Photo Credit: Nir Distelfeld, Israel Antiquities Authority
Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II on the gold coin discovered in Galilee

1,600 years after the edict of the Emperor Theodosius II led to the abolishment of the post of the Nasi prince of the Sanhedrin, a group of school students found rare evidence reflecting this dramatic moment in Jewish history.

In February 2019, four ninth-grade students on a navigation hike in the fields alongside the Zippori stream in the Galilee, adjacent to the “smart” Sanhedrin trail, spotted a gold coin on the ground. The syudents, Ido Kadosh, Ofir Sigal, Dotan Miller and Harel Grin, realized immediately that this was a significant find, and their geography and history teacher Zohar Porshyan contacted the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The three high school students who found the gold coin, with their teacher. / Suzi Frenkel

The students handed the coin to IAA anti-theft Inspector Nir Distelfeld, and took him the spot where they had discovered it. Distelfeld awarded the boys good citizenship certificates, and told them it is not very common to find gold coins thrown about in the fields since people took care not to lose them.

IAA numismatic expert Dr. Gabriela Bijovsky explained that “the gold coin is a solidus (relatively pure gold coin issued in the Late Roman Empire) minted by the emperor Theodosius II in Constantinople (now Istanbul) around 420–423 CE.”

The Goddess Victory holding the Staff of the Cross on the gold coin discovered in Galilee / Nir Distelfeld, Israel Antiquities Authority

According to Dr. Bijovsky, “Similar coins are known from the Eastern Byzantine empire, but this is the first of its type discovered in Israel. One side depicts the image of the emperor and the other shows the image of the Goddess Victory holding the Staff of the Cross.”

Theodosius II, a.k.a. Theodosius the Calligrapher, is mostly known for promulgating the Theodosian law code, and for the construction of the Theodosian Walls of Constantinople. He also presided over the outbreak of two great Christological controversies, Nestorianism and Eutychianism, which respectively debated the two natures of Jesus and the how the relationship between God and Man was solidified through Jesus.

In case you were curious…

According to IAA chief archaeologist of the Sanhedrin Trail Yair Amitzur, “The emperor Theodosius II abolished the post of the ‘Nasi’, the Prince of the Sanhedrin Council, and decreed that the Jews’ financial contributions to the Sanhedrin be transferred to the Imperial Treasury.”

Amitzur also noted that “the Sanhedrin Trail initiated by the IAA, tells the story of the Jewish leadership in the Galilee at the time of the Mishna and the Talmud in the Roman and Byzantine periods. It is symbolic that the gold coin discovered adjacent to the Sanhedrin trail reflects the period of dramatic events when the Sanhedrin ceased to function in the Galilee, and the center of Jewish life transferred from the Galilee to Babylon.”