Carl Savage finds rare coin in Israeli dig.

Savage found this coin, one of only seven known Cleopatra and Marc Antony coins known to exist. Photo by Hanan Shafir, Bethsaida Excavations
Savage found this coin, one of only seven known Cleopatra and Marc Antony coins known to exist. Photo by Hanan Shafir, Bethsaida Excavations.

Drew Theological School professor Carl Savage knew he had unearthed something big when he dumped a bucket of soil into a sifter at an archeological site in Israel on June 11, 2012. A bronze coin emerged with the face of a man on one side and the face of a woman on the other. Savage recognized them as two of the most famous lovers in history. “You could see it was Cleopatra. Marc Antony wasn’t so clear,” he says.

But the uniqueness of his find did not become clear until recently, when an Israeli newspaper (free registration required) reported that it is one of only seven coins ever found bearing likenesses of the star-crossed couple. The coin was minted around 34 BC, when Roman general Marc Antony was the world’s most powerful man. Four years later he and Cleopatra, queen of Egypt, committed suicide.

Savage learned of the article, which has since flown around the Internet, on Facebook. He was not surprised that he was not credited with finding the coin. The newspaper’s website, Haaretz.com, reported that the coin “. . . emerged last year from the ruins of a first-century house at Tel Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee.” It is now the property of the Israel Antiquities Authority. “That’s par for the course. It happens all the time,” he says.

Savage is director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at the Theological School and an archaeologist to boot. He is also assistant director of Bethsaida Excavations, a consortium of universities to which Drew belongs, and Savage has been digging at the 20-acre site since 1995.

A specialist in the first century who studies the origins of Christianity and Judaism, Savage searches for “material culture”—artifacts—to back up the hypotheses of scholars who rely on written sources to describe ancient civilizations. “You have to have something that can substantiate what you’re saying the world was like.”—Mary Jo Patterson