First-Ever Inscribed Milestone Deciphered Near Sea of Galilee

April 24, 2019

4 min read

For the first time, an inscription on a milestone has been deciphered on the Roman road to the east of the Sea of ​​Galilee. The discovery by researchers at the University of Haifa served as greetings to contemporary Israelis from the year 236 CE.

The name of the Roman emperor Maximinus Thrax, who lived between 173 and 238 and was also known as Maximinus I, ruled for only three years, until 238 CE.

Thraco-Roman of low birth, he was the commander of the Legio IV Italica when Severus Alexander was assassinated by his own troops in 235; the Praetorian Guard then elected Maximinus emperor.

In the year 238 (which came to be known as the Year of the Six Emperors), a senatorial revolt broke out. Maximinus advanced on Rome to put down the revolt, but was halted at Aquileia, where he was assassinated by disaffected elements of the Legio II Parthica.

Thrax’s name was identified for the first time on the stone mill – cylindrical stones that marked the ancient Roman roads, according to the latest study of the ancient city of Hippos – Susita on a hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret).

Dr. Michael Eisenberg of the Zinman Institute of Archeology at the University of Haifa, who heads the excavations at Susita, said this was the first inscription that the researchers could identify on the milestones on the road from Susita at the east of the Sea of ​​Galilee to Banias in the southern Golan Heights.

(Credit: Dr Michael Eisenberg/ University of Haifa)

“Since the road itself was built in a much-earlier period, the name of the emperor is apparently indicative of extensive renovations that took place during that period, when the Roman Empire was in decline and extensive construction works of this sort were carried out,” Eisenberg said.

The ancient city of Susita was exposed 20 years ago by a delegation from the Institute of Archaeology. This exposure enables the Nature and Parks Authority to develop the Susita National Park during these months for public visits. As Susita was the only city in the Golan area, the researchers wanted to learn about the relationship between it and its agricultural hinterland and its villages in the Roman and Byzantine periods. In the last few years, the research has been carried out from the city’s borders to the Susita area in the middle of the Golan Heights.

As part of the “descent from the mountain,” Eisenberg and colleagues sought to examine the stone that was located north of the Sea of ​​Galilee and is now in the garden of one of the residents of Kibbutz Ramot. Milestones were placed at fixed distances of one Roman mile (about 1,480 meters, which is 1,000 double steps) from the city and along the road.

In the case of Susita, the milestones were placed along the Roman road of the eastern Kinneret, which continued from Susita and ended in Banias in the northern Golan. Over the years, several milestones have been found on this road, but only one of them contains evidence of the writing – which the researchers have not yet succeeded in deciphering.

The person who came to the aid of the Israeli researchers of the Susita expedition was Dr. Greger Stab of Germany’s University of Cologne, an expert on ancient Greek inscription, who succeeded in identifying the name of the emperor. Over the years, researchers have attempted advanced and sophisticated methods of 3D scans, which were unsuccessful.

In addition to Thrax’s name, that of his son and his list of titles also appear in the inscription. “Over the years, researchers have tried advanced and sophisticated methods of 3D scanning, which have not succeeded. Now that we have come back to the older method of making a copy using paper under pressure from the basalt stone, we succeeded in reading it,” the researchers said. Since the road was built many years earlier, researchers assume that the meaning of the carving of the name of Emperor Thrax on the stone indicates extensive renovation work carried out in the same years.

Building remains at Mevo Hama (Credit: Dr. Michael Eisenberg, Susita Excavations, University of Haifa)

In the middle of the 3rd century CE, the Roman Empire was in decline, and until now it was not clear to us whether during this period, the main route of the eastern part of the Sea of ​​Galilee and the Golan Heights was still active – and as a result, what were the commercial and social connections between the cities. The evidence of renovating the road testifies to the fact for the first time that even during this period, it was still used. The milestones served not only to designate the distances and give travelers a feeling of security, but mainly for propaganda by the Roman government, which wanted to show its control via the main roads in the past and the present. They were meant to declare: “Do not forget that these are part of the Roman Empire,” Eisenberg suggested.

Another finding uncovered by the researchers this year is a small citadel, which is also outside the gates of Susita, at a lookout point above the road, today west of Mevo Hama in the southern Golan Heights.

According to Eisenberg, its strategic location did not escape the attention in the 20th century of the Syrians, who established a military position here prior to the Six-Day War over the ancient remains.

The results of the research on the Roman administration and army in the Susita area were presented this month during the university’s annual archaeological conference.

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