Shekel of Tyre, c. 74/3 BC

Shekel of Tyre, c. 74/3 BC


AR Shekel, 14.32g (12h, 30mm). Bust of Melqarth r. with slight whisker, laureate, wearing lion-skin knotted round neck; border of dots / Eagle standing l. with r. foot on beak of ship, and palm-branch over r. shoulder; in l. field, date (ΓN); between legs of eagle, a Phoenician letter; in r. field letter (Z); around from r. downwards ΤYPOYIEP ΑΣ KAIAΣYΛΟY; border of dots.

Pedigree: Former Belgian private collection; Ex Jean Elsen 2007 (1991) lot 147; Ex Emile Bourgey 1978 (6 December) lot 623

References: BMC Palestine 144

Grade: Lovely image of Herakles. Some light shine to the surfaces and cabinet toning. Sharp strike and reasonably well-centered. EF (gk1216)

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The popular biblical coin Shekel of Tyre was mass produced starting in 126/5 BC and stopped around the time of the First Jewish War in 65/66 AD (although some were reported as late as 69 AD according to David Hendin’s book “Guide to Biblical Coins, 5th Edition (see p. 476).

The reverse of the shekel with an eagle exhibits great similarity to the coinage of the Seleucids, the areas previous overlords. The obverse of Seleucid coins bore the name of the King and his titles. The obverse of shekels after the Seleucid occupation changed from the King to an image of the god Heracles-Melqart. The Kings legends were replaced with “of Tyre the holy and city of refuge”.

Shekels of Tyre were used primarily as a form of donation to the Temple as bronze coins were meant for more every day purchases. Silver was not as readily available to the people and thus shekels would not have been used in daily transactions. There has been a question as to how Jews could have used a coin with a graven image on it (Jews did not have portraits on their coins) for such a holy purpose. The reason taken from the Mishnah was that the shekel was deemed “valid money” and was not unclean because it was not used for jewelry or weight. It was irrelevant that there was a graven image on the coin. The Jews accepted it due to the fact that it was valid money.

Around the time of the Jewish Revolt instead of the shekel going to the Jewish temple it was transferred to Rome in the form of a tax. This has led to even further discussions regarding the later issues showing a KP on the coin. The KP was suggested by Brooks Levy, a scholar on Tyre Shekels, that this was an abbreviation of “Kratos Romaion” which translates into “power of the Romans”. There are many theories regarding the production, mint location and purpose of the coinage. What is certain is that shekels represent an important part in the historical record of the area.