PUBLISHED: 07:24 EST, 27 July 2012 | UPDATED: 09:11 EST, 27 July 2012
- The coins are the first discovery of their kind in Israel
- Richard I beat Muslim leader Saladin’s army on the spot in 1191
- Stronghold was in use from 1241 until its destruction in 1265
- Just two of the 108 gold dinars could have provided for an extended family of 12 to 24 people for a month
A thousand-year-old pot of gold coins has been found hidden under the floor of a 13th century Crusader castle on the spot where Richard the Lionheart defeated Saladin.
The 108 ancient coins, one of the biggest collections found in Israel, were in a ceramic pot buried beneath a tile floor of the clifftop coastal ruins at Arsuf.
Professor Oren Tal, an archaeologist at Tel Aviv University, said: ‘It is a rare find. We do not have a lot of gold that had been circulated by the Crusaders.’
Glinting: The 108 ancient coins found under the ruins form one of the biggest collections ever discovered in Israel
The gold was found at a ruined castle in Arsuf, pictured
Arsuf, also known as Apollonia, overlooks the Mediterranean, and was the site where Richard I beat Muslim leader Saladin’s army on 7 September 1191.
The stronghold is located between the ancient ports of Jaffa and Caesarea and was in use from 1241 until its destruction in 1265.
The coins, mainly dinars (Islamic coins), date to the Fatimid Period of 900 to 1100 AD and were discovered by a university student during a dig.
They bear the names of sultans and blessings, and usually include a date and a mint name, which indicates where each one was struck.
Prof Tal said: ‘The scientific value is unprecedented. This is the first hoard of gold coins we have in Israel that we can date to the Crusader period.’
He believes the coins provide a vital clue to how large-scale economic transactions were made in a time of great historical importance, when the world’s two greatest cultures clashed.
Prof Tal said: ‘They were not afraid to use older coins in order to complete large transactions and run large-scale businesses.’
He believes this ‘pot of gold’ may be one of several hidden in the castle, remnants of Arsuf’s role as a business centre where industrial and agricultural goods were traded.
The discovery adds to the debate over gold circulation during the time of the Crusades – which were a series of military incursions into the region to establish Christianity.
It puts Fatimid-period coins, minted by Egyptian Sultans in the 10th and 11th centuries, in a Crusader context.
Digging for victory: Arsuf, also known as Apollonia, overlooks the Mediterranean, and was the site where Richard I beat Muslim leader Saladin’s army on 7 September 1191
Their use of gold from an earlier period is somewhat surprising, given that societies usually mint their own coins, for public relations reasons as well as economics.
Treasure: Richard the Lionheart’s stronghold was in use from 1241 until its destruction in 1265
Minting coins shows a culture has the wealth and ability to make its own currency, according to Prof Tal, feeding into a sense of independence and collective identity.
Although priceless, the cash value of the coins is difficult to pin down, he said.
A document found in the Cairo Genizah, a collection of Jewish manuscript fragments found in the Egyptian capital, hints at the worth of the hoard, suggesting that just two of the gold dinars could provide for an extended family of 12 to 24 people for a month.
Prof Tal said Arsur is a perfect time capsule due to its short period of occupation.
The findings from the castle, which also include pottery, glass and metal objects, arrowheads, and catapult stones, are a window into a different time.
They help researchers develop a working knowledge of the material culture of the Crusaders, and provide clues to interactions between the Islamic and Christian worlds.
The seigniory [authority] of Arsur was leased to the Military Order of the Hospitallers in 1261. The Order originally arrived in the Holy Land in the 12th century as a group of orderlies serving European pilgrims.
As evidenced by their use of the castle as a storage place for their profits, Arsur was one of their most important strongholds.
In 1265, the castle was attacked by the Egyptian Sultan Baybars, and after withstanding a forty day siege, the castle was eventually conquered. It has remained uninhabited ever since.
Famous battles: The Christian king took on the Muslim Sultan Saladin for control of Jerusalem and the coastal region to its north. Pictured, Channel 4 programme Lionheart