Photograph courtesy of Nir Distelfeld and the Israel Antiquities Authority

A group of four students from Israel have discovered an extremely old and rare gold coin while out orienteering with their school in the north of the country.

The coin they found is a Solidus; a near-pure gold coin from the Byzantine Empire – what was in effect the Eastern Roman Empire. This specific coin was produced around 420-423 AD according to the Israel Antiquities Authority.

These coins were minted at around 4.5 grams in weight and aimed for 24-carat purity, though inefficient refining of the time likely put it at 23-carat – still a notable achievement for this era of history.

The coin was discovered in the Galilee region of Northern Israel, as circled. Image courtesy of Google Maps.

The Year 10 pupils, from Haemeq Hamaaravi High School in Kibbutz Yifat, were exploring in the Galilee region in February this year when they discovered the coin. After showing their teacher, the Israel Antiquities Authority were informed of the find, at which point they took possession of the relic – the first coin of its kind found in Israel.

The Byzantine reach covered the Middle East between 395 – 1453 AD. The Solidus coin was introduced as a small tender trading token in 301 AD by Diocletian to replace the Aureus, but it was only fully introduced in 312 AD by Constantine I.

Photograph courtesy of Nir Distelfeld and the Israel Antiquities Authority

Solidus is unsurprisingly is the latin word for ‘solid’. It's also believed to be the origin of the word Soldier, seeing as the Roman troops were paid with Solidus coins.

This Solidus coin bears the portrait of the emperor Theodosius II who ruled from the empire’s capital, Constantinople (modern day Istanbul). The reverse bears Victoria – the Goddess of Victory – wielding the Staff of the Cross. This is a Christian take on the Staff of Hermes, which Victoria used to proclaim victory in Hermes’ stead.