The Present Study

According to Israeli law, all antiquities found in the State of Israel become the property of the state and must remain in the country.[258] All coins discovered during excavations are generally stored in the Coin Department of the Israel Antiquities Authority, where one can consult them with permission from the IAA.[259] Access to the coins, however, can be obstructed because of copyright laws: archaeologists holding an official excavation license from the IAA have exclusive publication rights over the excavated finds for thirty years. Only after that do archival materials become available publicly.[260] Thus, if somebody wants to publish material before then, official permission from the excavators must also be sought.

In the fall of 2019, I travelled to Israel/Palestine to access the IAA Coin Department’s online database and obtain full records on (almost) all the analyzed coins from excavated synagogues.[261] Thus, this project provides a complete overview of all (non-stray) coins found in ancient synagogues deposits. Furthermore, interviews with the original excavators gave me a better understanding of the contexts of the deposits, and many archaeologists shared with me photographs and images that had never been published. Unfortunately, I was still not able to collect every piece of information that may have been desirable. Many archaeologists who excavated the synagogues, for example, have passed away and their archives are lost. Other specialists I contacted never replied. Others refused to share their numismatic reports before final publication or could only provide partial information. Furthermore, publishing houses like the Israel Exploration Society did not give me permission to reproduce images from their book series for my website. All these limitations made building a database of coin finds a challenging endeavor. I have attempted to assemble as much information I could find on every coin deposit, including looking at pictures and field notes in the archives, and talking to excavators, but it should be clear that this project is not, and can never be, clear-cut and complete.

Finally, there are at least two recently excavated synagogues in which coin deposits have been found that could not be incorporated in this database.[262] The first is located at Umm el-Qanatir in the Golan, excavated since 2003 by Yehoshua Dray, Ilana Gonen, and Chaim Ben-David. Here, 7466 coins were discovered under or in between the pavement stones of the synagogue floor, and under the benches.[263] At the beginning of 2021, however, the coins were still in process of being cleaned by Dray and further analysis had not yet been conducted.[264] The only information known to me is that most coins are bronze, but a couple of gold ones were also discovered.[265] The second building is the synagogue of Arbel in Lower Galilee, currently under excavation by Benjamin Arubas on behalf of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. This building will be discussed in more detail in the part “SYNAGOGUE COIN DEPOSITS: THE FLOOR DEPOSITS” but according to sources I spoke to in 2020, here too recent excavations have discovered large numbers of coins that had previously been overlooked.[266] More details on these coins have not been released yet.

[258] Permission for the export of certain antiquities can be granted by the Israel Antiquities Authority, but this can be a long and difficult process (


[260] Ariel 2016, p. 110. For example, in this project, I was not allowed to publish the 14 Arab-Byzantine coins found at the synagogue of Rehob in 1974 since the excavators are still working on the final publication of the site.

[261] For how coins from archaeological excavations are stored and managed in Israel, see Ariel 2016.

[262] There might also be a third: the synagogue at H. Natur in the Upper Galilee. This synagogue has not been excavated, but oral testimonies attest that over the years residents of nearby settlements have collected thousands of coins from the site. Some members have reported and delivered 365 coins of those to the IAA, who have identified 199 of them; they can be dated to 425-450 CE. According to the members, the coins came from below the floor level (Ahipaz and Leibner 2021, p. 219, n. 27; Ilan, 1991, p. 33 (Hebrew); Yosef Stephanski, Rosh Hanikra Survey Map, Site 196: (Hebrew)).

[263] Dray, Gonen and Ben-David 2017, p. 216, p. 225: the coins were scattered all over under the floor, forming a sort of “carpet” of coins.

[264] Personal communication Yehoshua Dray.

[265] Personal communication Chaim Ben-David. Gold coins as part of a scattered “coin layer” under the floor would be very unusual. The fact that the synagogue has been dated to the late 6th century would also make this the youngest example of the phenomenon. The uniqueness of this site will be important for further research into this topic.

[266] Hundreds of coins from this site had already been collected over the years before the renewed excavations, see Dolev 1988. Approx. 500 have now been found in several groups under the floor in the renewed excavations (Ahipaz and Leibner 2021, p. 219, n. 31). I tried several times to get in contact with Arubas through email and phone calls, but never received a reply.