The ancient coins discovered during the excavation.
(photo credit: CLARA AMIT/IAA)
A wide and well-preserved 2,000-yearold road dating to the Roman period was unearthed last month during archeological excavations carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority and students near Beit Shemesh.
The dig, located just off of Highway 375, was conducted prior to laying a water pipeline to Jerusalem at the initiative of the Beit Shemesh water corporation, Mei Shemesh.
The archeologists were aided by students from Ulpanat Amit Noga, in Ramat Beit Shemesh, who volunteered to participate in the excavation.
On Tuesday, Irina Zilberbod, director of the excavation on behalf of the IAA, said the road was up to six meters wide and stretched for approximately 1.5 kilometers.
“The road was apparently built to link the Roman settlement that existed in the vicinity of Beit Natif with the main highway known as the ‘Emperor’s Road,’” Zilberbod said. “That road was in fact a main artery that connected the large settlements of Eleutheropolis [Beit Guvrin] and Jerusalem.”
According to Zilberbod, construction of the road is believed 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 Kochba 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,” she said.
Ancient coins were also discovered between the pavement stones, including one from the second year of the Great Revolt in 67 CE; one from the Umayyad period; one from the prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate, dating to 29 CE; and a coin of Agrippa I from 41 CE, that was minted in Jerusalem.
“Up until 2,000 years ago, most of the roads in the country were actually improvised trails,” Zilberbod said. “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, she added.
“The grain, oil and wine, which constituted the main dietary basis at the time, were transported along the secondary routes from the surrounding villages and then by way of the main roads to the large markets in Israel and even abroad,” Zilberbod said.
Amit Shadman, the IAA’s district archeologist for Judea, said the ancient road passed close to the Israel National Trail.
“We believe that it will spark interest among hikers,” he said, noting that the IAA and Mei Shemesh Corporation have agreed that the road will be conserved for the public’s benefit.