A stash of extremely rare gold coins dating back some 900 years was found by archaeologists in Caesarea, Israel, earlier this month. They think it is likely the coins once belonged to a wealthy family fleeing conquest on the eve of the bloody Crusade of 1101.
The small but valuable cache was discovered between two stones in a 1.5 meter-deep well. By all appearances, the valuables were hidden in haste by someone who intended to retrieve them later but never returned.
“It really seems to add up to the Crusader conquest, which was a pretty dramatic event,” said Dr. Robert Kool from the Israel Antiquity Authority.
In all, there were 24 gold coins (including six incredibly rare Byzantine Empire coins and 18 from the Fatimid-era) and a single gold earring in a small bronze pot with a makeshift ceramic lid.
“On the whole they are very, very rare,” said Kool. “These coins usually did not travel beyond the political borders of the Byzantine Empire.”
Archaeologists believe the coins belonged to a family of wealthy traders who would have likely done business internationally, due to rarity of the currency.
“I would even say somebody who had some kind of trade connections with Constantinople due to the exceptional coins from empire of Constantinople,” said Kool. “We never, ever find them here. They were not in circulation.”
He added that people of that era appreciated the value of gold and knew how many karats were in a coin. While the Byzantine pieces were 22k, the Fatimid coins were all 24k gold.
The port city of Caesarea was the site of a massacre that took place in the year 1101, when the army of Baldwin I defeated the Fatimid ruler, during which time, a large portion of its inhabitants were either slain or taken as slaves, according to a statement from the IAA.
“The cache is a silent testimony to one of the most dramatic events in the history of Caesarea: the violent conquest of the city by the Crusaders,” the statement from the IAA added.
“It is reasonable to assume that the treasure’s owner and his family perished in the massacre or were sold into slavery, and therefore were not able to retrieve their gold.”
The find took place during a $40 million conservation project excavation at a Caesarea World Heritage site, where two similar finds were made over the last century: a pot of gold with silver jewels that were discovered in the 1960s, and a collection of bronze vessels in the 1990s—both date back to the same period as this most recent stash.
Both treasures are now on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.