Jerusalem's Jewish War,

Masada, and the "1/8 Shekel"

of the Heroic Resisters against Rome

During the fourth year (69/70 CE) of the five year heroic revolt against the Romans (known as The Jewish War), the first "siege coins" ever minted were struck by Jewish resisters in Jerusalem. Only they and the Zealots of Masada, under ben Yair, remained to fight by the time the coin below was minted. [Hendin, Guide to Biblical Coins, 3rd Ed., p. 165-179, 1996]. The mountaintop fortress of Masada, 400 m. above the Dead Sea Shore, housed the fewer than 1,000 men, women and children who held out against the 15,000 Tenth Legion Romans for close to two years. The two photos on top show the fortress' cable car access and view of the Dead Sea. A fully functional town served the community. The center photo shows its Synagogue. Masada had been the stronghold of Herod. (Western and Hanging Palace of Herod shown in the photo lower left.) The Romans ultimately breached the walls of Masada after building a huge earth ramp to the top. (Photo lower right.) The entering Romans found only five people alive (2 women and 3 children) -- the rest of the community had committed suicide! Legend has it that ben Yair's final oration concluded with the words: "Let us die unenslaved by our enemies, and leave this world as free men in company with our wives and children." [Josephus, The Jewish War, 1st C. CE] Today, new recruits in the Israeli Army climb to the fortress to swear "Masada will not fall again."

Jerusalem, Bronze "1/8 Shekel" (AE20), Year 4 (69 CE). Obverse: Chalice with pearled rim: Hebrew around (To the redemption of Zion).

Reverse: Lulav flanked by Etrog surrounded by Hebrew (Year 4) [Hendin, 670]

Q: Why is this coin's description as a "1/8 Shekel" placed in quotation marks?

A: Neither the term "Shekel" nor "1/8" appears on this coin. The siege bronze coins have three size types: one inscribed "half," one "quarter," and this coin with no denomination but assumed to be half of one quarter. It is believed that the coins represent allusions to fractions of the Jewish Silver Shekel [Hendin, Guide to Biblical Coins, 3rd Ed., p. 168, 1996]

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