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King Agrippa I

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Some of the most popular coins of ancient Judaea and the surrounding areas are those of King Agrippa I. His numismatic issues are suitable for all collectors - from the most common $30 - $40 average prutah depicting three grains and the royal umbrella, to very rare portrait coins which in high grade can easily climb into the five figures.

Agrippa I was the grandson of Herod, by his son Aristobulus. He lived from 11/10 B.C.E. until 44 C.E. and died suddenly under suspicious circumstances (probably poisoning). Agrippa ruled from 37 to 44 C.E.. His original areas of dominion were the Northern territories of Antipas, given to him by Caligula. Eventually emperor Claudius  also bequeathed the province of Judaea to him. Agrippa had proved his loyalty to both Roman Emperors, by enduring imprisonment because of his support for the former emperor, and by advocating and helping bring about the reign of the latter.

In many ways Agrippa was a far better politician and people-person than his famous grandfather Herod the Great. He was unstintingly loyal to Rome as a client king. Yet, at the same time his policies promoted the well being of Judea and he was well loved by its people. The ancient Jewish writings (Mishna & Talmud) generally portray him in a very positive light.

Though, Josephus depicts him as possibly flamboyant, irresponsible and adventurous, if true, his reign proves otherwise. We see a king who took his responsibilities seriously, as he did his religion, and as one who grew and matured into a capable and respected leader. Numismatically, he maintained the Jewish tradition striking coins devoid of graven images on the issue (royal umbrella/grain stalks prutah) struck in Jerusalem. However, since Agrippa did rule over territories largely inhabited by gentiles, other coins more reflective of typical Roman provincial coinage were struck there. Those coins are much rarer, but often bear portraits of Agrippa himself. In one way however, these coins differ from typical Roman coinage. Instead of stressing the local cult or local gods, they bear motifs related to the Imperial family, the king's own family or his relationship with Rome.

A midrash [Vayikra Raba 3:5] (Circa. 5th Century collection of Jewish stories and teachings) which wishes to teach us the value of the charity given by the poor, also casts light on the character of King Agrippa. 

Here goes the story:

King Agrippas wished to offer up a thousand burnt offerings in one day.

He sent to tell the High Priest: ‘Let no man other than myself offer sacrifices today!’

There came a poor man with two turtle-doves in his hand, and he said to the High Priest: ‘Sacrifice these.’

Said he: ‘The king commanded me, saying, "Let no man other than myself offer sacrifices this day."’

Said he: ‘My lord the High Priest, I catch four [doves] every day; two I offer up, and with the other two I sustain myself. If you do not offer them up, you cut off my means of sustenance.’

The priest took them and offered them up.

In a dream it was revealed to Agrippas: ‘The sacrifice of a poor man preceded yours.’

So he sent to the High Priest, saying: ‘Did I not command you thus: "Let no one but me offer sacrifices this day"?

‘Said [the High Priest] to him: ‘Your Majesty, a poor man came with two turtle-doves in his hand,

and said to me: "I catch four birds every day; I sacrifice two, and from the other two I support myself. If you will not offer them up you will cut off my means of sustenance." Should I not have offered them up?’

Said [King Agrippas] to him: ‘You were right in doing as you did.’

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