This fascinating discovery was made during extensive excavation and conservation work in Caesarea: a small bronze pot holding 24 gold coins and a gold earring, was uncovered a few days ago at the Caesarea National Park. Archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority elaborated: “The cache is a silent testimony to one of the most dramatic events in the history of Caesarea – the violent conquest of the city by the Crusaders. Someone hid his fortune, hoping to retrieve it – but never returned.”
The gold cache was found hidden between two stones on the side of a well, in a house in a neighborhood dating to the Abbasid and Fatimid periods, some 900 years ago. It was found close to two other treasures of the same period. The first, a pot consisting of gold and silver jewelry, was discovered in the 1960s. The second, a collection of bronze vessels, was found in the 1990s. Both these treasures are on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
The treasure was found as part of a $40 million excavation and conservation project at the site, sponsored by the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation, in cooperation with the Caesarea Development Corporation, the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.
According to the directors of the excavation, Dr. Peter Gendelman and Mohammed Hatar of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “the coins in the cache dating to the end of the eleventh century, make it possible to link the treasure to the Crusader conquest of the city in the year 1101, one of the most dramatic events in the medieval history of the city. According to contemporary written sources, most of the inhabitants of Caesarea were massacred by the army of Baldwin I (1060 – 1118), king of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. It is reasonable to assume that the treasure’s owner and his family perished in the massacre or were sold into slavery, and therefore were not able to retrieve their gold.”
At the center of the excavation and conservation activity of the multi-year Caesarea project stands the impressive facade of the city’s ancient central public building. It was part of a sacred compound first built by Herod more than two millennia ago, as a tribute to his Roman patron, the emperor Augustus, and the goddess Roma. The newly discovered treasure was found in this area.
The well where the treasure was found was part of a house within the Fatimid and Abbasid neighborhoods, built some 1,000 years after Herod’s reign, below the western facade of the Herodian temple. These neighborhoods also extended to parts of the inner harbor of the Caesarea port, which had already silted up by that time.
According to Dr. Robert Kool, coin expert at the Israel Antiquities Authority, “the cache is of a unique combination of coins not yet seen in Israel consisting of two types of coins: 18 Fatimid dinars, well known from previous excavations in Caesarea where it was the standard local currency of the time; and a small and extremely rare group of six Byzantine imperial gold coins.
“Five of the coins are concave and belong to the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Michael VII Doukas (1071 – 1079). These coins did not circulate locally, and hint at contacts, possible trade relations between Caesarea and Constantinople during the period. One or two of these gold coins were the equivalent of the annual salary of a simple farmer, so it seems that whoever deposited the cache was at least well-to-do or involved in commerce.”
Michael Karsenti, CEO of the Caesarea Development Corporation commented: “With its discovery, we immediately mobilized our resources and this rare find is now displayed at the Caesarea Port from today onwards for the duration of the Hanukkah holiday.”
Guy Swersky, Vice Chairman of the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation, commented: “This valuable discovery reaffirms the importance of the fund’s decision to allocate an unprecedented sum of more than $40 million to conserve and restore the Old City and the port, making it accessible to hundreds of thousands of tourists from Israel and around the world. This is a project with economic significance for regional development, and another important contribution of the Rothschild Caesarea Foundation to the development of tourism and employment in the area.”
Israel Antiquities Authority director, Israel Hasson said: “Since its founding 2,030 years ago, and throughput the periods which followed, Caesarea has been a vibrant port city. Its significance and architectural wealth have made it one of the most important cities of the Roman and Byzantine empires. The archaeological excavations carried out at the site on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, which continue decades of earlier excavations, reveal many remains from the time of Herod until the Crusader period. In addition to the vast excavations at Caesarea National Park, the port is undergoing extensive conservation, restoration and development activities. The project is indeed one of the largest and most important conservation projects in Israel to date.”