Persian Period

Coinage began entering Israel from the fifth century B.C.E. Few coins circulated in this early period and the ones that did were struck outside Judaea. The Persian period (circa. 4th century B.C.E.) saw the introduction of Judaea’s earliest coinage struck within the country.

These silver coins were either minted by, or for, the Jewish satraps (governors – פחות in Hebrew) appointed by the Persian government. Sometimes they bore the name of a governor or Kohain (priest), but usually just the name of the province Judaea herself, known in those days as Yehud. The coins bear the letter “YHD(H)” engraved in ancient paleo-hebrew, also known as Ktav Ivrit. The name “Yehud” has now been attached to the Judaean coins of this period by numismatists. A popular and rare Yehud coin is the coin of “Yechezkiah”. This coin also has engraved on it the title “HaPecha” which is the way the Jewish governors of Judaea are referred to in Tanach. The only other Yehud bearing a name is that of “Yochanan”. It is excessively rare and his function in Judaea is not known.

The Yehud coins were struck in very small denominatons of a Gerah also known as a ma’ah (obol)or its fractions. Yes, these are the Gerah which are mentioned in the Torah as fractions of the Shekel!

The coins are very small usually measuring 8mm or less in diameter and weighing from about .60 of a gram and downward. For a while they were considered very rare, because they were discovered only recently, being of such a tiny nature. However, as of late, although they are still rare compared to other ancient issues, many more of them have appeared on the market. Still, there are some very rare types of which only one or two specimens are known to exist, and high quality specimens are still always rare.

Coinage in Eretz Yisrael was not minted only in Yehud by the Judaeans. There was a much more vast mintage that took place in the Shomron (Samaria) by the Shomronim (Samarians or Samaritans.) Like the Yehud coinage they sometimes named officials or high priests. Their weight standard was slightly different and did not follow the standard of the Judaean shekel. Larger full weight obols are more common in the Samarian coinage.

There were other coins which are mentioned in the Tanach or Mishnah, directly and indirectly and which were mainly used by the Jewish community under the dominion of Persia. The most famous are the Gold Daric (Darkimon in Sefer Nechemia) and the Siglos. The siglos seems to be the denomination of Shekel Nechemia referred to when he asked the Judeans to give 1/3 shekel to the Bet HaMikdash. It happens to be that the Persian Shlish Shekel (siglos) is equivalent to the Machtzit HaShekel – half of a Biblical shekel. That would explain why Nechemia asked his countrymen for 1/3 of a shekel and not 1/2. He was refering to the weight of the Persian shekel they were familiar with. The Siglos itself however, is not known to have circulated in Israel proper.