Coin of Alexander Jannaeus, by Christine Mikeska

Hasmonean 2This coin was minted in the name of Alexander Jannaeus, the king of Judea from 103-76 BCE. One side is imprinted with an anchor encircled by the words “of King Alexander” in Greek script, while the other displays an eight pointed star with the words “King Yehonatan” in paleo-Hebrew. This combination speaks to a world in which foreign symbols have been incorporated into local symbol-reading vernacular – although, as is common with symbolic communication, more than one reading is possible. The anchor can be read as a general symbol of victory (Magness 2012) or a specific reference to Seleucid imperial ideology (Berlin 1997); the star might recall Judean stamped jar handles intended for the temple in Jerusalem or an older Macedonian indication of royalty, as on the gold larnax found in the so-called Tomb of Philip at Vergina. Though the Hasmonean monarchy represents itself in historical narratives such as 1 Maccabees as decidedly anti-Hellenistic, the symbols that Jannaeus here employs suggest a different story. As the most public display of royal authority, archaeologists use the coins to distinguish the bounds of that authority. Large quantities are taken as evidence of Hasmonean takeover, while few or no coins suggest the limits of the kingdom. Thus, Jannaeus’ coins reveal both physical boundaries and symbolic understandings in Hasmonean Judah.

Bibliography:

Berlin, Andrea. “Between Large Forces: Palestine in the Hellenistic Period.” Biblical Archaeologist 60.1 (1997): 2-51.

Magness, Jodi. The Archaeology of the Holy Land: From the Destruction of Solomon’s Temple to the Muslim Conquest. Cambridge: Cambridge UP (2012): 104-105.