Biblical Archaeology Review 36:1, January/February 2010

Strata: How Many?

How many coins bear the likeness of Herod the Great?

Answer: 0

Given that Herod the Great (37–4 B.C.) ruled over Judea for more than 30 years and built some of the ancient world’s most impressive monuments, it might seem odd that not a single coin has been found that bears the king’s likeness. After all, most of Herod’s neighbors and contemporaries, including the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus, queen Cleopatra of Egypt and the Nabataean king Obodas III, issued coins emblazoned with their portraits.

But as the ruler of a Jewish kingdom where the production of graven images was prohibited by Biblical law, Herod did not want to offend the masses (or the Temple priests) by placing his portrait on the kingdom’s coins. Instead, Herod, like his Hasmonean predecessors, decorated his coins with depictions of common Jewish religious symbols like the menorah and the pomegranate. It was only after Herod’s death and the division of his kingdom among his three sons that Herod’s son Philip (4 B.C.–34 A.D.), who ruled over the largely non-Jewish populations of the Golan, began placing his portrait on Judean coinage.

Join the BAS Library!

Already a library member? Log in here.

Institution user? Log in with your IP address.