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Research Coins: Feature Auction


Outstanding Siege Half Shekel

CNG 111, Lot: 383. Estimate $5000.
Sold for $16000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

JUDAEA, Jewish War. 66-70 CE. Æ Half Shekel (26mm, 15.22 g, 12h). Jerusalem mint. Dated year 4 (69/70 CE). Etrog flanked by two lulav bunches; “year four half” (in Hebrew) around / Palm tree with two date bunches, flanked by baskets of dates; “to the redemption of Zion” (in Hebrew) around. MCP FJR 13, dies O1/R– (unlisted rev. die); Meshorer 211; Kadman 32; Hendin 1367; Bromberg 74 (same obv. die); Shoshana I 20214–5; Sofaer 39; Spaer 179–80. Good VF, earthen dark green-brown patina, minor flan flaw on obverse. Excellent fields. Very rare, and among the finest examples known.

By Year 4 of the Jewish War (69/70 CE), the Romans had gained the initiative and the rebellion was in dire straits. The Jews of Jerusalem were desperately short on supplies and engaged in bloody internecine battles for political control of the remaining rebel forces. The shortage of precious metals witnessed a severe drop in the number of silver shekels and their fractions from the temple mint (see previous lot). It also resulted in what has been called the world’s first issue of “siege coins.” This consisted of bronze coins intended to circulate along with the silver shekels, inscribed “half” and “quarter,” along with a much smaller denomination without a value that is surely an eighth-shekel. The large half-shekels are, by far, the rarest of these, with surviving specimens numbering in the mid thirties. The symbolism of the bronzes is distinct from that of the silver shekels, emphasizing Feast of Tabernacles on the holy day of Sukkot. Here the obverse depicts two lulavs (bound palm branches) and an etrog (citron fruit), while the reverse depicts a seven-branched palm tree (perhaps symbolizing the Menorah) flanked by two date baskets. The Paleo-Hebrew reverse inscription “to the redemption of Zion” marks a departure from previous coin slogans calling for the “freedom of Zion,” perhaps indicating awareness that the flame of freedom would soon be snuffed out by the Romans, and that any salvation would be more spiritual than physical.