Photo Credit: Yaniv Berman/Israel Antiquities Authority
The moon goddess Luna with the zodiac sign of Cancer on the coin’s reverse side.

An exceptionally well-preserved, spectacular, rare bronze coin was recently recovered from the sea bed during an underwater archaeological survey conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority off the Carmel coast near Haifa.

The moon goddess Luna. / Dafna Gazit / Israel Antiquities Authority

The coin was minted under the emperor Antoninus Pius (138–161 CE) in Alexandria, Egypt. The reverse side depicts the zodiac sign of Cancer beneath a portrait of the moon goddess Luna. The coin bears the date ‘Year eight’, the eighth year of Antoninus Pius’s rule, or 144/145 CE. It belongs to a series of thirteen coins, twelve depicting the different signs of the zodiac and another the complete zodiac wheel.”

Emperor Antoninus Pius on the coin’s front. / Dafna Gazit / Israel Antiquities Authority
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According to IAA Maritime Archaeology Unit director Jacob Sharvit, “this is the first time such a coin has been discovered off Israel’s coast and it’s a rare addition to the National Treasures collection. Israel’s Mediterranean shores and waters have yielded many archaeological finds that attest to connections in antiquity between Mediterranean ports. These finds, which were lost at sea for hundreds and thousands of years, have been remarkably well preserved; some are extremely rare, and their discovery completes parts of the historical puzzle of our country’s past.”

The coin was discovered during an IAA survey to locate, document, research, and preserve antiquities sites and ancient finds—cultural assets that are being endangered by accelerated marine development.

Emperor Antoninus Pius. / Dafna Gazit / Israel Antiquities Authority

According to IAA Director Eli Eskosido, “in the last decade, the State of Israel has changed its perception of the sea. Rather than marking the country’s border, the sea is now recognized as an integral part of it in terms of its cultural heritage in addition to security considerations and strategic and economic concerns. Israel’s territorial waters contain natural resources and cultural assets that must be explored and protected. The maritime survey off Haifa is part of this process. The rare coin recovered during the survey is a vivid reminder of the importance of the survey.”

Bust of Emperor Antoninus Pius. / Bibi Saint-Pol

Interestingly, the ruler who minted the coin, Antoninus Pius, unlike his predecessors, was not a military man and never participated in battles. His reign was the most peaceful in the history of the Roman Empire and marked the height of the period of Pax Romana (Roman peace). Antoninus had a different approach to running the Roman Empire, preferring to deal with any foreign crises through provincial governors; in fact, he never left Rome. He encouraged and initiated the construction of temples, theaters, and magnificent mausoleums, and promoted science and philosophy.

During his rule, the empire’s relations with the Jews were greatly improved, the decrees of Hadrian were revoked, and Jews were allowed to practice circumcision. These steps led to amicable relations between the emperor and Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Nasi, head of the Sanhedrin during his rule and the final editor of the Mishna.

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