Thursday, September 11, 2008

The DaVinci Code

Judaea, First Jewish War. AE Prutah, 18mm (2.91 gm). Struck AD 67-68.

Amphora with broad rim and two handles, legend around (year 2) / Vine leaf on small branch, legend around ("the freedom of Zion"). H-661; Meshorer-197.

I know you're asking, what does this coin have to do with The DaVinci Code? Bear with me as I discuss the bronze coins struck in Judaea during this war. The 'messages' these coins impart help paint a picture of the tides of this war. They also provide a convenient segue into my discussion of the relational aspects of The DaVinci Code.

Prutot were not struck in the first year of the First Jewish War... only shekels and their fractions were struck. However, prutot were struck in the second and third years of the Jewish War and 'other' bronze denominations in the fourth. The following is a list of those coins, by Hendin reference number:

Year 2 (AD 67-68)
H-661 AE Prutah

Year 3 (AD 68-69)
H-664 AE Prutah

Year 4 (AD 69-70)
H-668 AE Half (26mm)
H-669 AE Quarter (22mm)
H-670 AE Eight (20 mm)

It is interesting to note that the reverse legend on the prutot of the second and third years issues carried the words, "Freedom of Zion". As David Hendin states in his Guide to Biblical Coins, 4th Edition, "That slogan represents a kind of rallying cry for the Jews." However, that 'slogan' is replaced by "For the redemption of Zion" on the reverse legends of year 4 bronze coins. This signalled an acknowledgement of Rome's impending victory, and as Hendin suggests, a change in tone from that of a 'rallying cry' to one more spiritual.

The First Jewish War began in AD 66 as an uprising... a reaction to mistreatment by the Roman procurator Gessius Florus. Initial Jewish victories shocked the Romans. Nero, fearing that a prolonged rebellion would signal Roman weakness, tapped his top general, Vespasian, to quell the uprising. By the middle of AD 68, Vespasian's forces had stamped out the rebellion in all but Jerusalem, Masada and a few other areas.

The year AD 68 saw the death of Nero and the beginning of a civil war that brought about 4 emperors: Galba (AD 68-69), Otho (AD 69), Vitellius (AD 69) and finally Vespasian (AD 69-79). Vespasian's marching on Rome meant that the Jewish War would have to be handed off to another capable general and Vespasian chose his son Titus to finish the job. The changing fortunes of the Jews are evident by the legends on the bronze coins they issued. Recall that the legends change from a tone of a 'rallying cry' to one more spiritual on the year 4 bronze coins, which were issued in AD 69-70.

The Arch of Titus in Rome commemorates Titus' conquest of the Jews in this First Jewish War. One of the more famous reliefs on the Arch depicts the triumphal procession of Romans carrying the looted treasure from the Second Temple. Included in this treasure were the sacred Menorah, the Table of the Shewbread and the trumpets which called the Jews to Rosh Hashanah.

Now here is where The DaVinci Code comes in...

Many believe that an object more sacred was kept in the Jewish Temple. They hold that this object was hidden when it became clear that Titus' forces would breach the walls of Jerusalem. Theories abound about the nature of this object, with some refering to it as the 'Holy Grail' and others that it was the Ark of the Covenant. Still others contend this ‘object’ was not so much an object as it is a secret that contradicts the very foundation upon which the Church is based.

Theories also abound about where this object was hidden. Some believe that the Jews hid it below the Temple, in what was once believed to be Soloman's stables (the Temple Mount was thought to be the site of the Temple of Soloman). Fast forward 1,000 years to the time following the First Crusade, to the second half of the eleventh century. Crusader Godfroi de Bouillon is believed to have founded an organization called the Priory of Sion. It is believed that this secret order created the Knights Templar as its military arm.

The Knights Templar, or as they were originally called, the Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Soloman, were given space for their headquarters on the Temple Mount by King Baldwin II of Jerusalem. Many believe the Templars were sent to Jerusalem with the sole intention of recovering a sacred relic and that this object was found under their headquarters, under what was previously the Second Temple. Was the object the Templars were rumored to have found the 'Holy Grail', perhaps hidden as Titus' army laid seige to Jerusalem? Or did they find the Ark of the Covenant, again hidden while under seige by Titus' army? Or, even more intriguingly, did they find the ‘secret’ that contradicted Church dogma? Nobody knows for sure but this has been the subject of speculation for centuries.

The Knights Templars and Priory of Sion parted ways in 1188. The Templars were eventually dissolved at the hands of France’s king Philip IV and the pope. The Priory of Sion, however, supposedly remains to this day and has been the subject of many books and the book/movie, The DaVinci Code.

If any of this piques your curiosity, I highly recommend the book, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, by Michael Biagent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln. In this book, the authors tell of an interview with a prominent figure of the Priory of Sion named Pierre Plantard de Saint-Claire. The authors recant that the interviewee offered to answer any questions about the order’s past history, but would say nothing of their current activities. One such bit of past history offered by Pierre Plantard de Saint-Claire was that the order was still in possession of the lost treasure of the Second Temple… that plundered by Titus’ forces at the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 during the First Jewish War!

So, there you have it… the tie-in between this coin, a prutah from the First Jewish War, and The DaVinci Code.

Monday, July 7, 2008

W O W ! ! ! ! !

Trajan, Phrygia, Hierapolis

AE32 (17.46 gm)

Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust left, AV KAI ΘEOV VΩ NEPBA TPAIANΩ CEΓEPMA / Athena, holding spear and shield, standing right, and Hermes, holding purse and caduceus, standing left, IEPAΠO ΛEITΩN. BMC 129 (same obverse die).

Let me begin by reminding you that the photo above has been compressed to fit the dimensions allowed by A larger, more worthy image is available by clicking on the photo.

Occasionally, we are presented with a coin that we just can't stop thinking about. There was a large AE of Tiberius from Oea on which I truly regret not having bid just a little more. There was also a gorgeous tetradrachm of Alexander 'the Great' upon which I wish I had bid a little more! Both coins were in the same CNG auction and each diluted my chances at winning the other! I still think of those coins and how they 'got away'!

Then there was this coin. It was a 'cover coin', with it's reverse featured on the cover of the auction catalog. I couldn't get away from it! I obsessed about the coin for weeks. I finally decided I wouldn't let this one get away like the Tiberius and Alexander... and, as you can see, it didn't!

This coin bewitched me chiefly for reasons of eye appeal. First of all, it's a large coin, with full legends, and on a large flan. Additionally, the portrait of Trajan and depictions of both Athena and Hermes are of very fine style! And, to top all that off, the coin exhibits a lovely array of colors, including purple, copper, olive and gold! Unfortunately, I couldn't capture them all in my photo.

As if that weren't enough, the coin is from the city of Hierapolis in Phrygia, which was thought to be the site of an entrance into the underworld from which an offensive, noxious odor was emitted! Ah, stinky town... my kind of place! It was also known for its hot springs so I imagine the source of this odor was sulfur.

This coin is my new favorite, replacing the 'croc' coin I wish I'd never sold. This one's even sweeter though, as it's one I didn't let get away in auction!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Second of 19

Marcus Ambibulus, Roman Prefect under Augustus, AD 9-12.

AE Prutah, 17mm (2.06 gm). Struck AD 9.

Ear of barley curved to right, KAICA-POC ("of Caesar") / Eight-branched palm tree bearing two bunches of dates, L ΛΘ (Year 39) in field below. H-636; AJC II, Supp. V, 3.

You may recall that I expressed a newfound interest in the coins of the Roman prefects and procurators. A friend, Ken Baumheckel, lit this fire that has proven a true area of interest... it has passed the 'passing fad' test with true colors. As I mentioned in a previous blog entry, A New Obsession?, there were 14 prefects and procurators, of which only 6 issued coins. Of those 6 who issued coins, a total of 19 different coins were issued (Hendin numbers 635-653). You can refer to my previous blog entry (link above) for a complete list of these prefects and procurators.

This coin was issued under the second such prefect/procurator... Marcus Ambibulus. Marcus Ambibulus served under Augustus from AD 9-12. Little is known about Ambibulus except that he succeeded Coponius in the role of prefect. Only one coin 'type' was issued under both Coponius and Ambibulus, differentiated only by the date indicated on the reverse. In the case of Ambibulus, coins were issued in 3 different years, including:

L ΛΘ (Year 39)
Hendin 636... this coin

LM (Year 40)
Hendin 637

LMA (Year 41)
Hendin 638

The coins of the procurators tend to be a bit crude. Finding nicer examples requires a degree of patience and forgiveness of flaw or defect. In the case of my coin, the reverse suffers from a lack of perfect centering, though the devices and date are all present. Both the obverse and reverse show wear... neither the ear of barley nor the palm tree show all the detail present when the coin was struck. The grains in the ear of barley are worn smooth showing little definition as are the palm fronds, trunk and bunches of dates. Nonetheless, this is one of the nicer examples I've seen. Perhaps it'll only be a placeholder until a nicer example comes along. Perhaps it'll hold a permanent place in my collection. In either case, it represents the second coin in my collection of the Roman prefects and procurators... a prutah of Pontius Pilate being my first.

I must add that the 'thrill of the chase' hasn't waned since I first set out on my quest to complete a type-set of the 19 coins of the Roman prefects and procurators. With age has come patience and with patience, great coins like this one!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

My First Provincial

Tiberius. Celsa, Spain.

Æ 28mm (12.19 gm). Struck AD 14-37.

Baggius Fronto and Cn. Bucco, duoviri.

Laureate head right, TI CAESAR AVGVSTVS / Bull standing right, head facing, BAGG FRONT (NT ligate) above, C V I CEL to left, II VIR II to right, and CN BVCCO in exergue. RPC I 279.52 (this coin cited); SNG Copenhagen 542.

Ex CNG 73 (September 13, 2006), lot 687
Ex Alexandre de Barros Collection
Ex Classical Numismatic Auctions V (December 9, 1988), lot 350

Spanish mint provincials have always drawn my interest. There's just something about the style of portraiture that catches my eye. The portrait on this particular coin is admittedly more like a caricature of the type you'd have drawn at Disneyland... but I like it!

My early collecting interests centered mainly on imperial issues. This coin was my first real 'provincial' and set me on a course that would forever change my collecting focus. No longer was I bound to portrait denarii of the Twelve Caesars. I had opened a door to all issues of the Twelve Caesars. That door has further opened to include Judaean coins contemporary with those of the Twelve Caesars. There are many unopened doors for me in the world of ancient coins, ensuring a pursuit that'll keep my interest for a lifetime. I hope that any of my blog entries about the coins in my collection open a door for you as well!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Julius Caesar, 49-44 BC. AR Denarius, 18mm (3.86 gm). Head of Venus right, diademed, wearing earring and necklace; hair in knot / Aeneas walking left, holding palladium and bearing Anchises on his shoulder, CAESAR to right. Struck 47 BC, North Africa. RSC Julius Caesar 12; RCV I 1402; CRR 1013.

Ah, Julius Caesar, the first and most famous of Suetonius’ Twelve Caesars. Suetonius’ work, De Vita Caesarum (Lives of the Caesars), is a set of twelve biographies that begins with Julius Caesar and follows with the first eleven emperors, from Augustus to Domitian.

Gaius Julius Caesar was born to a patrician family, the Julii, in either 102 or 100 BC. The Julii were not considered politically influential, having only three consuls credited to their family name. This was unfortunate for poor Caesar, as he craved bigger and better things for himself. So young Caesar set upon building the foundation for those ‘bigger and better things’. This foundation included service in the army, where he served under Marcus Minucius Thermus in Asia and Servilius Isauricus in Cilicia. Caesar also tuned his oratory skills, studying under the same orator as that of Cicero.

Caesar’s political career began when he was elected military tribune. From there he was elected quaestor (69 BC), then Pontifex Maximus (63 BC) and finally consul (59 BC). Caesar was now heading down the path he had envisioned for himself.

Virgil’s Aeneid tell us that Aeneas was one of the few Trojans not killed or captured in the battle of Troy. Instead, he is said to have taken his father Anchises and the palladium, a statuette upon which the safety of the city was said to depend, to safety. The reverse of the denarius above depicts this event. Aeneas was the son of Anchises and the goddess Venus. The obverse of the coin above depicts Venus, so we have a coin that depicts mother (Venus), father (Anchises) and son (Aeneas).

Julius Caesar claimed to be a descendant of Aeneas, making Romulus and Remus (the founders of Rome) and the first kings of Rome his ancestors. Caesar makes this claim with this denarius. This connection to the progenitor of Rome, Aeneas, is important as it establishes legitimacy for Caesar in his rule over Rome.

This coin, and the story it tells, is one of the reasons I enjoy collecting ancient coins… especially those of the Twelve Caesars. If you haven’t done so already, read The Twelve Caesars, as translated by Robert Graves. If you do, I think you’ll find collecting coins of the Twelve Caesars as interesting as I do!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Little Britain

England. George IV. 1826 Farthing.

Laureate head left, GEORGIUS IV DEI GRATIA / Britannia seated right, holding trident, with shield bearing saltire of arms, BRITANNIAR: REX FID: DEF:. S-3825.

No, I'm not writing about the BBC show, Little Britain, though I have to admit it's one of my favorites! My wife and I really enjoy the show, but our children don't seem to understand why. I'm sure those from my parent's and grandparent's generations can relate a bit... I have no idea why they found The Honeymooners so funny. "To the moon, Alice... to the moon!" What?! They used to lose it though when they heard that! It's funny how generations differ.

I degress, and this is a blog about coins. So, about this coin you ask... why "Little Britain"? Hmm, well, it's British! And, it's little! The farthing was worth 1/4 of a penny. I say was because farthings ceased to be legal tender at the close of 1960. The demise of the farthing was brought on by inflation... its buying power had eroded too much for it to retain any usefulness in commerce.

This particular coin was designed by William Wyon after Benedetto Pistrucci's design was rejected by the king. Apparently, the king thought Pistrucci's design a little less than flattering! I happen to agree with George IV and much prefer this portrait to that designed by Pistrucci.

One of my collecting goals is to obtain at least one coin for each English monarch from the time of C'nut to the current monarch, Elizabeth II. A pretty daunting task, that, and for reasons of budget, I began with the House of Hanover, which includes

George I
George II (see my previous blog entry about my George II shilling)
George III
George IV
William IV

I currently own at least one coin from each, with the exception of George I. I'm one coin away from completing my first type set!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

D O M I T I A N ! ! ! ! !

Domitian. Cilicia, Tarsus.
AR Tetradrachm, 26mm (14.00 gm). Struck AD 93-95.

Laureate head right, AYTO KAI ΘE YI ΔOMITIANOΣ ΣE ΓEP / Tyche seated right, holding palm branch, river-god (Kydnos?) swimming beneath, TAP in right field. RPC II 1727; Sear GIC 865.

Let me begin by giving proper credit where credit is due. The photograph above was taken by Merrill Gibson of Apollo Numismatics. When I purchased the coin from Merrill, I asked if I could use his photo on my collection website and in this blog... I knew I could never top his photo!

I love this coin! It's big! It's silver! It's gorgeous! And, it's Domitian!!! This is definitely the jewel of my Domitian collection. Merrill's photo is stunning, but so is the coin. The details on the face of the swimming river-god are well intact, as are those on Tyche and the palm branch she holds. Click on the image above and you'll be taken to a larger image... and there you'll see what I mean!

The portrait reveals an emperor weary from insecurity and suspicion of conspiracy in the later years of his reign. His gaze bears witness to the demons that incited his paranoia. Domitian's reign of terror began at around AD 93 and lasted until his death in AD 96... about the same time that this coin was struck.

Domitian was murdered by his own servants who feared that they themselves were slated for a similar fate. The empress Domitia, also fearing for her life during these, Domitian's unstable years, provided encouragement to his murderers.

The cruelty and executions during his reign of terror were so odius that he earned the nickname "the Beast" amongst Romans, Greeks, Christians and Jews, according to Ethelbert Stauffer in Coniectanea Neotestamentica XI in honorem Antonii Fridrichsen sexagenarii. Ethelbert Stauffer was a German Protestant theologian who held that gematria, the numerology of the Hebrew language and alphabet, could be used to explain the Biblical number 666. Stauffer computed this "Number of the Beast" using the short form of Domitian's names and titles: Imperator Caesar Domitianus Augustus Germanicus... which in Greek is: Autokrator Kaisar Dometianos Sebastos Germanikos. The latter abbreviates to A KAI ΔOMET ΣEB ΓE and the gematrical formula reads:

A. K A I. Δ O M E T. Σ E B. Γ E.
1+ 20+1+10+4+70+40+5+300+200+5+2+ 3+5 = 666

Stauffer further contended that "the Beast" could only refer to Domitian because he reigned during the time that the Book of Revelation was written... the Book in which the number 666 was introduced. To further the idea that the number 666 related to Domitian, Robert Graves wrote, in The White Goddess, that DCLXVI, 666 in Roman numerals, is an abbreviation for the Latin sentence “Domitianus Caesar Legatos Xti Violenter Interfecit”, or “The Emperor Domitian violently killed the envoys of Christ".

Another interesting correlation comes from The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament Era: Exploring the Background of Early Christianity, by James Jeffers. In that book, Jeffers writes, "A number of New Testament commentators have seen a connection between Rome and its cult of emperor worship and the Book of Revelation. The reference in Revelation 17:9 to seven heads of the "beast", which are "seven hills on which the woman [the great harlot] sits", has been taken as a reference to the famed seven hills on which Rome was founded. The woman is identified later as "the great city that rules over the kings of the earth" (Revelations 17:18). The connection to emperor worship is seen in Revelation 13:4, 8, where this same beast is worshipped by all the people of the earth. As the emperor of Rome (eg. Nero and Domitian) had persecuted Christians, Revelation predicts that this beast will war on the people of God. In this interpretation, Revelation 14:9-10 is warning Christians not to engage in emperor worship."

Others, including Nero, have been identified with the number 666 via Hebrew gematria. However, we're not talking about a coin of Nero, now are we? If you're interested in an interesting explanation of gematria, take a look at the following webpage on Wikipedia:

Apologies for the long tangent about the theory that the number 666 refers to Domitian... I just found it interesting and thought you might too. This coin isn't without its own Biblical reference. Tarsus, the city in which this coin was minted, was the birthplace of the Apostle Paul. Isn't it ironic then, that a coin of the purported Biblical "Beast" was struck in the very city that brought us the most notable of early Christian missionaries.