Under Ptolemy II (283-246 BCE), or perhaps shortly thereafter, the series of Yehud coins ended. This may relate to a coinage reform carried out by Ptolemy II in the years 261/260 BCE, through which the Yehud coins were replaced by Ptolemaic precious metal coins. Growing political tensions between Jerusalem and the Ptolemaic rulers in Alexandria (Fig. C.) could also have led to the province’s loss of the right to mint its own coinage. With this, coin minting came to a halt for almost a century in Judah.
The Yehud Coinage after the Conquest of Alexander
The late Yehud coinage can be divided into two phases: Firstly, in the period from the end of the Persian Empire until the consolidation of the Ptolemaic reign over Judah (the time of the Diadochi), and secondly, the time of Ptolemaic rule. The imagery of the two phases differed significantly, and only isolated motifs were used in both phases.
A number of coin types belong to the Diadochi period, whose pictorial language refers to a Jewish background and barely refers to the preceding Persian or succeeding Ptolemaic sovereignties. The falcon type coins can be divided into two groups, the first of which bears the image of the Persian king (No.4A Showcase 1), while the latter shows only Jewish images, such as the shofar (No.3A), the lily (No.1A) and helmet or incense bowl (No.4A). It follows that the later class of falcon type coins were emitted during the time of the Diadochi, before the start of Ptolemaic hegemony over this region. After this time, there was a complete change in the iconography of the Yehud coins.
The lily as a symbol of Jerusalem (No.1A) came to play a significant role not only on the Yehud coins, but rather enjoyed lasting importance in Jewish coinage until the late 1st century BCE under the Hasmonaeans. Other images are more difficult to explain, such as the ear (No.2A), which has been interpreted as a representation of Yahweh, or as a symbol of the shema (credo) prayer.
After the consolidation of Ptolemaic rule, the coins of Judah followed the example of royal Ptolemaic coinage. In this, the portrait of the king was generally placed on the front (obverse), while on the back (reverse) the eagle of Zeus, the heraldic animal of the Ptolemies, was displayed standing on a thunderbolt (No.9B). Instead of Greek circumscription, the characteristic paleo-Hebrew letters YHD or YHDH were placed on the Jewish coins (No.6A). Already widespread under Ptolemy I (306-283 BCE) was a Yehud-coin type that on the obverse showed the portrait of Ptolemy wearing a diadem and on the reverse an eagle with spread wings and the letters YHDH (Yehuda) (No.7B).
The coins minted under Ptolemy II (283-246 BCE) not only display his own portrait on the obverse (No.10A), but sometimes also those of his parents, Ptolemy I and Berenice I (340-268 BCE) as well as that of his wife Arsinoe II (316-270 BCE). Only one specimen showing jugate portraits of the parents of Ptolemy II on the obverse and Ptolemy II himself with his wife Arsinoe on the reverse (No.11A) has so far been recorded. With these, Ptolemy II emphasized dynastic continuity and presented himself as the only legitimate successor. With the addition of the paleo-Hebrew characters, these otherwise foreign images were added unchanged to the Jewish pictorial language (No.8A).
H. Gitler/C. Lorber, ‘A New Chronology for the Ptolemaic Coins of Judah’, AJN Second Series (2006), 1-41.
Y. Meshorer, A Treasury of Jewish Coins. From the Persian Period to Bar Kokhba (Jerusalem 2001).
Y. Meshorer et al., Coins of the Holy Land. The Abraham and Marian Sofaer Collection at the American Numismatic Society and the Israel Museum I-II (New York 2013).http://www.menorahcoinproject.org