Archaeologists find hobnailed boot print of Roman soldier in Israel
Archaeologists excavating an ancient Roman fortified hill town in Israel have made a remarkable find there: hobnailed-boot prints typical of a Roman soldier. The Romans had “boots on the ground,” as modern warmongers say, all over the ancient World. But to find a boot print nearly 2,000 years later is extremely rare.
Michael Eisenberg and his team with the Hippos-Sussita Excavations Project this past season were excavating a defensive bastion at the military outpost when they came across the boot print. It was the second remarkable find from that season, the other being a unique bronze Pan mask.
Sea of Galilee from the mountain upon which Hippos-Sussita was situated.
“On the ancient binding material of the bastion rear wall, we noticed to our great surprise a number of imprints that were left by Roman military boots while their owners were walking over the mortar before it had dried,” Eisenberg wrote in an article for Popular Archaeology Magazine. The fort was under construction in the 1 st century AD. “To be more precise, there were several imprints made by the iron nails (hobnails) of caligae soles—the standard footwear of the Roman army from the 1 st century BCE until the beginning of the 2nd century CE (from the ordinary soldier up to the level of centurion). The complete imprint was 24.50cm [9.65 inches] long and had 29 round impressions. It was a left foot caliga, approximating a European size 40 [7.5 U.S.].”
Eisenberg speculates the fortress may have been built hastily because the Roman garrison was under attack, possibly during the uprising of 66-67 AD. He said soldiers uncharacteristically may have been conscripted to fortify the town because of a lack of other manpower to do the work.
A corner of the defensive bastion over the southern cliff; Y. Vitkalov of the excavation team pretends to support the basalt beam foundations exposed after mortar washed away. (Photo by Michael Eisenberg)
“The bastion and its imprints raise the possibility that Roman cohorts or auxiliary stationed in Syria were also in charge of building the bastion,” Eisenberg wrote. “This is an exceptional case and probably occurred during a time of emergency. Such an emergency may have been in connection with the Great Revolt in the Galilee.”
Hippos-Sussita was a Decapolis city, one of 10 cities that were bastions of Roman and Greek culture amid the Semitic peoples of the eastern Levant. Seleucid kings founded the Decapolis cities, but the Roman Empire took them over.
Eisenberg and his team's excavations are revealing that Hippos-Sussita was a city that was unusually fortified, Popular Archaeology says. The town is on a plateau-like summit of Sussita Mountain overlooking nearby Lake Galilee. It had a strategic placement on the hill, so it overlooked all approaches. The Romans also built a fortification wall, towers, a ditch and artillery posts to launch ballistae in the direction of the worst threat, along a nearby stream and road, Popular Archaeology wrote. The 8 meter long (26 feet) launcher could throw a basalt ball of 18 kg (40 pounds) about 350 meters (1,150 feet), Eisenberg said. He said they found some of ballistae nearby.
In an e-mail to Ancient Origins, Dr. Eisenberg wrote:
“So why Hippos-Sussita? It is a relatively small city of the Decapolis and probably the best naturally protected among them. The reason lies in the great revolt in the Galilee, 66. The thesis I have raised concerns the possibility that a roman unit (cohort or auxilia) arrived from the nearby Syria to build the best and most dense fortification for their city-ally Hippos against the Jewish rebellions. We know from Josephus that the Jews coming from Tiberias area on the other side of the lake torched Hippos region but could not conquer her (they were rather incompetent in siege warfare).”
He said the Jewish people in the Galilee region wanted independence from Roman rule and likely detested the Romans. But the people of the city of Hippos-Sussita were Roman citizens. He wrote that Romans were tolerant of religion and culture of native peoples as long as their honor and taxes were not threatened.
A University of Haifa researcher holds the unique bronze mask of the god Pan (Photo by the University of Haifa)
In March, Eisenberg announced they unearthed a large bronze mask of Pan, the Greek god of forests and shepherds, at Hippos-Sussita. They were unaware of any other bronze masks of a Greek god, and contacts with museums around the world confirmed this. It may be the only mask of its kind. They were excavating a catapult armory when they found the mask and speculated that perhaps it dates to the Pax Romana, a time of peace in the Roman Empire. They thought maybe the armory, used to store ballistae, was converted to a temple to Pan when hostilities ended.
Featured image: The Roman hob-nailed boot print on the ground and a 3D scan of it (Michael Eisenberg photo)
By Mark Miller