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History & Archeology

1,850-year-old coin Bronze Moon Goddess Discovered in Israel

Luna Moon Goddess Coin

Luna Moon Goddess Coin (Dafne Gazit Israel Antiquities Authority)

In a first of its kind find, an 1,850-year-old coin with the sign of Cancer and the figure of the moon goddess was discovered by the Israel Antiquities Authority’s (IAA) Marine Archaeology Unit off the Carmel coast. It is a part of a series of zodiac coins.

The IAA described it as an exceptionally well-preserved spectacular rare bronze coin which was found on the sea bed. The Luna Moon Goddess coin was discovered during a survey conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority to locate, document, research and preserve antiquities sites and ancient finds—cultural assets that are being endangered by accelerated marine development.

The Luna Moon Goddess coin was minted under the emperor Antoninus Pius (138–161 CE) in Alexandria, Egypt. Its reverse side depicts the zodiac sign Cancer beneath a portrait of the moon goddess Luna. The coin bears the date ‘Year eight’, the eighth year of Antoninus Pius’s rule, or 144/145 CE. It belongs to a series of thirteen coins, twelve depicting the different signs of the zodiac and another the complete zodiac wheel.”

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Also known as Selene, Encyclopedia Britannica explains that in Greek and Roman religions she was the personification of the moon as a goddess. She was worshipped at the new and full moons. According to Hesiod’s Theogony, her parents were the Titans Hyperion and Theia; her brother was Helios, the sun god (sometimes called her father); her sister was Eos (Dawn).

In the Homeric Hymn to Selene, she bears the beautiful Pandeic to Zeus, while Alcman says they are the parents of Herse, the dew. She is often linked with Endymion, whom she loved and whom Zeus cast into eternal sleep in a cave on Mount Latmus; there, Selene visited him and became the mother of 50 daughters. In another story she was loved by Pan. By the 5th century BC Selene was sometimes identified with Artemis, or Phoebe, “the bright one.” She was usually represented as a woman with the moon (often in crescent form) on her head and driving a two-horse chariot. As Luna, she had temples at Rome on the Aventine and Palatine hills.

According to Israel Antiquities Authority Maritime Archaeology Unit director Jacob Sharvit, “This is the first time such a coin has been discovered off Israel’s coast and it is a rare addition to the National Treasures collection. Israel’s Mediterranean shores and waters have yielded many archaeological sites and finds that attest to connections in antiquity between Mediterranean ports and the countries along it. These finds, which were lost at sea and disappeared from sight for hundreds and thousands of years, have been remarkably well preserved; some are extremely rare and their discovery completes parts of the historical puzzle of the country’s past.”

Luna Moon Goddess Coin

Jacob Sharvit, director of the Marine Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority, with the Luna Moon Goddess coin found in the survey in my day. Photo: Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority

According to Israel Antiquities Authority’s Director, Eli Eskosido, “In the last decade, the State of Israel has changed its perception of the sea. Rather than marking the country’s border, the sea is now recognized as an integral part of it in terms of its cultural heritage in addition to security considerations and strategic and economic concerns. Israel’s territorial waters contain natural resources and cultural assets that must be explored and protected in light of different interests and potential development. The maritime survey off Haifa is part of this process. The rare coin recovered during the survey is a vivid reminder of the importance of the survey.”

Interestingly, the ruler who minted the coin, Antoninus Pius, was a Roman emperor whole ruled between 138 and 161 CE. Unlike his predecessors, he was not a military man and never participated in battle. His reign was the quietest during the whole of the Roman Empire and marked the height of the period of ‘Roman peace’ (Pax Romana) throughout the empire. Antoninus had a different approach to running the Roman Empire, preferring to deal with any foreign crises through provincial governors; in fact, he never left Rome himself. He encouraged and initiated the construction of temples, theaters and magnificent mausoleums, and promoted science and philosophy. During his rule, the empire’s relations with the Jews were greatly improved, the decrees of Hadrian were revoked, and Jews were allowed to practice circumcision. These steps led to amicable relations between the emperor and Rabbi Yehuda ha-Nasi.



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