FOUR HASMONEAN PRUTOT WITH DESERT PATINA
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Hasmonean Dynasty; c. 2nd -1st Century BCE
Obverse: Paleo-Hebrew script within wreath.
Reverse: Double cornucopia with pomegranate between.
Weight: 1.78-2.28 g; Diameter: 14.9-16 mm
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Hendin, David. "Guide to Biblical Coins" (5th ed). New York: Amphora Press, 2010.
The Hasmonean Dynasty was founded as a direct result of the Revolt of the Maccabees against the Seleucids and their Hellenizing influence. Instigated by Mattatayah the Hasmonean, the fight was continued by his son Judah the Maccabee, from whom the revolt gets its name. The origin of the name is disputed and may be related to either a verse in Exodus or the Aramaic word “maqqaba” meaning “the hammer”. Judah was a capable commander and was able to capture several cities before finally taking back Jerusalem in 164 BCE. To celebrate this victory and the rededication of the temple altar, an eight day festival was declared and made an annual event. Today, we honor this festival as Chanukah. While the significance of this victory can not be overstated it did not, however, take care of the larger Seleucid problem.
Although, granted religious autonomy, Judaea was still technically a vassal state of the Seleucid Empire and therefore embroiled to a certain degree in their affairs. While rightful kings and usurpers fought amongst themselves for control of the Seleucid Empire, Jonathan and Simon, the brothers of Judah the Maccabee, allied themselves alternatingly with each depending on the circumstances. After the death of Jonathan at the hands of Diodotus Tryphon, Simon allied himself firmly with Demetrius II and made a deal to exchange the gold that Demetrius needed for his war for the independence of Judaea. The succeeding Seleucid ruler, Antiochus VII Sidetes, also relied a great deal of the Hasmonean army to fight Tryphon and in return granted them with the ability to mint their own coinage in 139 BCE. Simon was succeeded in 135 BCE by his son, John Hyrcanus I, the first Hasmonean ruler to issue coinage.
As the entire point of this revolution had been as a response to the Hellenization of Judaea and the revival of Jewish cultural norms it is therefore no surprise that Hasmonean coinage shows distinct departures from other coins of the period. It holds strongly to the decree from Exodus prohibiting graven images and depicts on its coins only inanimate objects, most notably the cornucopia and the pomegranate. The cornucopia was a symbol found throughout the ancient world and is most often linked with fertility and agricultural abundance. The animal horn was used in religious and secular contexts throughout Judaea and would not have been seen as an overtly pagan symbol. The pomegranate, a plant native to Palestine, had enjoyed a long history as an artistic motif prior to the Hasmonean period and was accepted as a Jewish symbol from the earliest times. It is mentioned in Exodus as a symbol adorning the temple and has been found in priestly contexts dating back to the Iron Age. Also noteworthy is the use of Paleo-Hebrew script which at the time of the Hasmonean Dynasty had not been in use for several hundred years outside of official religious documents. This suggests that the language had taken on a symbolic meaning which the Hasmoneans wished to use to express their return to the traditional and religious ways.
The Hasmonean Dynasty would technically continue until 37 BCE when it was overthrown by Herod the Great and the Roman Empire. However, in more real terms, after the sacking of Jerusalem by Pompey in 63 BCE Judaea became a client kingdom of Rome with Hasmonean rulers having little real power.