Photo Credit: Dafna Gazit, Antiquities Authority
The gold hoard.

A treasure of 44 pure gold coins was recently discovered in archaeological excavations carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority at the site of Paneas (known nowadays as Banias, since the local Arabs can’t pronounce the P sound), within the Hermon River Nature Reserve.

The first mention of the ancient city that was located on the site was during the Hellenistic period, in the context of the Battle of Panium in the region of Panion which was fought around 200–198 BCE. Gaius Plinius Secundus, a.k.a. Pliny the Elder, later named the city Paneas.

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All those names were derived from the name of the god Pan, who ruled over the wild, shepherds and flocks, rustic music and improvisations (so, it could be said he is the god of Jazz, too), and was the companion of the nymphs.

Mask of the god Pan, detail from a bronze stamnoid situla, 340-320 BCE, part of the Vassil Bojkov collection, Sofia, Bulgaria. / Gorgonchica

In ancient Greek folklore, the nymphs were minor female nature deities. Unlike Greek goddesses, nymphs were regarded as personifications of nature. They were typically connected to a specific place and were usually depicted as beautiful maidens. So, like hippies.

The excavations, funded by the Israel Electric Corporation, were carried out before connecting the adjacent Druze holy site Maqam Nabi Khadr to the national electricity grid.

Gabriela Bijovsky examines the coins from Banias. / Yaniv Berman, Antiquities Authority

Dr. Gabriela Bijovsky, IAA’s numismatic expert, examined the coin stash, composed entirely of solid gold coins, and identified some coins of Eastern Roman Emperor Phocas (602–610 CE), and many coins minted by Eastern Roman Emperor Heraclius (610–641 CE). The latest coins of Heraclius date the coin collection to the time of the Muslim Conquest of Byzantine-ruled Eretz Israel in 635 CE.

According to Dr. Yoav Lerer, Director of the excavation on behalf of the IAA, “the coin hoard, weighing about 170 g, was concealed within the base of an ashlar stone wall at the time of the Muslim conquest. The discovery reflects a specific moment in time when we can imagine the owner concealing his or her fortune under the threat of war, hoping to return one day to retrieve it.”

Lerer adds: “The discovery of the coin hoard may also shed light on the economy of the city of Banias during the last 40 years of Byzantine rule.”

The gold hoard / Yaniv Berman, Antiquities Authority.

“Most of the coins are of the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius,” adds Dr. Bijovsky, “and it’s particularly interesting that in his early years as emperor, only his portrait was depicted on the coin, whereas after a short time, the images of his sons also appeared. One can actually follow his sons growing up – from childhood until their image appears the same size as their fathers’, who is depicted with a long beard.”

In the excavation, which took place in the northwestern residential quarter of the ancient city of Banias, the remains of buildings, water channels, pipes, a pottery kiln, bronze coins, and fragments of many potteries, glass, and metal artifacts were found. The finds date to the end of the Byzantine period (early seventh century CE), and the early Middle Ages (11th–13th centuries).

Banias spring cliff Pan’s cave. / Gugganij

Banias, now a National Park, is an archaeological site that was settled around a large spring in several periods, first established by Canaanites, who dedicated a shrine there to the god Baal. In the Hellenistic period, Banias served as a cultic site for the god Pan. The settlement reached its peak in the Early Roman period, when Herod the Great, and his son Philip II, rebuilt the city entirely and named it Caesarea Philippi, literally “Philip’s Caesarea,” in honor of the Roman Emperor Augustus.

Exposing a water fountain, near the place where the hoard of gold coins was found. / Yoav Lerer, Antiquities Authority

According to Christian tradition, Banias was the place where the Apostle Peter proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah, and Jesus gave Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven. In the Byzantine period, a church was built next to the spring. During the Crusader period, in 1129, the Crusaders fortified the city to make it a military base from which to attack and conquer Damascus, but their plan failed when the Moslems conquered the city in 1132 CE.

According to Eli Escusido, Director of the IAA, “The coin hoard is an extremely significant archaeological find as it dates to an important transitional period in the history of the city of Banias and the entire region of the Levant. The IAA, together with the National Parks Authority, will work together to exhibit the treasure to the public.”

Raya Shurky, Director of the National Parks Authority: “The Banias Nature Reserve, endowed with its unique nature and landscape, does not cease to surprise us from a historical-cultural point of view. The gold coin hoard is on par with the Byzantine Church, possibly the Church of St. Peter, that was recently discovered. The finds include the remains of a mosaic floor and a stone engraved with many crosses, indicating that Banias became a Christian pilgrim site. The church, which was damaged in an earthquake that struck the north of the country, will soon be exhibited to the public visiting the nature reserve.”

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.