlier system, of uncertain origin.

Bronze Silver
Perutah Shamin Niz or Hanez Darosa or Hadris Ma'ah Dinar
144 72 36 18 6 1
24 12 6 3 1  
8 4 2 1    
4 2 1      
2 1        

However, by the second century C.E. these systems were already of the nature of archaic literary heritages (from Hasmonean times, most probably), so that, for example, no ma'ot were actually in circulation. Coins in daily use were denarii and sela'im from imperial mints (Antioch, etc.), while "small change" copper coinage was minted locally in a number of cities (see above). These city coinages had their own metrological systems, still insufficiently understood, and a number of strange talmudic monetary terms, quoted much later than the coins were actually used, may be related in some way to these local systems; e.g., the trisit (tressis) of Tiberias and Sepphoris (Tosef., Ma'as. Sh. 4:13, 94), termissis (Roman as, denarius?), asper, riv'a (Roman sestertius, ¼ denarius?), tib'a (didrachm), and ragia (tridrachm, or cistophoric tetradrachm). The only silver coins minted in Palestine during this period were "re-volt coins" of the Jewish War (66–70) and the Bar Kokhba War (132–135). In the Talmud those of the first war are called "Jerusalem coins," after their legend "Jerusalem the Holy," and those of the second "Kosiba coins" (Tosef., Ma'as Sh. 1:6).

The third century was one of inflation throughout the Roman Empire, so much so that by the 270s the denarius, instead of being 1/25 aureus was 1/1000 (See TJ, Ket. 11:2, 34b). The effects of this inflation were to force the closure of all local (copper-producing) mints, and by the time of Diocletian (284–309) to usher in a completely new monetary system, based on a gold standard, unlike the earlier silver-based one. A number of new terms appear in talmudic literature from the late third century onward, corresponding to units of the new system; e.g., lumma (nummus, Av. Zar. 35b), leken (leukon, meaning white, whitish silver-washed follis?; TJ, Ma'as. Sh. 4:1, 54d, etc.), follsa, follarin (follis), argaron (argurion, siliqua?; TJ, Pe'ah 8:7, 21a). Throughout the fourth century, which was one of continued economic instability, these units were subject to constant depreciation and revaluation. Even gold solidi, which had superseded the aurei, were at times viewed with mistrust because of their adulteration and pure bullion was preferred to gold coin (cf. Cod. Theod. 12:6, 13).

In Babylonia during the Sassanid period (from the early third century onward), the standard silver unit was the Sassanid drachm, called in the Talmud zuz (from Akkadian zuzu – "to cut," but according to Jastrow "glittering"), while smaller copper coins of varying sizes were called peshitte.


According to talmudic law, "coin" cannot effect a transfer of property; only "produce" (pere) can. All "coin" can do is cause an obligation to complete a contract. Hence there is much discussion on what [coins] constitute "coin" and what "produce," or in modern terminology the relative "fiduciariness" of the elements of a trimetallic monetary system (BM 44a–b, etc.). There is also some discussion as to when coins cease to be legal tender (BM 4:5; BK 97a–b, etc.).

In Post-Talmudic Literature

There are two main contexts in which monetary terms appear in post-talmudic literature, halakhic and lexicographic-metrological (partly related to halakhic), and there are also incidental references.


There were constant attempts to translate monetary shi'urim ("halakhic measures"), such as the five sela'im of "the redemption of the *firstborn ," the perutah of the *marriage act, and the 200 zuz of the ketubbah in terms of contemporary coinage. Already in the Talmud (Bek. 50a) there is a geonic gloss which gives the Islamic equivalent of the five sela'im as "20 mitkalei [gold dinars], which are 28½ dirham [silver coins] and ½ danka." Though this reckoning is repeated in various early sources, subsequent commentators give a number of different calculations in terms of their own respective time and country (e.g., Persia, Halakhot Gedolot; Egypt, Maimonides; Aragon, Naḥmanides; etc.).


In several lexicographic works biblical and talmudic monetary terms are explained, for example, Jonah ibn Janaḥ's Sefer ha-Shorashim, Nathan b. Jehiel's Arukh, David Kimḥi's Mikhlol, etc. There are also a number of halakhic-metrological studies in which biblical and talmudic coins are discussed in current terms, as in the work of Joseph b. Judah ibn Aknin (12th–13th century) and Estori ha-Parḥi (Kaftor va-Feraḥ (c. 1322), ch. 16), which confusingly cites Arabic, Provençal, and French coins, right up to H.J. Sheftel's Erekh Millim (1906), a very rich dictionary of halakhic metrology.


There are innumerable incidental references to coins in the responsa literature, for example to Islamic coins in Teshuvot ha-Ge'onim (ed. by A. Harkavy (1887), nos. 386, 424, 489, et al.); Spanish, in Solomon b. Abraham *Adret (responsa 2:113); Portuguese, in *David b. Solomon ibn Abi Zimra (responsa 2:651), etc. In some cases local monetary terms are translated literally into Hebrew, thus florins (peraḥim); gulden (zehuvim); albi or whitten (levanim); doblas (kefulot). Coins of pure silver are variously called tabor, naki, ẓaruf, mezukkak, or zakuk. Often a local term is equated with a talmudic one, at times with confusing results. Thus, for example, a pashut or pashit may stand for esterlin, sol, denier, dinaro, pfennig, etc.

[Daniel Sperber]

Currency of Palestine


Both Turkish and European coins circulated in Ereẓ Israel during Ottoman rule. Tokens issued by various communities, such as the Jews and the German Templers, and by some business firms, were also in circulation. The reasons for this variety of currency were lack of trust in Turkish coinage, shortage of coins, disparities in the value of Turkish coins of high denomination in different parts of the country, and the capitulations which granted special rights to some European powers and resulted in French gold napoleons and Egyptian coins being brought into circulation alongside Turkish coins. Egypt, though nominally under Turkish rule, enjoyed coinage rights from the middle of the 19th century, and its currency also circulated in Ereẓ Israel.

[Yitzhak Julius Taub]


On the British occupation of Palestine, the Egyptian pound was made legal tender in the territory. It was replaced in 1927 by the Palestine pound (œ-P), administered by the Palestine Currency Board in London. The Palestine pound was divided into 1,000 mils, and all subsidiary coins issued for Palestine were denominated in mils. A one-pound gold coin, equal to the British sovereign, was authorized but never issued. The first coins of Palestine were placed in circulation on Nov. 1, 1927. Their denominations were 1 and 2 mils in bronze, 5, 10, and 20 mils in cupro-nickel, and 50 and 100 mils in silver. The designs, prepared by the Mandatory government, were intended to be as politically innocuous as possible, the only feature besides the inscriptions being an olive branch or wreath of olive leaves. The inscriptions were trilingual, giving the name of the country, Palestine, and the value, in English, Hebrew, and Arabic. As a concession to the Jewish community, the initials, א״י ("Ereẓ Israel") appeared in brackets following the name Palestine. Perhaps in order to stress the colonial nature of the coinage, the 5, 10, and 20 mils coins were holed in the center.

The design of the Palestine coins remained unchanged, with the exception of the date, throughout the period of the Mandate. The only changes introduced from 1942 to 1944 were the minting of the 5, 10, and 20 mils in bronze due to wartime shortage of nickel, and a slight change in the composition of the 1 and 2 mils (from 1942 to 1945) in order to save tin, which was scarce. Coins were not minted annually, but according to local requirements as reported by the Mandatory government to the Currency Board. They were all minted at the Royal Mint, London. The last coins to be minted were those of 1947, but the entire issue bearing this date was melted down before leaving the Mint, except for two sets, one in the British Museum and the other in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. The entire series of coins actually in circulation numbers 59. Some of these exist in proof state as well. The Palestine Currency Board also issued bank notes (see Table).

[Dov Genachowski]

Denomination Obverse design Reverse design Main color
500 Mils Rachel's Tomb David's Tower lilac
1 Pound Dome of the Rock David's Tower green
5 Pounds Tower of Ramleh David's Tower red
10 Pounds Tower of Ramleh David's Tower blue
50 Pounds Tower of Ramleh David's Tower purple
100 Pounds Tower of Ramleh David's Tower green

In the Concentration Camps and Ghettos

See “Ghetto and Concentration Camp Money.”

The State of Israel

On the establishment of the State of Israel, the Palestine pound and its subsidiary coins continued to be legal tender until Sept. 15, 1948, when the Palestine pound was replaced by the new Israel pound (I £, in Hebrew lirah (לִירָה) abbreviated ל״י). The Palestine coins continued in circulation until 1949, disappearing, however, even before their demonetization when the Iœ was devalued against the pound sterling.


While the issue of banknotes was carried out for the State from 1948 until 1954 by the Issue Department of Bank Leumi le-Israel (before 1950 the Anglo-Palestine Bank Ltd.), the issue of coins during the same period, that is until the establishment of the Bank of Israel, was the responsibility of the government, exercised by the accountant-general in the Ministry of Finance. This responsibility was transferred to the Bank of Israel under the Bank of Israel Law, 5714 – 1954. A treasury note for I £4.1 million was issued to the bank on its opening day, Dec. 1, 1954, to cover the liability arising from coins in circulation on that date. This note was redeemed in 1965.

The Bank of Israel continued, between 1954 and 1959, to issue mainly the same coins issued previously by the Treasury. The first series of Bank of Israel trade coins was issued in 1960, while the first Bank of Israel commemorative coin was issued in 1958. The issue of coins is handled in the Bank of Israel by the Currency Issue Unit, charged with planning and producing the currency, while its placement in circulation comes under the Issue Department of the Bank. Coin designs are chosen by tender among qualified artists, or in some cases by open tender, by the Advisory Committee appointed for this purpose, which submits its recommendations to the governor of the bank. In order for the coins to become legal tender, the approval of the minister of finance and publication of the particulars of the coin in Reshumot, the official gazette, are required.

THE 25 MILS OF 5708–9

Following independence in 1948 the shortage of coins in Israel became acute. Firms, municipalities, and bus companies started illegally issuing coin-tokens, out of sheer necessity. As a result, in August of that year the Treasury decided to mint the first Israel coins. The first coin minted, denominated 25 mils (the term perutah replaced mil only later), was made of aluminum, carrying the design of a bunch of grapes taken from a coin of the Bar Kokhba War. It was at first minted by a private factory in Jerusalem, and later by one in Tel Aviv. It was not a successful coin and was placed in circulation only because of the pressure of demand. It established, however, the principle of design governing Israel trade coins – all designs are taken from ancient Jewish coins, those of the Jewish War (66–70) and of the Bar Kokhba War (132–135), and all are dated according to the Jewish year. The 25 mils coins are the only ones that were actually demonetized in Israel following the establishment of the perutah as the subdivision of the Israel pound.


The perutah series, commencing in 1949 and ending in 1960, comprised eight denominations: 1, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, 250, and 500 perutot. Various changes occurred during the period as regards the 10 perutot coin (minted in bronze and aluminum, four types in all), and the 100 peru-tot (two sizes) – there are several varieties, as distinct from types, in each coin of the series. The 250 perutot was minted in cupro-nickel for general use and in silver for sale to numismatists. The 500 perutot was minted in silver only, for numismatists' use, and was never in actual circulation. In all, the series includes 25 types for the eight denominations and numerous varieties. Until 1954 all perutah coins were minted for the Israel government by two private mints in Britain: the ICI Mint and The Mint, Birmingham. In 1954 the Israel Mint was established in Tel Aviv, as a division of the government printer, and gradually took over the minting of Israel's coins.


The law amending the Currency Order of 5719 – 1959 abolished the division of the I £ into 1,000 perutot and introduced instead its division into 100 agorot. Following this enactment, the Bank of Israel began in 1960 to issue the new series, denominated in agorot. Four denominations were introduced in 1960: 1 agorah made of aluminum, and 5, 10, and 25 agorot of cupro-nickel-aluminum. In 1963 the series was completed by the addition of half-pound and one pound coins in cupro-nickel. The one pound coin introduced that year proved unpopular owing to its similarity to the half-pound coin and its design was changed in 1967, this being the only change in the series. Complete sets of all six denominations were issued for each year since 1963 with the exception of 1964. By the end of 1968 the series comprised 47 coins. For some of these there are several varieties. Coins of the agora series were minted by the Israel Mint, the Royal Dutch Mint at Utrecht, and the Swiss National Mint, at Berne. The Israel Mint was moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 1966, and all 1967 trade coins were minted in Jerusalem, this being the first year in which no foreign mint took part in the minting of these coins.


The first commemorative coin of Israel was issued by the Bank of Israel in 1958 to mark Israel's tenth anniversary. It proved to be a success, and established the series of Israel's commemoratives as one of the most popular in the world. The basic series of commemoratives is the Independence Day coin, of which the 1958 coin was the first. These were issued until 1967 in the denomination of I £5 and from 1968 in the denomination of I £10, in silver. Two other series of commemorative coins were started but discontinued after a period: half-pound "half-shekel" series issued for Purim, of which two coins were issued in cupro-nickel, and one pound Ḥanukkah series, six coins also in cupro-nickel. Special (horsde-série) commemorative coins were issued on several occasions: a 20-pound gold coin to mark the centenary of the birth of Theodor Herzl; 50- and 100-pound coins in gold to mark the tenth anniversary of the death of Chaim Weizmann; a 50-pound coin in gold to mark the tenth anniversary of the Bank of Israel; a 10-pound coin in silver and a 100-pound coin in gold to commemorate the victory in the Six-Day War; and a 100-pound coin in gold to mark Israel's 20th anniversary and the reunification of Jerusalem. Most of the commemorative coins were issued in both proof and uncirculated conditions. In all they were minted by four mints – the Utrecht and Berne mints already referred to, the Italian State Mint at Rome, and a private mint in Jerusalem. Under an amendment to the Bank of Israel Law, passed in 1968, the government granted the distribution rights of Israel's commemorative coins to the Government of Israel Coin and Medals Corporation. Its profits, deriving from the surcharge on the face value of coins and from the sale of state medals, are devoted to the maintenance and reconstruction of historical sites in Israel.


Until the Bank of Israel was established in 1954 there were two series of bank notes issued by the Bank Leumi. The first series bore the former name of this financial institute, Anglo-Palestine Bank Ltd., and was printed in denominations of 500 mils, 1, 5, 10, and 50 P £. A second series was printed in denominations of 500 perutah, 1, 5, 10, and 50 I £ under the new name of the bank, Bank Leumi Le-Israel. The Bank of Israel has issued two series of bank notes – the first in denominations of 500 perutah, 1, 5, 10, and 50 I £ and the second in denominations of one-half, 1, 5, 10, 50, and 100 I £. In 1969 the government of Israel voted to change the name of the standard currency from that of the Israel (pound) lira to the shekel.

[Dov Genachowski]


IN ANCIENT PALESTINE: L.A. Mayer, A Bibliography of Jewish Numismatics (1966); G.H. Hill, Catalogue of the Greek Coins of Palestine (1914); T. Reinach, Jewish Coins (1903); F.W. Madden, Coins of the Jews (1881; repr. with introd. by M. Avi-Yonah 1967); A. Reifenberg, Ancient Jewish Coins (19472); L. Kadman, Coins of the Jewish War of 66–73 C.E. (1960), includes bibliography, 153–79; Y. Meshorer, Jewish Coins of the Second Temple Period (1967), includes bibliography, 110–2; L. Kadman and A. Kindler, Ha-Matbe'a be-Ereẓ-Yisrael u-ve-Ammim mi-Ymei Kedem ve-ad Yameinu (1963). IN TALMUDIC TIMES: B. Zuckermann, Ueber talmudische Muenzen und Gewichte (1862); Krauss, Tal Arch, 2 (1911), 404–16, 712–20; S. Ejges, Das Geld im Talmud (1930); Sperber, in: jqr, 56 (1965/66), 273–301; idem, in: Numismatic Chronicle, 8 (1968), 83–109; Carson, in: A. Kindler (ed.), International Numismatic Convention, Jerusalem 1963 (1967), 231–61. IN POST-TALMUDIC TIMES: Zunz, Gesch, 535–43; Y.Z. Cahana, in: Sinai, 25 (1949), 129–48. UNDER BRITISH MANDATE: Palestine Currency Board, Annual Report (1926–48). STATE OF ISRAEL: Bank of Israel, Annual Report (1954–to date); Israel Numismatic Bulletin, nos. 1–5 (1962–63); Israel Coins and Medals Co., Israel's Coins (1965); Israel Numismatic Society, 13 Years of the Israel Numismatic Society: 1945–1959 (1959); Israel Numismatic Journal (1963– ); Alon ha-Ḥevrah ha-Numismatit le-Yisrael (1966– ); S. Haffner, History of Modern Israel's Money, 1917 to 1967 (1967); F. Bertram, Israel 20 Year Catalog of Coins and Currency (1968); L. Kadman, Israel's Money (196322); F. Pridmore, Coins of the British Commonwealth of Nations, pt. II: Asian Territories (1962); Deputy Master and Controller of the Royal Mint, Annual Report (1926–48).

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.