According to the written tradition, the Jewish priest Mattathias ben Joḥanan of Modi'in stood at the head of the revolt against the Seleucids. When he was about to be forced to offer sacrifices on the altar of the Olympian gods, he killed his tormentor, including an officer of Antiochus IV. Mattathias’ fight was continued by his sons, the later Hasmonaean rulers, after his death in 166/65 BCE (Fig. C.). The uprising received its name from Mattathias’ son Judas, nicknamed the Maccabee (Aramaic: makkaba = hammer).
With the Maccabean revolt and the defeat of the Hellenized Jewish fraction, the foundation of the Hasmonean dynasty was laid. This very day, the feast of Hanukkah, which is celebrated in the month of Kislev (November/December), commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem, which followed the successful revolt in 164 BCE. In the following decades, the Jews succeeded in expanding their autonomy.
According to the literary sources (1 Maccabees 13: 27-30; Josephus, AJ 13210-11) Simon the Maccabee (142-135/134 BCE) erected a monument to commemorate the victory over the Seleucids in Modi'in – the hometown of the Maccabees, which also served as the tomb of the royal Hasmonaean family. According to written accounts, this monument consisted of a high podium surrounded by columns and covered by a roof. The roof was made of seven pyramids, each of which represented a family member (Fig. B.).
Simon Maccabaeus was killed in 135 BCE by his son-in-law Ptolemy in the fortress Dok (Dagon), near Jericho (1 Maccabees 16:11-16; Josephus, AJ 13.228.). A power struggle subsequently erupted between his son John Hyrcanus I (135/134-104 BCE) and Ptolemy, which made it possible for the Seleucid ruler Antiochus VII (138-129 BCE) to intervene actively in Judaea. This led to the siege of Jerusalem in 135/134 BCE, which did not end until a peace agreement was reached between Antiochus VII and John Hyrcanus I. Hyrcanus I was the first ruler of the new Jewish kingdom, which was henceforth ruled by the Hasmonean priest-kings and which maintained its independence until the arrival of the Romans.
The Beginning of Hasmonaean Coinage
In the 130s BCE, Antiochus VII granted the Jewish leader Simon Maccabaeus the privilege to mint coins, but this right was not put to use during his lifetime. The passage in the first Book of Maccabees (15: 5-8) is the only reference to the official bestowal of the right to mint coinage to the Jews. For this reason, early scholars of ancient Jewish coinage believed the Jewish shekels of the First Jewish War had actually been struck by Simon Maccabaeus. The reason for this erroneous attribution was based on the appearance of the letter shin in the Paleo-Hebrew script above the chalice, and abbreviation of “šnh” (= year) and not Simon.
Hasmonean coinage begins with John Hyrcanus I and ends with the death of Mattathias Antigonus in 37 BCE. Except for Alexandra Salome (76-67 BCE) – who possibly minted on behalf of her late husband Alexander Jannaeus or her son John Hyrcanus II – all rulers are named on the coins. Bronze coins were minted exclusively. For larger sums, it was necessary to resort to the precious metal coins produced by neighboring kingdoms.
The name perutah used for the Hasmonaean coins comes from later Rabbinic sources, but is traditionally used for earlier coins where no names of the nominal have survived. The Hasmoneans had to consider the Jewish image prohibition in their coin motifs, which explains the complete absence of ruler portraits on the Hasmonaean coins. In the coinage of the surrounding Hellenistic kingdoms (Seleucids, Ptolemies) the ruler portrait was usually placed on the obverse. In place of these, the Hasmoneans used insignia of power such as the wreath, or fertility symbols such as the cornucopia (No.1B; cf. No.5B).
Hyrcanus I modeled his coinage according to Seleucid example but adapted the designs to his own ideas, and they consequently differed markedly from contemporary Seleucid coins, which were issued elsewhere in Palestine (example No.4B). Additionally, motifs were added from the Jewish tradition, such as the representation of palm fronds (No.2A).
Among the rare coin designs of Hyrcanus I is the helmet (No.3A). These coins should possibly be dated to the early phase of his reign, as Antiochus VII also used this motif (No.6B).
A coin type minted by Antiochus VII shows on one side the Seleucid anchor and on the other side the lily, the symbol of Jerusalem (No.8A and No.9A). This coin type, which according to inscriptions dates to 132/31 and 131/30 BCE, potentially refers to the “peacetime”, when Antiochus VII had strengthened his position of power over Hyrcanus I and Hyrcanus was forced to accompany Antiochus on his campaign against the Iranian Parthians in 131 BCE. This coin type is the only example of the use of a Jewish image in Seleucid coinage. It also bears witness to the importance attributed by the Seleucid ruler to the relationship with the Jews.
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).
P. Schäfer, Geschichte der Juden in der Antike. Die Juden Palästinas von Alexander dem Großen bis zur arabischen Eroberung (Tübingen 2010).