Herod the Great (ruled 40 B.C.E. – 4 B.C.E.), son of Antipater the Idumean who was the Prime Minister for Hyrcanus II, was named King of Judaea by the Roman Senate in 40 B.C.E. However, it was not until 37 B.C.E. that with the help of Roman general Sossius, he conquered Jerusalem and deposed the last Hasmonean King, Mattathias Antigonus. Herod started striking coins in Samaria most likely in 37 B.C.E. After conquering Jerusalem he continued a vast mintage of a variety of coins until the end of his reign.
Herod was a man with a dual reputation. Paranoid and cruel, Herod murdered his brother-in-law, Hasmonean wife Miriam and their two sons Alexander and Aristobulus. He forbade public gatherings and killed anyone who he perceived as a threat. In addition he laid heavy taxes upon the Judeans and ran a tyrannical monarchy.
When it came to his public image, Herod took care to impress the Roman and Greek world. Immense public works and the construction of various Temples were financed in the Greco-Roman world by the King of Judaea. In Israel itself Herod founded and built cities, such as Caesarea and Sebaste, built fortresses and palaces and most notably rebuilt the second temple and enlarged the temple plaza. The Temple of Herod was a most beautiful building bar none. Even his adversaries, the sages, stated “He who has not seen the building of Herod has not seen a beautiful building.”
As mentioned above, Herod struck a series of coins in Samaria in 37 B.C.E. These coins are truly of a Herodian quality and are quite artistic and well executed. These coins may very well be the coins refered to by Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel in Kiddushin 12a.
The bulk of Herods coins were minted in later years in Jerusalem and exhibit symbols which are more Judaean. However the quality and execution of these coins is inferior.
Still, there was a number of interesting types struck, such as a series with what is considered to be a Temple table, lulavim and hadasim, as well as an extremely rare type which ostensibly depicts the grape vine which hung over the entrance to the table. In spite of depicting these objects, Herod refrained overall from depicting graven images on his coins, as had been the previous practice of the Hasmoneans. Thus there were no coins struck with the image of Herod as were for many Greco-Roman rulers. The only exception is one small bronze coin which depicts an eagle, likely representing the eagle that Herod hung at the entrance to the Temple.
Herod’s sons and descendants ruled after him altough none of his sons was allowed the title of ‘King” by the emperor Augustus. All of his sons also minted coins, including:
Herod Archelaus – Tetrarch in Judaea (ruled 4 B.C.E. – 6 C.E.) Archelaus struck a variety of bronze coins in the denominations of one prutah and two prutot, some resembling those of his father Herod, until he was banished by Emperor Augustus in 6 C.E.
Herod Antipas – Tetrarch of the Galilee and Peraea (ruled 4 B.C.E. – 40 C.E.) Antipas struck a variety of denominations with the same or similar designs. His coins are much rarer than those of Archelaus. A unique unknown type of the Prutah size was recently discovered by David Hendin, but he also struck coins in four other denominations. Antipas founded the city of Tiberias in honor of Tiberius Caesar. His earlier capitol was in Sepphoris – Tzipori. Both these cities would play a prominent role in the history of the Jewish people a few centuries later.
Herod Philip – Tetrarch of Ituraea and Herod’s former territoty East and Northeast of the Sea of Galilee (ruled 4 B.C.E. – 34 C.E.) Herod Philip’s territories were mostly inhabited by gentiles and so he was the only one of Herod’s sons to bear a portrait of himself on his coins. Philip is thus the earliest Jewish ruler to be depicted on a coin. His coins are also rare. Both the coins of Antipas and Philip when found are usually in poor condition.
Agrippa (Agrippas HaMelech) (ruled 41 – 44 C.E.) Agrippa figures prominently in the Mishna and the Talmud. Agrippa received his first territories from his boyhood friend Emperor Caligula. They did not include Judaea. Soon his rule was enlarged by the Emperor Claudius whose emperorship Agrippa was instrumental in securing. Claudius gave him Judaea as well.
Agrippa followed the laws of the Pharisees and was well respected by the people. He was very nationalistic and embarked on a project of building an impenetrable wall around Jerusalem but was ordered to stop by the Romans.
Agrippa’s largest coin issue was struck in the year 41/42 C.E. and consists of a prutah denomination with three sheafs of grain on the obverse and a royal umbrella on the reverse. The date and “King Agrippa” are also inscribed. In some of his other provinces most of the population were gentiles. They depicted the image of their king on their coins. As a result we are now able to visualize the bust of the Judaean King Agrippa.