The First Days of Christmas:
Six Ancient Coins That Celebrate the Birth of Jesus and the Observation of His Birthday
The story of the Nativity begins with the unusual circumstances concerning the place of Jesus’ birth. “In those days,” according to Luke 2:1, “Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.” A pregnant Mary thus went with her husband Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem to fulfill this civic obligation, and in that city of David gave birth to the Son of God.
Soon after the Nativity, Herod the Great, the Roman puppet king of Judaea, was visited by Magi, “wise men from the East” who came in search of the Messiah—the King of the Jews. Fearful of a coup, Herod divined from his priests that this Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, as prophesized in Micah 5:2. Herod tried to enlist the Magi to help him find the newborn king, but the “wise men” spurn him.
While these events are well chronicled in the Gospels, one key detail is omitted; the actual date of the birth of Jesus. It was not until the third century that Christians decided on December 25 as a fixed date for His feast day—the “Christ Mass”—appropriating the feast day of a pagan god during the reign of the Roman Emperor Aurelian. By establishing Christianity as the official state religion of the Empire in the fourth century, Constantine the Great certified the date of Christmas as December 25.
Perhaps no story encapsulates the Christmas spirit more than the Parable of the Widow’s Mite. The parable of Mark 12:41-44, repeated in Luke 21:1-4, is understood to both extol the virtues of charity and impugn the vices of avarice. As Jesus remarked in Matthew 19:24, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
Certificate of Authenticity
This remarkable collection features three coins issued by rulers associated with the Nativity—Caesar Augustus, Herod the Great, and Azes II, believed to be the Eastern king who sent the Magi to Bethlehem—as well as Aurelian and Constantine the Great. Rounding out the set is a small bronze coin struck during the reign of Alexander Jannaeus, one of the last Jewish kings before the Roman annexation of Palestine, known as “mites.”
1. Augustus, Prefect Issued: AD 6-12 Material: Bronze Weight: 1.4 - 2.5 g Denomination: Prutah Diameter: 13.5 – 18 mm 8 Obverse: branched palm Reverse: Ear of barley
2. Herod I Issued: 37- 4 BCE Material: Bronze Weight: 1.2-1.9 g Denomination: Prutah Diameter: 12-13.5 mm Obv: Anchor Rev: Double cornucopia
3. Azes II Issued: 35-12 BCE Material: Bronze Weight: 1.6-2.1 g O Denomination: Drachm Diameter: 11-12.9 mm Obv: King Azes II on horseRev: Standing figure; Kharoshthi
4. Aurelian Issued: AD 270-275 Material: Bronze Weight: 2.7-3.7 g Denomination: AE Diameter: 21-23.5 mm Obv: Portrait of emperor Rev: Various contemporary political, military, and religious themes
5. Constantine I Issued: AD 307-337 Material: Bronze Weight: 1.5-3.5 g Denomination: AE Diameter: 15-23 mm Obv: Portrait of emperor Various Rev: Contemporary political, military, and religious themes
6. A. Jannaeus Issued: 103-76 BCE Material: Bronze Weight: 1.5-2.7 g Denomination: Prutah Diameter: 14-16.5 mm Obv: Anchor Rev: Star