BrianRxm Coins in Movies 3/133
Ben-Hur (1959)
Roman ancient gold and silver coins in a chest
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The 1959 MGM film "Ben-Hur" is about Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish prince who lives with his
family in Roman Judea or Palestine in the early first century, during the time when Jesus Christ lived.
The film stars Charlton Heston as Judah Ben-Hur and Stephen Boyd as Messala, a Roman officer
who is his primary enemy.
At one point an Arab Sheik and racehorse owner brings a large chest of Roman gold and silver coins
to bet against the Romans' racehorses in a race.
1. Title
Judah and his family live in Roman-occupied Judea where he lifes the life of a wealthy merchant.
His mother Miriam and his sister Tirzah live with him.
His childhood friend Messala, now a Roman army officer assigned to the area, comes to visit.
2. Judah, Miriam, Tirzah, Messala
The two men talk privately and Messala expounds on his "Romans are the master race" beliefs,
insulting Judah who is a Jew. He then asks Judah to work for the Romans as a collaborator.
Judah refuses and the two men become enemies.
Judah's bookkeeper Simonides visits along with his daughter Esther, and she and Judah fall in love.
3. Judah, Esther
The new Roman governor arrives and Messala is part of the welcoming party.
4. Messala greets the governor
Judah and Tirzah watch the Romans parade through the city from the roof of their house.
5. The accident
A piece of the stone roof falls and hits the Roman governor.
The Romans believe that it was deliberate and arrest Judah and his family.
Messala has Judah sent to work as a galley slave oarsman on a Roman ship and the two women
sent to a prison.
The slaves are taken under guard across the desert and, at a water stop near Nazareth,
Jesus gives Judah a cup of water.
After three years, a Roman admiral, Quintus Arrius, takes a liking to Judah.
During a sea battle their ship is sunk, Judah rescues Quintus from the water.
6. Judah rescues Quintus
Quintus adopts Judah and takes him to Rome.
7. Quintus adopts Judah
Judah is given a pardon by the Roman Emperor Tiberius, and goes to work for Quintus
as a horse trainer and racing chariot driver.
He becomes a wealthy celebrity in Rome for his racing feats, and finally is able to get permission
to return to Judea to search for his mother and sister.
There's also the matter of getting revenge on Massala.
A local Arab Sheik, Ilderim, spots Judah and asks him to train and drive his horses.
8. Judah agrees to ride for Sheik Ilderim
Judah agrees when he finds out that Messala will be driving a team in the championship chariot race.
Sheik Ilderim heads for the Roman "officers club" with a chest of Roman coins.
9. The Sheik points to his chest of money
The Sheik explains to the Romans (including Messala) that he wants to bet his money on his horses
against the Romans and their horses.
10. The Sheik shows the money
The chest prop coins appear to be copies of Spanish gold and silver "cob" coins.
Spanish cob coins date from the 17th to 18th centuries, were irregular in shape, and featured designs
which incorporated pillars and waves.
These were the original "pieces of eight" and "doubloons" of pirate days.
The prop coins were probably originally made for "pirate treasure" films and reused here.
A Spanish silver cob eight reales "piece of eight" coin:
Spanish America eight reales cob Potosi
11. Spanish America silver eight reales "cob" type 1685 Potosí mint
Silver, 39mm x 40mm, 25.11gm
Obverse: Pillars of Hercules above waves
Reverse: Jerusalem cross, castle upper left and lower right, lion upper right and lower left
One Roman asks to bet "one thousand denari".
A Roman denarius of the period:
Rome Tiberius Denarius Livia
12. Roman Denarius of Tiberius
Silver, 19.5mm, 3.59gm, Catalog: RIC 28, Struck: AD 14-37 Lugdunum (Lyon)
Obverse: Laureate head right [TI CAESAR DIVI] AVG F AVGVSTVS
Reverse: Livia seated right, holding reversed spear and olive branch PONTIF MAXIM
This coin is believed to be the "Tribute Penny" mentioned in the Bible,
The tribute penny was the coin that was shown to Jesus when he said
"Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's".
The Sheik is mainly interested in placing a much larger bet with Messala and offers "one thousand talents".
A Roman talent was a weight of gold, it's exact amount is unknown now, but it was a huge amount of money.
The Sheik tells Messala that as his driver is a Jew and that as Messala believes that Romans are worth
more than Jews (or Arabs), he should give the Sheik "odds" on the bet.
The two men agree to four to one odds with Messala realising that losing the race will bankrupt him.
The race is held in a natural amphitheater.
13. The chariots line up to start
The race is nine laps around the course, there are drivers of many nationalities, and Judah and Messala
are almost always in the lead.
14. Messala and Judah racing
Messala is thrown from his chariot and run over by other racers, leaving Judah to win the race.
Judah visits Messala who is near death but still full of hate, and he tells Judah that his sister
and mother are alive, are lepers (leprosy), and living in the leper colony.
The two women do not want Judah to see them, but he and Esther eventually find them.
At the same time Jesus is taken before Governor Pilate and condemmed to death.
While being taken to the place of crucifixion, Jesus is given water by Judah.
After the execution, a miracle heals the two women and Judah renounces his hatred of the Romans.
15. Judah finds his family
Charlton Heston as Judah Ben-Hur
Stephen Boyd as Messala
Haya Harareet as Esther
Hugh Griffith as Sheik Ilderim
Martha Scott as Miriam
Cathy O'Donnell as Tirzah
Jack Hawkins as Quintus Arrius
Sam Jaffe as Simonides
Finlay Currie as Balthasar
Director: William Wyler
Writers: General Lew Wallace (novel), Karl Tunberg (screenplay)
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