Israel recovers looted coins created by Jewish rebels during the revolt against the Roman Empire

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This silver coin is a relic of the Jewish uprising against Roman rule known as the Great Revolt. (Courtesy of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office via JTA.org)

By Asaf Elia Shalev

A rare silver coin minted by Jewish rebels in defiance of the Roman Empire during the Great Revolt rebellion 2,000 years ago has been looted from an archaeological site and sold on the black market. Now, after years of work by American and Israeli investigators, the piece is returning to Israel.

The coin first surfaced in 2017 at a Denver auction with an estimated sale value of $500,000 to $1,000,000, but before it could be sold, security forces American order seized it.

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On Monday, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office announcement that after a years-long legal process, the coin was handed over to the Israeli authorities in a recent repatriation ceremony.

Dating to AD 69, the coin is a quarter shekel stamped with palm branches, a crown and the number four, marking the fourth year of the Great Revolt.

The coin is considered an extremely rare sample of a currency that was only in circulation for a few years as the Jews fought against the rule of Rome. In the year after the coin was minted, Roman forces looted and burned the Temple Mount. The Jewish rebellion ended in AD 73 with the fall of Masada.

“Coins like this were a very direct declaration of independence from the lands of Israel,” said Ilan Hadad, numismatics researcher and archaeologist at the Israel Antiquities Authority. told the New York Times. “They made them by scraping the images of emperors off Roman silver coins and re-stamping them.”

News of the looting of the coin from a site in the Ella Valley reached the Israel Antiquities Authority in 2002 through informants. Investigators tracked the piece for years as it was smuggled overseas. Eventually, it landed with collectors in London who put it up for auction in Denver, presenting the auction house with fake documents about the object’s origin. Authorities have not named the collectors.

Thousands of Jewish coins from the Great Revolt exist today, but there are only three other known quarter-shekel coins, which made this case of looting particularly significant.

“We are honored to return the quarter shekel, an extremely rare coin that has immense cultural value,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a written statement.

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