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Coins Are In the Dumps
By Richard Giedroyc, World Coin News
September 13, 2013

This article was originally printed in World Coin News.
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Coins have been discovered in some outlandish places, but in a refuse pit, and in quantity? That’s where about 400 coins of the early Byzantine Empire were recently discovered in Israel.

The garbage dump is in Herzliya, a city resting on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean Sea about 15 kilometers north of Tel Aviv. At the time Byzantine coins would have been used in the region, the city was known as Apollonia-Arsuf. The city was an agricultural center.

Archaeological excavations have been conducted there since 1950, a drop in the bucket time-wise considering the site was inhabited continuously from the Persian period of the late sixth century B.C.E. until the time of the Crusaders in the 13th century. The Israel Antiquities Authority and the Tel Aviv University have been studying the archaeological site of Tel Arsuf or Apollonia within the Apollonia National Park since 1994. The current excavations are taking place prior to expanding the city of Herzliya.

Stray coins are found all the time in unusual places, but a large number of contemporary coins, including one gold piece, discovered in what had at the time the coins were “dumped” been a garbage dump doesn’t appear to make much sense.

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Jewish Press Staff quoted Tel Aviv University Prof. Oren Tal and Moshe Ajami of the Israel Antiquities Authority as saying, “The most intriguing find in the area is a number of Byzantine refuse pits. One of them is especially large - more than 100 feet in diameter - and contained fragments of pottery vessels, fragments of glass vessels, industrial glass waste, and animal bones. In the midst of the many shards that were discovered in the big refuse pit was a large amount of usable artifacts, whose presence in the pit raises questions. Among other things, more than 400 coins were found which are mostly Byzantine, including one gold coin, as well as 200 whole and intact Samaritan lamps, among them lamps that were never used, rings, and gold jewelry.”

Although details of the coins were not immediately available, it appears these are likely primarily bronze composition Byzantine coins. The nummus or follis was introduced about 294 C.E. during the time of the Tetrarchy. The term “nummus” has since been applied to Byzantine bronze composition coins of the fifth to seventh centuries C.E. Typical bronze coins of this period weigh less than a gram and were officially valued at 1/7,200th of a gold solidus. The reigning Byzantine emperor would appear on the obverse, with a monogram or Greek numerical value letter on the reverse.

Coins depicting a large letter “M” first appear during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I between 491 and 518. This coinage reform carried out by the comes sacrarum largitionum John the Paphlagonian introduced the follis or 40 nummi (letter “M” on the reverse), semi follis (letter “K”) and decanummium (letter “I”). The follis declined in weight until the time of Emperor Constans II (ruled 641 to 668), at which time denominations lower than semifollis were abandoned entirely.

The recent discovery is said to date from the Late Byzantine period of the fifth to the seventh centuries. If this proves to be true the coins can likely be dated by the regnal years appearing with the denomination letter/numeral on the reverse.

Another hint to the dating of the find is through an octagonal ring found accompanying the coins. The ring has parts of verses from the Samaritan Pentateuch engraved in Samaritan script on each of its sides. One side reads, “Adonai is his name.” The other side reads, “One God….”

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