A spectacular Bronze Age coin decorated with the image of the Roman moon goddess Luna was recently unearthed along the shores of the Carmel coast at Haifa, Israel.
The Israel Antiquities Authority’s Marine Archaeology Unit discovered the incredible relic during a recent survey in Haifa that aimed to protect ancient artifacts from accelerated coastal development in the area.
The “tails” side of the coin depicts the zodiac sign Cancer beneath a portrait of the moon goddess Luna, and the “heads” side shows it was minted under the rule of Roman emperor Antoninus Pius (138 to 161 CE) in Alexandria, Egypt. The coin bears the date “year eight’, meaning it was forged in the eighth year of Antoninus Pius’s rule, around 144/145 CE.
Researchers on the project believe it is just one in a series of thirteen coins, each showing one of the 12 different signs of the zodiac and a final one depicting the complete zodiac wheel.
“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,” Jacob Sharvit, director of Israel Antiquities Authority Maritime Archaeology Unit, said in a statement seen by IFLScience.
“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,” said Sharvit.
Antoninus Pius was an exceptional Roman Emperor for a number of reasons. His reign fell slap bang in the middle of the “Pax Romana”, Latin for “Roman peace”, a snippet of Roman history that’s seen as somewhat of a golden age. Over the course of roughly 200 years between 27 BCE and 180 CE, the Romans managed to sustain their colossal imperial power while internally enjoying a period of relative peace, order, and prosperity.
It’s significant that the rule of Antoninus Pius did not see any documented revolts or was largely peaceful. For this reason, he is seen as something of an anomaly in Roman history.
The Israel Antiquities Authority also notes that his reign saw improved relations with Jewish people (once again, not exactly something the Romans were known for). Following decades of discontent in the Roman province of Judaea, Antoninus Pius revoked some of the harsh anti-Jewish decrees put in place by his predecessor Hadrian and built friendly relationships with Jewish leaders such as Rabbi Yehuda ha-Nasi.
“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,” added Israel Antiquities Authority’s Director, Eli Eskosido.
“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,” explained Eskosido