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Shekel is any of several ancient units of weight or of currency. The first usage is from Mesopotamia
Ancient Mesopotamian units of measurement
Ancient Mesopotamian units of measurement originated in the loosely organized city-states of Early Dynastic Sumer. The units themselves grew out of the tradition of counting tokens used by the Neolithic cultural complex of the Near East. The counting tokens were used to keep accounts of personal...

 around 3000 BC. Initially, it may have referred to a weight of barley. This shekel was about 180 grains (11 grams or .35 troy ounces).


The word shekel is derived from the Akkadian šiqlu or siqlu, a unit of weight equivalent to the Sumerian
Sumerian language
Sumerian is the language of ancient Sumer, which was spoken in southern Mesopotamia since at least the 4th millennium BC. During the 3rd millennium BC, there developed a very intimate cultural symbiosis between the Sumerians and the Akkadians, which included widespread bilingualism...

 gin2. Use of the word was first attested in c.2150 BCE during the Akkadian Empire under the reign of Naram-Sin
Naram-Sin , reigned ca. 2254–2218 BCE, short chronology, was the third successor and grandson of King Sargon of Akkad. Under Naram-Sin the Akkadian Empire reached its zenith...

, and later in c.1700 BCE in the Code of Hammurabi
Code of Hammurabi
The Code of Hammurabi is a well-preserved Babylonian law code, dating to ca. 1780 BC . It is one of the oldest deciphered writings of significant length in the world. The sixth Babylonian king, Hammurabi, enacted the code, and partial copies exist on a human-sized stone stele and various clay...

. The word came in to the English language via the Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

, where it is first used in the Book of Genesis.

The early shekels

The earliest shekels were a unit of weight, used as other units such as grams and troy ounces for trading before the advent of coins. Coins were invented by the early Anatolian traders who stamped their marks to avoid weighing each time used. Early coins were money stamped with an official seal to certify their weight. Silver ingots, some with markings were issued. Later authorities decided who designed coins. (Detroit Institute of Arts, 1964) Herodotus
Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria and lived in the 5th century BC . He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a...

 states that the first coinage was issued by Croesus
Croesus was the king of Lydia from 560 to 547 BC until his defeat by the Persians. The fall of Croesus made a profound impact on the Hellenes, providing a fixed point in their calendar. "By the fifth century at least," J.A.S...

, King of Lydia
Lydia was an Iron Age kingdom of western Asia Minor located generally east of ancient Ionia in the modern Turkish provinces of Manisa and inland İzmir. Its population spoke an Anatolian language known as Lydian....

, spreading to the golden Daric (worth 20 sigloi or shekel), issued by the Persian Empire and the Silver Athenian obol
The obol was an ancient silver coin. In Classical Athens, there were six obols to the drachma, lioterally "handful"; it could be excahnged for eight chalkoi...

 and drachma.

As with many ancient units, the shekel had a variety of values depending on era, government and region; weights between 9 and 17 grams, and values of 11, 14, and 17 grams are common. A shekel is a gold or silver coin equal in weight to one of these units. It is especially the chief silver coin of the Hebrews.

The shekel was common among western Semitic
In linguistics and ethnology, Semitic was first used to refer to a language family of largely Middle Eastern origin, now called the Semitic languages...

 peoples. Moab
Moab is the historical name for a mountainous strip of land in Jordan. The land lies alongside much of the eastern shore of the Dead Sea. The existence of the Kingdom of Moab is attested to by numerous archeological findings, most notably the Mesha Stele, which describes the Moabite victory over...

ites, Edom
Edom or Idumea was a historical region of the Southern Levant located south of Judea and the Dead Sea. It is mentioned in biblical records as a 1st millennium BC Iron Age kingdom of Edom, and in classical antiquity the cognate name Idumea was used to refer to a smaller area in the same region...

ites and Phoenicia
Phoenicia , was an ancient civilization in Canaan which covered most of the western, coastal part of the Fertile Crescent. Several major Phoenician cities were built on the coastline of the Mediterranean. It was an enterprising maritime trading culture that spread across the Mediterranean from 1550...

ns used the shekel, the latter as coins and weights. Punic coinage was based on the shekel, a heritage from Canaanite ancestors.

The Aramaic tekel similar to the hebrew shakal used in the writing on the wall
The writing on the wall
"The writing on the wall" , an idiom, is a portent of doom or misfortune. It originates in the Biblical book of Daniel—where supernatural writing foretells the demise of the Babylonian Empire...

 during the feast of Belshazzar
Belshazzar's Feast
Belshazzar's Feast is described in the Book of Daniel. The Babylonian king Belshazzar profanes the sacred vessels of the enslaved Israelites. As prophesied by the writing on the wall, and interpreted by Daniel, Belshazzar is killed and Darius the Mede succeeds to his kingdom.There are many...

, according to the Book of Daniel
Book of Daniel
The Book of Daniel is a book in the Hebrew Bible. The book tells of how Daniel, and his Judean companions, were inducted into Babylon during Jewish exile, and how their positions elevated in the court of Nebuchadnezzar. The court tales span events that occur during the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar,...

 defined as weighed shares a common root with the word shekel and may even additionally attest to its original usage as a weight.

The shekel of Tyre

Silver Tyrian shekel
Tyrian shekel
Tyrian shekels were coins of Tyre, which in the Roman Empire took on an unusual role as the medium of payment for the Temple tax in Jerusalem, and subsequently gained notoriety as a likely mode of payment for Judas Iscariot...

s were the medium of payment for the Temple tax in Jerusalem, and have been suggested as a possible coin used as the "30 pieces of silver
Thirty pieces of silver
Thirty pieces of silver was the price for which Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus, according to the Gospel of Matthew 26:15 in the Christian New Testament. Before the Last Supper, Judas went to the chief priests and agreed to hand over Jesus in exchange for 30 silver coins...

" in the New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....


The Jerusalem shekel

The shekel of Tyre was subsequently replaced as the Temple tax in 66 C.E. by the Jerusalem shekel
First Jewish Revolt coinage
First Jewish Revolt coinage was issued by the Jews after the Zealots captured Jerusalem and the Jewish temple from the Romans in 66 AD at the beginning of the First Jewish Revolt...

 of the First Jewish revolt against Rome.

The Bar Kochba shekel

During the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 132–5 CE, the Jews
The Jews , also known as the Jewish people, are a nation and ethnoreligious group originating in the Israelites or Hebrews of the Ancient Near East. The Jewish ethnicity, nationality, and religion are strongly interrelated, as Judaism is the traditional faith of the Jewish nation...

 of Judea
Judea or Judæa was the name of the mountainous southern part of the historic Land of Israel from the 8th century BCE to the 2nd century CE, when Roman Judea was renamed Syria Palaestina following the Jewish Bar Kokhba revolt.-Etymology:The...

 struck Bar Kochba shekels
Bar Kochba Revolt coinage
Bar Kochba Revolt coinage were coins issued by the Jews during the Bar Kochba revolt against the Roman Empire of 132-135 AD.During the Revolt, large quantities of coins were issued in silver and copper with rebellious inscriptions, all being overstruck over foreign coins, when a file was used to...


In modern times

Since 1980, the shekel has been the currency of the modern state of Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

, first the Israeli shekel, then (since 1985) the Israeli new shekel.

See also

  • Ancient Mesopotamian units of measurement
    Ancient Mesopotamian units of measurement
    Ancient Mesopotamian units of measurement originated in the loosely organized city-states of Early Dynastic Sumer. The units themselves grew out of the tradition of counting tokens used by the Neolithic cultural complex of the Near East. The counting tokens were used to keep accounts of personal...

  • Gerah
    A gerah Hebrew "גרה" is an ancient Hebrew unit of weight and currency. One gerah is one-twentieth of a shekel. A shekel being 180 barleycorns or 60 carob divided by 20 = 3 carob. This is 0.568 grams....

  • Hanukkah gelt
  • History of currency
  • Israeli lira
  • List of historical currencies
  • Prutah
    Prutah Hebrew is a word borrowed from the Mishnah and the Talmud, in which it means "a coin of smaller value". The word was probably derived originally from an Aramaic word with the same meaning....

  • Zuz (Jewish coin)