Hanukkah has begun, meaning Jewish children around the world are celebrating with the traditional gift of gelt, which to translate for all you goyim, means “money”. Today, gelt is synonymous with “gold coins” made of foil-wrapped chocolate, but centuries ago, the festival of lights was marked by sharing small amounts of actual money.

And in a twist of serendipity, a cache of centuries-old gold coins was just discovered in Israel.

In a press release issued on the first night of Hanukkah, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced that a bronze pot containing 24 gold coins and one gold earring had been unearthed from the ruins of the ancient port city of Caesarea Maritima.  

“It is symbolic that the gold coins were discovered on the eve of Hanukkah. For us, this is certainly ‘Hanukkah gelt,’” said Michael Karsenti, CEO of Caesarea Development Corporation, which co-led the dig. 

“The coins in the cache dating to the end of the eleventh century, make it possible to link the treasure to the Crusader conquest of the city in the year 1101, one of the most dramatic events in the medieval history of the city,” explained dig leaders Dr Peter Gendelman and Mohammed Hatar, of the IAA.

“According to contemporary written sources, most of the inhabitants of Caesarea were massacred by the army of Baldwin I (1100–1118), king of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. It is reasonable to assume that the treasure’s owner and his family perished in the massacre or were sold into slavery, and therefore were not able to retrieve their gold.”

OK, so that’s not really in the holiday spirit.

Between the second and 11th centuries, Caesarea was ruled by Byzantines then Arabic Caliphates. The region returned to Christian control when the Pope-backed Germanic Crusaders, led by Baldwin I, attacked in 1101. Researchers estimate the coin-filled pot was stashed away just prior to this dramatic takeover. Workers on the ongoing dig at what is now Caesarea National Park found the vessel in the well of a house that was built around the year 1000 CE.  

Eighteen of the coins are Fatimid dinars, known to have been the standard local currency of the time, and six are rare Byzantine imperial gold coins minted around 1071–1079 CE.

The coins were quickly put up for public display at the Caesarea Port, where they will remain until the holiday ends.