Bar Kochba Sela

Bar Kochba Sela


Bar Kochba Sela


The coin that you received is a replica of a silver "sela" from the "Bar Kochba Revolt", also known as the "Second Revolt".  The revolt took place from 132 to 135 C.E. in Judea, modern Israel, against the Roman government.  This coin is from 135 CE, near the end of the revolt.  The front of the coin shows the front of the Jewish Temple. It is inscribed SHIMON which was Shimon Bar Kochba, the leader of the revolt's first name.  Shimon, a common Hebrew name from biblical times until today (you may even know someone named Shimon).  Bar Kochba meaning "Son of the Star" based on the verse "There shall come a star out of Jacob" since some at the time ascribed messianic attributes to Shimon Bar Kochba. The back of the coin is inscribed in ancient Paleo-Hebrew script with "For the Freedom of Jerusalem" and shows a picture of a palm branch and a citron, used in Jewish ceremony on the Sukot festival. 

Sela Front Words

Front of the Coin:

The front of the Sela shows the facade of the Temple, which had been destroyed 65 years earlier. In the center of the four columns through the open door you can see the inside of the temple.  The object with the rounded top and the two dots in the center is the Ark of the Covenant which held the two tablets of the Ten Commandments. The dots depict the poles used to carry the ark.  Above the building is a wavy line which is the golden grape vine that adorned the front of the temple.  Below the building the ladder like image represent the 12 steps that led up to the temple, seen from the side.  On the right are the letters "Sh" and "M" and on the left are the letters "O" "e" "N", spelling SHIMON.

Sela Front Explained

Back of the Coin:

Sela Back Words

The back of the Sela shows a palm branch with a holder in the middle that has a willow branch and a myrtle branch.  To the left of the palm branch is a citron, a lemon like fruit. The branches and citron, lulav and etrog in Hebrew are used on the Sukot holiday which is celebrated in the fall.  Starting at the 5 o'clock position and proceeding counter clockwise the letters spell out "Lherut Yerusem" "For the Freedom of Jerusalem".  The L in Jersualem is missing in this version of the coin.  These coins were minted by the Jewish rebels while in hiding, often in caves.  Quality assurance suffered due to the difficult conditions.

Sela Back Explained

Minting the coins.

As part of the revolt Shimon Bar Kochba issued coinage to help establish the legitimacy of his governance.  He called his state "Beit Yisrael", The House of Israel, and appointed himself "Nasi", ruler or head of state.  The rebels took coins already in circulation, mainly Roman coins, and repurposed them.  They filed off the images on the coin and re-struck them with their designs.  The Sela is based on the silver tetradrachm weighing about 12 to 14 g.  The designs of Bar Kochba's coins did not contain any human or animal images so as to avoid the prohibition of "graven images".  The font used for the coin is Palaeo-Hebrew, which was not in common use at the time. If you show your coin to someone who knows modern Hebrew, they will most likely not be able to read it. Bar Kochba chose this old font to emphasize their ties to ancient Israel.  They presented themselves as a continuation of Jewish sovereignty and self-rule, with roots going back to Biblical times. They were not a new government, but a return to the old Jewish sovereignty that ruled for thousands of years.  Since they were unfamiliar with this font, the shapes of letter are inconsistent and the coins often contain misspellings.


Results of the Revolt

Bar Kochba's revolt enjoyed early successes and they were able to maintain independence for 2½ years.  It is believed that the rebels were able to destroy an entire legion of the Roman Army.  In 133 and 134 the Romans brought in troops from Britain and Europe which put down the revolt with harsh tactics.  Towns were burnt to the ground, thousands were killed. Over 100,000 Jews were sold into slavery. The last stronghold of the revolt was the town of Betar.  After a siege, the town was massacred and the Romans did not allow the Jews to bury their dead for 3 years. The Judean Date palm which was a major crop and highly valued in the ancient world was wiped out and became extinct for 2000 years.  Recently Israeli scientists have managed to sprout some very old date pits, and there is an attempt to reestablish the strain of dates.


The Roman Emperor Hadrian had enough of the Jews rebelling and trying to regain independence.  In an effort to wipe out all memory of the bond between the Jews and the Judea, Hadrian changed the name of the province from Judea to "Syria-Palestina".  Palestina being the Romanization of the Philistines, the nemesis of the Biblical Jews.  This is how the region became known as Palestine.  Jerusalem was renamed Aelia Capitolina and dedicated to the God Jupiter. Many of the details of the revolt were unknown for 2 centuries. The Romans were not eager to document the revolt and the Jews were not in a position to record the revolt, since they were utterly defeated.

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