Jerusalem - Israeli archeologists said on Tuesday they found a rare, 1 300-year-old treasure under a car park just outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem - 264 golden coins from the Byzantine Empire.
The coins bear the image of Byzantine Emperor Heraclius, who ruled over the medieval successor to the Roman Empire from 610 to 641 AD.
A team led by Israeli archeologists Doron Ben-Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets found the coins on Sunday, during excavation work of a "large and very impressive" seventh-century building which began about two years ago.
According to Ben-Ami of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), the golden coin hoard is one of the largest ever found in Israel and the largest in Jerusalem.
The only previous time golden coins were found in Jerusalem was more than a decade ago and that hoard included only five coins, which also dated to the - late - Byzantine period, he told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
The coins, which are all identical, bear the image of the emperor Heraclius wearing military garb and holding a cross in his right hand.
Their reverse side carries a cross.
They were coined between the years 610 and 613 AD - in the first years of his reign and shortly before the Persians briefly conquered Byzantine Jerusalem in 614 AD.
In the early 610s, the Byzantines lost what is now Egypt, Syria, Israel and the Palestinian areas to the Persian Empire.
Heraclius recovered the lost provinces in three costly campaigns by 629 AD, but they fell shortly afterwards to the Muslim Arabs, who would subsequently rule the land for the next four centuries through caliphs seated in Damascus, Baghdad and Egypt - until the Crusaders and then the Ottoman Turks took over.
The 264 Heraclius coins found this week bear no marks or scratches and seem to have never been in use, said Ben-Ami, a doctor in archeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
"They were totally new and they were obviously sent to one high-ranking individual here in Jerusalem, who had meant to use them but had not had the time because the Persian conquest of Jerusalem in 614 brought about the destruction of his building," he said.
The type of coin with this specific Heraclius image is well known, Ben-Ami said, but he pointed out that those found elsewhere in the world thus far bear the marks of other mints, while the ones uncovered in Jerusalem carry an unfamiliar mark and were made by a previously unknown mint.
He noted that while ancient bronze coins had been and were being found all over Jerusalem and Israel constantly, golden ones were an extremely rare find.
The IAA spoke of a "Hanuka" treasure, because the cache was found on the first eve of the eight-day Jewish Hanuka holiday, when Jews traditionally hand out (chocolate) coins to their children.
The Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire came into existence when the Roman Empire split in the fourth century AD.
With Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) as its capital, it ruled over large parts of the eastern Mediterranean until the Ottoman conquest in 1453. - Sapa-dpa