Tag Archives: Roman roads

Second century A.D. Roman road uncovered

Tuesday brought another press release from the Israel Antiquities Authority. The headline of the release calls this “a 2,000 Year Old Road,” but the text states that its’ construction is dated to the time of the Roman Emperor Hadrian (A.D. 117-138).

Aerial photographs of the road. Photographic credit: the Griffin Aerial Photography Company, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Aerial photographs of the road in the lower right corner of the photo. Photographic credit: the Griffin Aerial Photography Company, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The Press Release follows.

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A wide and impressive 2,000 year old road dating to the Roman period, in an extraordinary state of preservation, was revealed last February in archaeological excavations of the Israel Antiquities Authority near Highway 375. The excavation was conducted prior to laying a water pipeline to Jerusalem, at the initiative of, the Bet Shemesh water corporation “Mei Shemesh”. Students from “Ulpanat Amit Noga” in Ramat Bet Shemesh volunteered to participate in the dig.

The excavation director, Irina Zilberbod, at the site. Photographic credit: the Griffin Aerial Photography Company, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The excavation director, Irina Zilberbod, at the site. Photographic credit: the Griffin Aerial Photography Company, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

According to Irina Zilberbod, director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The road that we discovered, which 2,000 years ago passed along a route similar to Highway 375 today, was up to 6 meters wide, continued for a distance of approximately 1.5 kilometers, and was apparently meant to link the Roman settlement that existed in the vicinity of Beit Natif with the main highway known as the “Emperor’s Road”. That road was in fact a main artery that connected the large settlements of Eleutheropolis (Bet Guvrin) and Jerusalem. The construction of the Emperor’s Road is thought to have taken place at the time of Emperor Hadrian’s visit to the country, circa 130 CE, or slightly thereafter, during the suppression of the Bar Kokhba revolt in 132-135 CE. The presence of a milestone (a stone marking distances) bearing the name of the emperor Hadrian which was discovered in the past close to the road reinforces this hypothesis”.

Coins were discovered between the pavement stones: a coin from Year 2 of the Great Revolt (67 CE), a coin from the Umayyad period, a coin of the prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate, dating to 29 CE and a coin of Agrippa I from 41 CE that was minted in Jerusalem.

The ancient coins that were discovered in the excavation. Photographic credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

The ancient coins that were discovered in the excavation. Photographic credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority. The coin at the top is from the Umayyad period (A.D. 661-750). Bottom row (left to right): Herod Agrippa I – A.D. 41; Pontius Pilate – A.D. 29; Jewish Revolt – year 2 – A.D. 67-68.

Up until 2,000 years ago most of the roads in the country were actually improvised trails. However during the Roman period, as a result of military and other campaigns, the national and international road network started to be developed in an unprecedented manner. The Roman government was well aware of the importance of the roads for the proper running of the empire. From the main roads, such as the “Emperor’s Road”, there were secondary routes that led to the settlements where all of the agricultural products were grown. The grain, oil and wine, which constituted the main dietary basis at the time, where transported along the secondary routes from the surroundings villages and then by way of the main roads to the large markets in Israel and even abroad.

According to Amit Shadman, the Israel Antiquities Authority district archaeologist for Judah, “The ancient road passed close to the Israel National Trail and we believe that it will spark interest among the hikers. The Israel Antiquities Authority and Mei Shemesh Corporation have agreed that the road will be conserved in situ, for the public’s benefit”.

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Just a few days ago Todd Bolen called attention to David Bivins reports on the gradual destruction of the Roman road from Jerusalem to Emmaus here. The situation there is tragic. I have witnessed some deterioration of the Roman road near Golani Junction in just a few years. Let’s hope that the situations here will be reversed, and that this road will be preserved for many to see.

This recently uncovered road apparently connected with the road we described here.

Roman Road 4.2 km W of Mata on Hwy 375. S of Hwy. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Roman Road 4.2 km W of Mata on Hwy 375. S of Hwy. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

I find it especially interesting that coins from A.D. 29, 41, and 67-68 should be found on a road constructed in circa A.D. 130. Others can fill in possible answers.

The roman roads that we see in Israel today were not built until about the time of the first revolt – ca. A.D.66, and mostly in the second century under Trajan and Hadrian.

Israel Roll writes,

The Roman road network in Judaea was not constructed at once, but evolved gradually from the First Revolt onward. Until then the Roman administration used roads that had been built during or prior to the reign of Herod. Our knowledge of those roads is scanty. and is based essentially on isolated written sources– mainly in the New Testament and Josephus. These sources do not
mention anything relating to road construction or maintenance before the beginning of the rebellion in 66 C.E. We may conclude, therefore, that the subject was not of central concern to the Roman procurators. (Israel Roll, “The Roman Road System in Judaea,” Jerusalem Cathedra 3 (1983): 138.

My thought is that the later Roman roads generally followed paths that were already in use by the people.

HT: Joseph Lauer

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Roman Roads and Milestones

A new website devoted to Roman Roads and Milestones in Judaea/Palaestina has recently come to our attention. This site is co-sponsored by the Kinneret College on the Sea of Galilee Department of Holy Land Studies and Tel Aviv University IMC-Israeli Milestone Committee. Most readers will know that Kinneret is the Hebrew name for the Sea of Galilee. The website includes articles by the late Israel Roll and others, as well as maps showing the location of the roads. Many of the articles are in Hebrew or another language other than English. The maps, however, should be useful to those who do not read Hebrew.

The English website is available here. (If it links to the Hebrew page look in the upper left hand corner and click on EN.)

Good Bible atlases include a map of the known roadways. See, for example, the following:

  • Rasmussen, Zondervan Atlas of the Bible. Rasmussen includes a map showing the Natural Routes/Roads, and a discussion of International Routes.
  • Beitzel, The New Moody Atlas of the Bible. Beitzel includes a map showing The Roads of Palestine and a discussion of the principles back of making decisions about the roads.
  • Schlegel, Satellite Bible Atlas. The second map in this atlas shows the Regions and Routes of the Land of Israel.

Our photo below shows remains of the Roman road that Jesus might have taken from near Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee. These roads are often in danger of destruction by careless builders and farmers.

The Roman Road near Golani Junction in Galilee. This road collected Diocaesarea (Zephoris) and Tiberias. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Roman Road near Golani Junction in Galilee. This road connected Diocaesarea (Zephoris) and Tiberias. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Jesus taught His disciples about the attitude they should have toward the Roman authorities.

And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.(Matthew 5:41 ESV)

New Testament writers gave distances in their descriptions of travel from one city to another. Luke says that Emmaus was about seven miles from Jerusalem (Luke 24:13). John says that Bethany was about two miles from Jerusalem (John 11:18).

Milestones were common in Roman times and numerous ones have been found throughout the land of Israel. I understand that the milestone below is from the Jezreel Valley. It is one of many displayed on the grounds of the Beit-Sturman Museum near En Harod.

Roman Milestone from the Jezreel Valley. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Roman Milestone from the Jezreel Valley. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

HT: Jack Sasson

Roman road found in Jerusalem

A section of the Roman road that led from Joppa to Jerusalem has been found in the Beit Hanina community northeast of the Old City of Jerusalem. This road came to light during preparation for the installation of a drainage pipe.

The road is about 25 feet wide and is said to date back about 1800 years.

Roman road excavated in the Beit Hanina community. Photo: Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Roman road excavated in the Beit Hanina community. Photo: Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The IAA press release, available here, gives attention the course of the road from Joppa (Yafo) and Jerusalem.

The road section discovered in the IAA excavations in Beit Hanina is part of the imperial network of roads that led to Jerusalem from the coastal plain. We know about these roads from both historical sources and archaeological excavations. Two main arteries led from Yafo to Jerusalem during the Roman period. One is the road that passes through Bet Horon and the other runs via Shaar HaGai. This particular segment belongs to the Bet Horon road. The road began in Yafo and passed through Lod where it split it two different directions: one to Shaar HaGai and the other by way of Modiin along the route of what is today Highway 443 to Bet Horon. From there the road continued eastward as far as Bir Nabala and turned south to Kefar Shmuel where it merged with the highlands road that led to the Old City of Jerusalem.

The Times of Israel includes a map here showing the location of the uncovered section of road.

HT: Joseph Lauer

Docking again at Perga

A few days ago we had some discussion here about whether Paul and his companions docked at Atttalia or Perga after sailing from Paphos, Cyprus.

Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem,  but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. (Act 13:13-14a ESV)

Darryl said that he had been unable to track down the oft-cited reference in Strabo Geography. I located the quotation using Logos 4. The modern names are included in brackets.

[2] Next is the river Cestrus [Ak-su]; on sailing up its stream 60 stadia we find the city Perge, [Murtana] and near it upon an elevated place, the temple of the Pergæan Artemis, where a general festival is celebrated every year.

Nymphaeums (fountains) were important in Roman cities. The fountain at Perga flowed into a channel running the length of the main street.

The Nymphaeum (Fountain) at Perga. Water flowed from the fountain. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Nymphaeum (Fountain) at Perga. Water flowed from the fountain into a channel in the middle of the main street. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This close-up view shows the river god Cestrus. Water flowed under the image into the channel. Other cities had a similar image with the water flowing from a cornucopia held by the river god. At Ephesus it was the god Cayster.

The Nymphaeum (Fountain) at Perga, showing the river god Cestrus. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Nymphaeum at Perga, showing the river god Cestrus. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Dr. Combs recommended the article by Douglas A. Campbell (“Paul in Pamphylia (Acts 13.13-14a; 14.24b-26): A Critical Note”) in New Testament Studies (2000): 595-602. This afternoon I was able to get access to the article. The map is especially helpful.

Campbell says the 175 mile trip from Paphos to Perga, with favorable winds, would have taken between 25 and 50 hours, but with difficult winds it could have taken longer. It would be more common for ships transporting goods from Cyprus to Perga and other cities in the region to have used the River Cestrus. On the return from the first journey, when Paul was headed east back to (Seleucia, then) Antioch (Acts 14:25-26), it would have been best to use Attalia as the port (as Tim Brinley also pointed out in his comment).

Some other sources explaining that Perga used the river Cestrus as a port include the following:

  • E. A. Judge. Perga. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (3:767-768).
  • E. M. Blaiklock. Perga. New Bible Dictionary (3rd ed.): 901.
  • A. E. Hillard. Perga. (Hastings) Dictionary of the Bible: 700.

An inland city of Pamphylia about 12 miles from Attalia on the coast, but possessing a river harbour of its own on the Cestrus 5 miles away. Its walls date from the 3rd century B.C.

From Perga Paul would have taken the Via Sebaste to Pisidian Antioch. When he returned to Perga, using the same Roman road, he would have taken the Claudian extension of the Via Sebaste which ran southwest for 12 miles to Attalia.

Campbell, a British scholar, says,

In my judgement the author of Acts at these two junctures is, quite simply, spot on.