On the coast of Syria is an ancient port called Ugarit, which flourished between the 15th and 13th centuries B.C. Beginning in 1929, texts were discovered there which are especially important for understanding the poetic and linguistic background of the Bible. One of these texts contains an inventorya of the Queen of Ugarit’s personal possessions, including a piece of jewelry, identified in the Sumerian language as “a city of gold.” The expression is undocumented in all Mesopotamian and Ugaritic literature. Its identity was an enigma. Now, however, with the aid of rabbinic texts, written more than 1500 years after Ugarit vanished in about 1200 B.C., the meaning of this intriguing object can finally be deciphered, for rabbinic texts also refer to a city of gold.

These rabbinic sources establish that:

• A city of gold is a piece of jewelry worn by women:

“All women’s ornaments are susceptible of being unclean, for example, a city of gold … ” (Mishnah, Kelim, 11:8).b

“A woman may not go out (on the Sabbath … wearing) a city of gold.” (Mishnah, Shabbat 6:1)

• It is an expensive piece of jewelry worn by upper class women:

Rabbi Elazar said, “Whose practice is it to go out (wearing) a city of gold? A woman of rank.” (Talmudc Bavli, Shabbat 59b)

This expensive piece of jewelry figures in a famous case of female jealousy: “Rabbi Akiba made a city of gold for his wife. The wife of Rabban Gamliel (the Patriarch) saw her and became jealous. Rabban Gamliel’s wife came and reported Rabbi Akiba’s gift to her husband. He said, ‘Have you done for me what she has done for him? Rabbi Akiba’s wife sold the very braids on her head and gave (the money) to him so that he might be able to study Torahd.’” (Talmud Yerushalmi, Shabbat 6:1, 7d; cf. Talmud Yerushalmi, Sotah 9:16, 24c)

(In Talmudic lore, Rabbi Akiba’s wife Rachel is especially meritorious. Although raised in a family of great wealth, she was disowned for marrying such a low class man as the shepherd Akiba. Rachel conditioned her marriage to Akiba on his devoting himself to Torah study. It was she who supported the family during the early years of Akiba’s studies. On one occasion during this period of abject poverty, Rachel sold her hair to provide food. The Talmud relates that when Akiba returned home after an absence of 12 years accompanied by 12,000 students he overheard his wife saying that she would willingly wait another 12 years if within that time Akiba would increase his learning two fold. Hearing this, Akiba left without revealing himself to her and returned after 12 more years. Akiba was rewarded in later life and became a very wealthy man.—Ed.)

A rabbinic source which describes the tremendous wealth which Rabbi Akiba amassed in his later years states that before he “departed from the world he owned tables of silver and gold and mounted his bed on ladders of gold. His wife used to go about in golden sandals and (wearing) a city of gold (of which Rabbi Gamliel’s wife was so jealous).” (S. Schechter, Aboth de Rabbi Nathan, New York, 1945, pp. 29–30).

A more specific description of this city of gold, is obtained from a variant source of the report describing Rabbi Akiba’s latterday wealth which states: “They say that (Rabbi Akiba) did not die before he slept on beds of gold and until he made a crown of gold for his wife.” (Schechter, Aboth de Rabbi Nathan, Version B, Ch. 12, p. 30). In this passage the expression, city of gold, is replaced by its equivalent, a crown of gold.

This identification of city of gold as a crown of gold is further substantiated by another passage from the Talmud: “When the question is raised ‘What is meant by the crowns of brides?’ The answer is given, a city of gold.” (Talmud Bavli, Sotah 49b).

Thus these Rabbinic sources identify the puzzling item, a city of gold, in the trousseau of the Queen of Ugarit. Obviously, the queen, a woman of rank and wealth, would own an expensive crown, which we now know is called a city of gold. The text from Ugarit is evidence that the Rabbinic term for such a piece of jewelry is a borrowed one which had already existed for almost two millennia.

This city of gold or crown of gold had another name in Talmudic sources: “What is meant by a city of gold: Rabban b. Bar Hannah answered in Rabbi Yohanan’s name, ‘A Jerusalem of gold such as Rabbi Akiba made for his wife’” (Talmud Bavli, Shabbat 59a–59b). This gift of a city of gold or Jerusalem of gold which Rabbi Akiba gave to his wife Rachel was in fulfillment of a promise which he had made to her when still a very poor man: “If I could only afford it, I would attire you with a Jerusalem of gold.” (Talmud Bavli, Nedarim 50a). Thus the city of gold is also referred to as a Jerusalem of gold.

Both iconographic and epigraphic evidence enable us to identify the design of this golden crown. In antiquity cities were often depicted surrounded by walls with protecting towers. Turreted and battlemented wall crowns are known throughout the ancient Near East. They appear in the thirteenth century at Yazilikaya, a great rock sanctuary about two miles from Boghazköy (in modern Turkey), capital of the Hittite empire in Asia Minor. On the face of the cliff at Yazilikaya there is a bas-relief carving depicting a tribute scene of the gods and goddesses of the Hittite kingdom; the female deities are wearing turreted crowns. (See illustration)e

A similar crown adorns the head of an Elamite queen from the area east of Babylonia, dating from the 9th to 7th centuries B.C.f Turreted crowns are also worn by two distinguished Assyrian women in the 7th century B.C.—Naqia, mother of King Esarhaddong and Ashursharrat, the wife of the Assyrian monarch, Ashurbanipal.h

Crowns decorated with battlements and turrets are also well known from Greek and Roman times. (See illustration) Tyche, the goddess of the destiny of cities, is often depicted with a crown of walls and turrets atop her head.i

Epigraphic evidence provides final corroboration that the city of gold was in fact a turreted crown. The Jerusalem Talmud (Shabbat, 6:1, 7d) reports that the rabbis of Caesarea referred to the crown by a unique Greek expression. In the course of time this Greek expression became corrupted and thus, unintelligible. Recently Professor Saul Liebermanj reconstructed the original reading of the phrase, which turned out to be a “turret of gold,” an exact description of the crown. Thus while some rabbinic sources refer to the crown by its traditional name (city of gold or Jerusalem of gold) the rabbis of Caesarea described its distinct feature, a diadem surrounded by turrets.

On the walls of the third century A.D. synagogue of Dura Europosk (on the upper Euphrates River in modern Syria), archaeologists in the 1930’s found a series of unique Biblical paintings that records the story of the Book of Esther. One of these panels records the story of the Book of Esther (a book still read in synagogues the world over on the Feast of Purim.) The Jewish Queen Esther is shown sitting beside her husband Ahasuerus, the King of Persia. (See color illustration.) She wears a crown of three golden turrets which has intrigued scholars ever since it was discovered more than 40 years ago. Now this crown can be identified as a city of gold.l

This distinctive crown, commonly called a city of gold, was naturally identified by Jews as their city par excellence, that is, Jerusalem, hence to them this crown was also known as Jerusalem of gold.

The lifetime of this crown can now be extended for at least two millennia—from Ugarit to Dura Europos.m

That this crown at Ugarit bears a Sumerian name indicates that this expensive piece of jewelry has had an even longer history, a history which is likely to continue to unfold both backward and forward in time, as future texts are discovered and deciphered.n



J. Nougayrol, Le Palais Royal d’Ugarit, Vol. III (Paris, 1955), No. 16.146–161, pp. 182–186.


Mishnah is commonly used to mean the Jewish oral law which was collected and revised by Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi in the beginning of the third century.


Talmud is the interpretation and elaboration of Mishnah compiled in two centers of learning, in Israel and Babylonia, between the third and the fifth century.


Torah means the Pentateuch or first five books of the Bible. Sometimes it is used to include the entire Hebrew Bible. In a still broader use Torah encompasses the written and the oral law both of which, according to rabbinic tradition, God revealed to Moses at Mt. Sinai.


K. Bittel, die Feldsbilder von Yazilikaya (Bamberg, 1934), pl. 12; K. Bittel, R. Naumann, and H. Otto, Yazilikaya: Architektur, Feldsbilder, Inschriften und Kleinfunden, pp. 116–118, fig. 46; E. Akurgal, Spathethitische Bildkunst (Ankara, 1949), pp. 10–12, and The Art of the Hittites (New York, 1962), pp. 111–12, fig. 19 and pls. 76–77.


E. Porada, The Art of Ancient Iran (New York, 1965), pp. 66–67, fig. 42, and p. 234, n. 46.


A. Parrot, The Arts of Assyria (New York, 1961) p. 118, fig. 133.


H. Frankfort, Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient (London, 1954), pl. 114.


E. R. Goodenough, Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period (New York, 1953–68), Vol. II, Figs. 58, 160.

See O. Seyffert, Dictionary of Classical Antiquities, revised and edited by H. Nettleship and J. E. Sandys (New York, 1959), p. 164, 586b.

For such a crown on coins, see L. Kadman, The Coins of Caesarea Maritime (Jerusalem, 1957), Vol. II, 3, 126, 127, 189, 218.


S. Lieberman, originally in a personal communication. See now his Tosefta Ki-Fshutah. Part VIII, Order Nashim (New York, 1973), p. 767.


Goodenough, op. cit., Vol. 9; 179.


J. Cooper, “Letter to the Editor,” Israel Exploration Journal, Vol. 25 (1975), pp. 191–2.


For further epigraphical evidence see H. A. Hoffman, Jr., “The City of Gold and the City of Silver,” Israel Exploration Journal, Vol. 19 (1969) pp. 178–180.


This article is an updated and expanded treatment containing information which was not included in my original publication: “Jerusalem—A City of Gold”, Israel Exploration Journal, Vol. 17 (1967), pp. 259–263.