Tribute Penny Finds Reference in the Bible

27 Nov 2017  Mon

Many people would have died for earning the spot as emperor of Rome, but not Tiberius, as he wasn’t greedy for the title. He was Augustus’ stepson and became emperor in 14 AD upon Augustus’ death. His positive attitude helped him a lot as he conquered vast lands and increased the Empire’s treasury to three billion sestertii. However, he quickly decided to distance himself from the day-to-day workings of Rome. He progressively gave power to the Praetorian Prefect Sejanus which proved to be very unwise as Sejanus proceeded to arrest and murder most of the Julio-Claudian family behind Tiberius’ back.

He couldn’t take the subterfuge and politics that came along with the position and left Rome to retire on the island of Capri in 27 AD, effectively giving Sejanus free reign over the Empire. But, Sejanus was imprisoned and executed after he tried to conspire against him. When Tiberius eventually died, the succession was left to his nephew Caligula and grandson Tiberius Gemellus. Caligula took over and there was chaos everywhere as he developed into an evil character. He nullified Tiberius’ will and executed Gemellus, becoming the sole emperor.

Most of the emperors cared deeply about their coinage and would issue a vast range of designs, reflecting current events and progress made within the Empire. Tiberius was unconventional in his approach, leaving a single precious metal type in place for nearly the entirety of his twenty-three-year reign. Furthermore, the type itself was a duplicate from one of Augustus’ late emissions, indicating just how little focus Tiberius placed on his coinage.

This type proved to be one of the most widely used coinages in Roman history and ranks among the most familiar coins of antiquity. They circulated throughout the Empire and as far as India, with evidence that many pieces were used in the second century AD.

The reverse inscription of PONTIF MAXIM references Tiberius’ status as the head of the Roman state religion. The image on the reverse is generally interpreted as his mother Livia, seated and holding a laurel branch, representing Pax, the personification of peace.

The same type was also issued in silver, which came to be known as the “Tribute Penny” due to its famous reference in the Bible as the coin Jesus discussed to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

A similar passage exists within the Gospel of Thomas, referring specifically to the “Tribute Penny” as a gold coin like this aureus but the book was removed from the New Testament as the overall meaning of the message was not as clear and subtext could draw different conclusions as to the intent of Jesus’ statement. “They showed Jesus a gold coin and said to him: Caesar’s agents demand taxes from us. He said to them: Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar; give to God what belongs to God, and give to me what is mine.”

This coin came from the group which was found buried under the ash of Mt. Vesuvius in Pompeii. The toning happened because of the sulphur in the air, reacting with the metal of the coin. Roman aurei are some of the purest gold coinage ever minted but they still included small amounts of silver and copper.

As gold is among the least reactive of elements, it is the other metals which were alloyed with the gold that toned to produce the colors on this coin.

Tiberius (AD 14-37). AV aureus (19mm, 7.84 gm, 7h). Lugdunum, ca. AD 18-35. TI CAESAR DIVI AVG F AVGVSTVS, laureate head of Tiberius right / PONTIF MAXIM, Livia, as Pax, seated right, holding scepter and olive branch; chair with ornate legs, feet on footstool, a single line below. RIC 29. Calicó 305a. From the Boscoreale hoard, with prominent toning. Good VF. From The Lexington Collection.