Underwater archaeologists discover Roman inscription from eve of Bar-Kochba Revolt

Excavations off Tel Dor, on the Mediterranean Sea led to discovery of Roman inscription stone mentioning the province of Judea and the name of a previously unknown Roman governor, ruling shortly before the Bar-Kochba Revolt.

The inscription stone underwater (by Ehud Arkin Shalev via Haaretz)
The inscription stone underwater (by Ehud Arkin Shalev via Haaretz)

The inscribed stone, 70 by 65 centimetres in size, was exposed by a storm on the seabed at a depth of just 1.5 meters in the bay of Dor. In Roman times the town had been a thriving port that even minted its own coins, which proudly proclaimed the city to be “Ruler of the Seas”.

Underwater excavations (by Ehud Arkin Shalev via Haaretz)
Underwater excavations (by Ehud Arkin Shalev via Haaretz)

In a joint operation with the Nature and Parks Authority, the Israel Antiquities Authority and archaeologists of the Haifa University the heavy stone was raised by divers, and taken to Caesarea for careful cleaning, a process that took four months. The artefact is the second only known mention of the province of Judea in Roman inscription. The other is the “Pontius Pilate stone” dating to around 100 years earlier.

Statue base from 1,900 years ago found at Dor, bearing the name of Gargilius Antiquus (by Ehud Arkin Shalev via Haaretz)
Statue base from 1900 years ago found at Dor, bearing the name of Gargilius Antiquus (by Ehud Arkin Shalev via Haaretz)

The newly found inscription, carved on the stone in Greek, is missing a part, but is thought to have originally read: “The City of Dor honors Marcus Paccius, son of Publius, Silvanus Quintus Coredius Gallus Gargilius Antiquus, governor of the province of Judea, as well as […] of the province of Syria, and patron of the city of Dor“. The inscription was apparently the base of a statue judging from the marks of small feet on its top. Whomever it depicted, the statue had been positioned in a public place, perhaps near a temple complex where the individual could be honoured, as was the custom in the Roman Empire.

The surfaced Roman-era 1900-year-old inscription (by Jenny Carmel via Haaretz)
The surfaced Roman-era 1900-year-old inscription (by Jenny Carmel via Haaretz)

It is believed that the Roman emperor, in this case Hadrian, had appointed Gargilius Antiquus as governor of the province of Judea, somewhere between 120-130 AD (perhaps around 123 AD, succeeding Cosonius Gallus). Gargilius Antiquus would have commanded two legions with 3000 to 5200 men each, as well as a cavalry regiment likely consisting of 500. His reign spanned critical years before the Bar-Kochba Revolt, when Jewish dissatisfaction with Roman rule was brewing. Most notably, a Jewish revolt against the Emperor Trajan exploded in Egypt, Cyrenaica (Libya), and Cyprus in 115-117 AD, and ended less than a decade before Gargilius Antiquus came to rule Judea. s may well have been the last Roman governor of Judea per se. The Romans changed the province’s name to Syria Palaestina after the Bar-Kochba Revolt was crushed.

(after Haaretz, Ehud Arkin Shalev, Jenny Carmel & The Jerusalem Post)

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