Following the footsteps of a Roman soldier
Archaeologists have discovered a footprint made by the sandal of a Roman soldier - one of the few such finds in the world - in a wall surrounding the Hellenistic-Roman city of Sussita, east of Lake Kinneret.
The discovery of the print made by a hobnailed sandal, the kind used by the Roman legions during the time when Rome ruled the region, led to the presumption that legionnaires or former legionnaires participated in the construction of walls such as the one in which the footprint was found.
"We know that urban construction projects in Israel were run by the cities themselves, and the Roman imperial system wasn't involved," said Professor Arthur Segal of Haifa University, who is heading the excavation.
Last year, the archaeologists found an inscription written by two Sussita residents when they finished their Roman military service, leading to the theory that the sandal print may also have been left by someone who was no longer serving in the Roman army.
"It may be that the sandal owner whose markings we found was also not a soldier in active service, but a soldier who was released and still held onto his military equipment," said Segal.
Prior to this finding, the sandal prints of Roman legionnaires had been discovered only in Hadrian's Wall in Britain.
Sussita, which has existed for about 1,000 years, was apparently founded during the days of the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes, known in Jewish history for his decrees against the Jews.
The Greek name of the city was Hippos, which means horse, and the name Sussita is the Aramaic version of the same name. The meaning also holds in modern Hebrew, in which sus means "horse."
Sources from the Roman period show that there was hostility between the largely Christian city of Sussita and the mostly Jewish city of Tiberias, on the other side of the Kinneret, said Segal.
Most of the construction in Sussita took place during the Roman period, when Beit She'an, Caesarea and other ancient cities also flourished. Sussita continued to flourish into the Byzantine period, during which most of the city residents became Christians. As of the end of the fifth century, there were eight churches in the city, which remained in existence even after the Arab conquest in the seventh century.
But an earthquake hit the region in 749, during the Umayyad dynasty, causing the destruction of Sussita, which lies on the Syrian-African rift.
"The earthquake was a dramatic event described in many sources," said Segal. "Unlike other cities, Sussita was destroyed and its residents never returned."
Yet it is precisely because of the earthquake that the remnants of the city have been preserved particularly well. Since there was no subsequent settlement of Sussita, there was no one to use the stones of the Roman-era city for rebuilding.
The dig is being run by the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at Haifa University, in conjunction with researchers from the Polish Academy of Sciences and Concordia University in St. Paul, Minnesota.