Rare Gold ‘Christian Coins’ Shed Light on the Story of a Crusader Massacre in Ancient Caesarea
Many archaeological finds cannot be linked to one particular dramatic event. However, the recent discovery of a hoard of coins can be linked to one very significant event in the era of the Crusades, over 900 years ago. Experts have found a cache of coins that are very precious and rare, including some so-called ‘Christian coins.’ The discovery is providing unique insights into the time of the Crusader conquests.
The Discovery of the Crusader Coin Hoard
The Times of Israel reports the find was made by experts from the Israel Antiquities Authority led by ‘Dr. Peter Gendelman and Mohammed Hatar in cooperation with the Caesarea Development Corporation.’ Caesarea is a World Heritage Site and it has yielded many important archaeological discoveries through the years. This urban center was very important in the region from Graeco-Roman times to the Middle Ages.
Archaeologists found the hoard in a damaged bronze pot that had been hidden in a space between two stones that was 4.5 feet (1.5 meters) deep in a house that dated to the Abbasid Caliphate. In the pot, experts were amazed to find 24 gold pieces and one golden earing that all date from approximately 1000 years ago. There have been two types of coins found and they are from the Muslim Fatimid Empire and the Christian Byzantine Empire.
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Six Rare Christian Coins
The Byzantine coins all date from the 11th century AD. There are six rare coins that are concave in shape that were originally minted in Byzantium. These are often referred to by experts as ‘Christian coins’ according to the Times of Israel. They are extremely rare and were minted in the reign of Co-Emperor Michael VII Doukas, who reigned from 1071–1078. However, one round coin dates to the period of the 1020s. The discovery of the coins came as a great surprise because Caesarea was not part of the Byzantine Empire 1000 years ago.
Convex-shaped gold ‘nomisma histamenon’ coin minted by the Byzantine emperor Michael VII Doukas (1071 – 1079 AD) that was recently unearthed at the Caesarea Maritima archaeological site. (Yaniv Berman, courtesy of the Caesarea Development Corporation)
There were also 18 Fatimid era golden dinars found in the bronze pot. These have not been cleaned as of yet and once they are, they can be dated and studied. The Fatimid’s controlled Caesarea and Egypt in the 11th and early 12th century AD.
“Equivalent of the Annual Salary of a Simple Farmer”
The quality of the coins is astonishing; the Byzantine coins, which bear the images of rulers, were made out of 22 Karat gold while the Fatimid currency was made out of 24 Karat gold. Israel World News quotes an expert as stating that “one or two of these gold coins were the equivalent of the annual salary of a simple farmer” and were therefore extremely valuable at the time.
The gold coins are believed to come from periods much earlier than when they were hidden and apparently forgotten. This was typical of the time - people were known to hoard precious coins for many decades. They were used as reserves for when times were hard or became dangerous and they often constituted all of a family’s wealth. The discovery of Byzantine and Fatimid coins in one hoard is highly unusual and it may indicate that the original owner(s) were involved in international trade. Interestingly, they were unearthed near two similar finds that were made several decades ago.
The coins were identified at the site as dating from the end of the 11th Century. (Yaniv Berman)
The Crusader Conquest of Caesarea
The BBC reports that an expert has stated that the rare hoard has been linked to "one of the most dramatic events in the history of Caesarea." The hoard of coins was probably hidden by ‘a local trader,’ according to HAARETZ, when the town was under attack by the forces of the Crusader King of Jerusalem Baldwin I. This king had previously sacked other Fatimid towns in what is now Israel.
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In 1101, the Crusaders finally managed to capture Caesarea after a bloody fight. Once the Christian army entered the city, they began a general massacre of the inhabitants. Those who survived were sold into slavery. This was perhaps the darkest day in the long-history of Caesarea. It seems likely that the local resident who hid the cache of coins had intended to retrieve it when it was safe to return home. However, it appears that they and their loved ones were killed in the massacre or ended their days as a slave in exile and that is why the hoard was left hidden for almost a millennium.
Remnants of the Crusader-era fortifications at Caesarea, put into place by King Louis IX of France. (Mrbrefast/CC BY SA 3.0)
The discovery of the coins is allowing us to better understand the nature of society in Caesarea at that dark time. The fact that Byzantine coins were circulating in Muslim lands may also indicate that international trade was much more common and widespread than assumed. The cache also give us an insight into the brutality of the Crusader conquests of the time and the sheer devastation that they inflicted on local communities in what is now Israel.
Top image: The rare hoard, which includes Christian coins, has been linked to "one of the most dramatic events in the history of Caesarea." Source: Yaniv Berman
By Ed Whelan