Mattathias Antigonus (40 – 37 BCE), the son of Aristobulus II, escaped from Roman imprisonment in 57 BCE. On his return to Judea, he sought with all means to remove his uncle Hyrcanus II from the throne. Only in 40 BCE, with the aid of the Parthian king Orodes II (57 ‒ 37 BCE) (No.5A), did he succeed in vanquishing Hyrcanus II and routing Herod, who in 47 BCE had been installed by his father Antipater as governor of Galilee. In order to render Hyrcanus II unfit for the office of high priest, both of his ears were cut off in prison, as physical intactness was required for the office of high priest. Hyrcanus II spent the following years in a Jewish community in Babylon, until in 36 BCE he was invited to return to Judea by Herod, who ultimately executed him in 30 BCE on charges of conspiracy.
The alliance with the Parthians, however, made Mattathias Antigonus an enemy of Rome. The Romans hence installed Herod as king of Judea. With this powerful ally, the fate of Mattathias Antigonus was sealed, and the rise of the Herodian dynasty began (Fig. C.).
The Last Hasmonean Coins
The conflicts of this period are also mirrored in the iconography of the coins from Mattathias Antigonus. While his first issues with double cornucopias and legends surrounded by wreaths still follow the earlier traditions of Hasmonean coinage (No.1B, No.2B and No.3A), coin No.4A clearly differs: it shows the menorah and the showbread table, two objects from the Temple in Jerusalem. Mattathias was the first and only Jewish ruler to mint coins at all; on them he placed these motifs, which at the time were not yet common sacral images in Jewish art. The earliest representations of both motifs that correspond to their appearance on the Mattathias coins are a likely Jewish depiction of a menorah which is scratched on a wall palster beside the showbread table in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem (Fig. A.) and the famous rendering on the arch of Titus in Rome (Fig. A. Showcase 14). The selection of these devices for coinage, which seek to present him as rightful high priest in connection with his hereditary right as successor of the Hasmonean priest-kings, was a conscious act by Mattathias. It also reflects a clear dissociation from his political opponent, the half-Jewish Herod, son of a Nabataean mother aand Idumean father, who due to his ancestry would never be suitable to occupy the office of high priest. This was a last, vain attempt by Mattathias to win popular support.
Although the production location of the Hasmonean coins remains unknown, the coins themselves reveal something of their methods of manufacture (No.6A): the coin blanks were cast in stone moulds and separated from each other after pouring, with the sprues usually clearly evident on the planchets (for instance No.6B and No.4A). In minting the coins, the so-called al marco method was used, wherein a particular number of coins must be struck from a certain weight of metal. Coins of the same type thus often display great variations in weight, which makes a description of the denominations difficult for us today.
D.T. Ariel, Judean Perspectives of Ancient Mints and Minting Technology. Israel Numismatic Research 7 (2012), pp. 43–80.
A. Lichtenberger, Kulte und Kultur der Dekapolis. Untersuchungen zu numismatischen, archäologischen und epigraphischen Zeugnissen, Wiesbaden 2003.
Y. Meshorer, A Treasury of Jewish Coins. From the Persian Period to Bar Kokhba, Jerusalem 2001.
Y. Meshorer at 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.