The Bar Kochba Rebellion
132 - 135 CE
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After the destruction of the Temple, the Jewish High Priesthood lost its center and authority. But the dream of rebuilding the Temple still smouldered.

Sixty-two years after the Temple burned, the Roman Emperor Hadrian proposed to build a new city on the site of Jerusalem, including a temple to Jupiter on the site of the former Jewish temple. This triggered a new Jewish rebellion of surprising intensity under Simon Bar Kochba, and for three years the region was back in Jewish hands. It became Hadrian's one major war, requiring a concerted effort by the Roman military to finally stamp out the rebellion.

Hadrian is known to history as one of the "good" Roman emperors. His predecessor, Trajan, had been a conqueror, expanding the Roman Empire to its largest size ever. Hadrian, though, had withdrawn on the more troublesome fronts, building huge walls (such as Hadrian's Wall in northern England) to keep the "barbarians" at bay. He was known as a philosopher and a poet, and he sponsored laws that were considered the model for humaneness in their day, such as the law against castrating young boys to create eunuchs. But apparently, he wasn't aware of the distinction between castration and circumcision, and the two got lumped together. Suddenly, a bris (Jewish ceremonial circumcision) was punishable by death. This did not increase his popularity among Jews.

Emperor Hadrian, 117-138 CE
About this coin: This coin, minted between 128 and 138, features a later portrait of Hadrian on the obverse, and a figure combining features of "Victory" and "Nemesis" (both were winged female figures) on the reverse. Some authorities believe it refers to the Bar Kochba war, though that view is far from universal.

Instead of looking outward, as had Trajan, Hadrian turned his attentions inward. He traveled the empire widely, and minted a series of coins to record his travels and honor the major destinations.

Hadrian "Judaean Travel" Sestertius
About this coin: Hadrian minted a series of coinage to honor the places he visited in his travels. This is a well worn example of a rare type he minted for Judaea, referring to his visit in 130 CE. It is not known whether this coin was minted shortly before, during, or after the Bar Kochba rebellion. However, since it commemorates his arrival and contains a rather pleasant scene, I find it more likely that it was minted either before or just shortly after the hostilities broke out, before the extent of the rebellion was known. (H. 798)

On the reverse, Hadrian stands to the left, holding his hand up, an altar at his feet. A figure of a woman (representing Judaea) stands to the left, holding out an offering. At her feet, two children hold palm branches.

The black & white illustration above is used by gracious permission of David Hendin, from his "Guide to Biblical Coins" (3rd Edition). To learn more, visit his web site at

During Hadrian's travels, he determined to build a magnificent new city on the ruins of Jerusalem, with a magnificent new temple dedicated to the Roman god Jupiter on the ruins of the Jewish Temple. He apparently didn't expect much resistance. Well, we all make mistakes.

The Jewish presence was still strong in the region, and the dream of rebuilding the Temple still smouldered. Hadrian's plans fanned this dream back to flame, and rebellion flared up. Simon Bar Kochba, a Jewish leader of massive physical strength (whom many believed to be the Messiah), rallied the Jews. Caught by surprise, the Roman forces in the region were defeated. Jerusalem and its surrounding area were once again under control of Jews.

Bar Kochba Rebellion,
Year 2, 133/134 CE
This large bronze coin was minted by the Jews during the rebellion. The reverse legend says, "For the Freedom of Israel". Later issues changed the legend to "For the Redemption of Israel", making it appear they were aware that they were losing. (H. 708)

A glorious series of coinage was minted by the Jews, containing legends proclaiming the "Freedom of Israel". These coins were usually struck over the top of an existing coin, and you can often make out the remnants of the old design under the new. One of my favorites (not in my collection, alas!) was a silver coin clearly minted over a Vespasian "Judaea Capta" denarius. The shape of Vespasian's portrait and the weeping Jewess are still visible.

But the concentrated might of the Romans was brought to bear on the region, and it became clear that Rome would eventually prevail. In recognition of this, the legends were changed in the final year to "For the Redemption of Israel", looking to spiritual redemption rather than physical freedom.

The rebellion was crushed, and Simon Bar Kochba was captured by the Romans, who put him to death shortly thereafter. Hadrian then went ahead with his plans to level Jerusalem and raise a new city on the site, which he named Aelia Capitolina. Where a Jewish Temple had stood for so long, there was now a temple dedicated to Jupiter. Jews were forbidden to enter the new city, and Jewish power in the region was finally broken. It would not be until modern times that the Jewish dream of rebuilding Jerusalem as the capitol of a Jewish homeland would be realized.

Hadrian/Sabina Bronze
from Aelia Capitolina
About this coin: This coin was minted some time after Bar Kochba, in the new Roman city named Aelia Capitolina that Hadrian built on top of the ruins of Jerusalem. It features his portrait on the obverse, and his wife Sabina on the reverse.

Surprisingly, being without a homeland, without a central focal point for their culture and religion, did not cause the Jewish people to lose their identity, but it profoundly reshaped their destiny -- but that's another story.

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