City of gold

In the summer of 2007 I visited Israel with a small group as the guest of America’s Voices in Israel. Our group toured under the guidance of host Fern Oppenheim, who made sure we saw what should be seen and met those whom we should get to know.

One of the sites to which Fern took us was the incredibly interesting excavatation of Jerusalem’s City of David, an excavation that had only been undertaken in the past ten years. Yesterday Fern wrote to let us know that we had overlooked hundreds of seventh century gold coins turned up this week by a British tourist volunteering at the dig in a parking lot outside the Dung Gate in the City of David. The Jerusalem Post reports the discovery in “British tourist strikes gold in Jerusalem parking lot.”

UPDATE: Reader Bart Hall comments:

From the look of the coins in the article and general knowledge of the period, I think that they are almost certainly “solidi” (singular “solidus”), the standard Byzantine coin of the era. They weighed (at issue) about 4.5 grams, and as such were almost exactly 1/7 of a Troy ounce. Their bullion value is therefore about $120. Loosely put, the solidus was basically the “hunskie” of its era, though with intrinsic backing, rather than the promise of the Fed to replace it with a promise of equal value.

The solidus was introduced by Constantine in 312 CE and remained at its 4.5 g weight of gold for more than 600 years. When the Arabs introduced their “dinar” in the Middle East about 700 CE, it was 4.25 g of gold, which happened to be the typical weight of worn solidi. Those recently discovered coins were probably hidden around 680 CE when the political situation in the area became decidedly unstable. Twenty years later, solidi were illegal to use in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the region.

Malaysia, today, issues a widely popular gold dinar…at 4.25 grams.

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