2,000-Year-Old “Emperor’s Road” Unearthed Alongside Highway

“Hark! one calleth: ‘Clear ye in the wilderness the way of Hashem, make plain in the desert a highway for our God.'” Isaiah 40:3 (The Israel Bible™)

Israeli archaeologists announced the discovery of a 2,000-year-old road last month near Beit Shemesh, west of Jerusalem. The road passes close to the Israel National Trail, the hiking path that runs the length of Israel from the Lebanese border to Eilat.

The Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) said researchers discovered the road during preparatory infrastructure digging for the installation of of a water pipeline, at the initiative of the Beit Shemesh water corporation “Mei Shemesh”. Irina Zilberbod, director of the excavation on behalf of the IAA, said the road used to follow a similar route to today’s Route 375, was up to 6 meters wide and continued for a distance of approximately 1.5 kilometers.

Excavating the Roman road. (Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

“Apparently, the road would have served as a link between between the Roman settlement situated close to the Palestinian village of Bayt Nattif (southwest of Jerusalem) to the main highway known as ‘Emperor’s Road’,” stated Zilberbod.

The “Emperor’s Road”, also known as “Caesar’s Road”, was built by the Romans in order to make an easier path for them to travel with their armies and horses.

“The construction of the Emperor’s Road is thought to have taken place at the time of Emperor Hadrian’s visit to the country around 130 CE, or slightly thereafter, during the suppression of the Bar Kokhba revolt in 132-135 CE,” said Zilberbod.

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“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 explained.

Between the pavement stones, the archaeologists uncovered four coins. One dates from Year 2 of the Great Revolt or the First Jewish-Roman War (67 CE), a coin from the Umayyad period (660-750 CE), a coin of the prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate, dating to 29 CE and a coin of Agrippa I from 41 CE that was minted in Jerusalem.

The ancient coins that were discovered in the excavation. (Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

The Roman Empire developed their international and national networks in an unprecedented manner mostly as a result of military campaigns, an infrastructure aimed at facilitating ruling an ever-extending empire. For example, from main roads such as the “Emperor’s Road”, there were secondary roads leading to communities growing agricultural products.

The grain, oil and wine, which constituted the main dietary basis at the time, were transported along the secondary routes from the surroundings villages and then by way of the main roads to the large markets in Israel and even abroad.

The ancient road passed close to the Israel National Trail and we believe that it will spark interest among the hikers. The Israel Antiquities Authority and Mei Shemesh Corporation have agreed that the road will be conserved in situ, for the public’s benefit,” said Amit Shadman, the Israel Antiquities Authority chief archaeologist for the Judea District.


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