Roman Milestone Inscription Found Near Sea of Galilee Deciphered for the First Time

Researchers deciphered the name of Maximinus Thrax, who ruled the Roman Empire between 235 and 238 A.D.

Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel
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The researchers with the milestone at Moshav Ramot, March 2019.
The researchers with the milestone at Moshav Ramot, March 2019.Credit: A. Kablovska
Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel

The name of the Roman emperor Maximinus Thrax (the Thracian) has been deciphered on a milestone that stood on a Roman road east of the Sea of Galilee. The stone is one of three that were discovered in Moshav Ramot, in the southern Golan Heights by researchers from the University of Haifa.

Maximinus Thrax ruled the Roman Empire between 235 and 238 A.D., and since the road pre-dates his rule, the researchers concluded that his name was inscribed during upgrades that took place on the road during his reign.

>>Read more:For you were (not) slaves in Egypt: The ancient memories behind the Exodus myth

Ancient building remnants at Mevo Hama, March 2019.Credit: Susita excavation team

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 24Credit: Haaretz

“This is the first milestone bearing an inscription that was deciphered on this road, east of the lake, heading towards the largest city in the northern Golan, Paneas [now known by its Arabic name, Banyas]” Dr. Michael Eisenberg from the Institute of Archaeology at Haifa University told Haaretz. Eisenberg is in charge of excavations at Sussita (Hippos), which lies near the Roman road. Several milestones have been found along the road over the years, but only one bore an inscription, which had remained undeciphered until now.

Eisenberg examined the milestone with his colleagues: Dr. Michael Azband and his research assistant Adam Pazut. They were joined by Dr. Gregor Stab from Cologne University, an expert on deciphering ancient Greek inscriptions. Stab was the one who managed to make out the name of the emperor. “The Romans took over the area with the aid of amazing logistical tools. This included mainly paved roads, on which they managed to rapidly and safely move their armies, as happened during the great revolt in the Galilee,” said Eisenberg. “The road became an imperial road that was protected by the army, and the milestones marked the distances between key sites along the route.”

Eisenberg says that milestones in this area were written mainly in Greek, but also in Latin, the empire’s official language. “The stones with an inscription are the most interesting – sometimes the inscriptions help us identify sites that had been previously unknown. When you find a milestone, you know you’re on the road. Stones with inscriptions are significant in several ways – they give the distance between cities and they attest to the paving of that road.”

The inscription on the milestone, March 2019.Credit: Gregor Staab / Susita excavation

The fortress that served the Syrians

In the course of the study, the results of which were shown at an archaeological conference in Haifa two weeks ago, researchers attempted to determine the relationship between cities and their rural surroundings. “The larger and stronger the city was, the larger the rural area it controlled” says Eisenberg. He says that the researchers wondered whether “the city purchased vegetables and legumes from surrounding villages, what the villages were like and how far they were from the city.”

At this stage, they were trying to understand what roads people traveled on then. “We are trying to use algorithms and geographic data systems to calculate the optimal, shortest and most likely routes people could use to get from one point to another in ancient times. As soon as the computer proposes a route, we check it out in the field, walking it ourselves,” said Eisenberg.

The researchers also uncovered a small fortress this year, outside the gates of Susita. The fortress is situated at an observation point on the Roman road, west of Mevo Hama, in the southern Golan. According to Dr. Eisenberg, its strategic location was not lost on the Syrians, who set up a military position there before the Six Day War, building it on top of ancient ruins.

Mosaic floor found by the researchers at Susita, March 2019.Credit: MIchael Eisenberg

When researchers uncovered these ruins, they found a structure built out of volcanic rock, measuring 15 by 20 meters (49 by 65 feet). At its center was a tower that was used as a farm or a monastery over the years, mainly in the Byzantine era (6th century A.D.). Researchers found the remains of a colorful mosaic floor, a cellar, and signs of ancient agriculture at the site. A very large kiln, with a diameter of 1.8 meters (5.9 feet), was found in one of the rooms. “Its unusual size was apparently meant to serve a large population” said the researchers.

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