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Archaeologists Oriya Amichay and Hagay Hamer removing one of the Roman swords from the crevice where they were hidden. Source: Amir Ganor/Israel Antiquities Authority

Four 1,900-Year-Old Roman Swords Found in Dead Sea Cave

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Archaeologists working with the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) have uncovered a remarkable cache in the Judean Desert near the Dead Sea: four Roman swords in "almost perfect condition," believed to be about 1,900 years old. These weapons, alongside other discovered military equipment, including leather sandals and a belt, offer a rare and detailed glimpse into Roman military attire and weaponry from the era.

Perfectly intact Swords, One Even With It’s Scabbard

In an astounding revelation from the Judean Desert, the Israel Antiquities Authority have reported how archaeologists have unearthed a treasure trove of Roman military history. Four excellently preserved Roman swords, along with a shafted weapon (a pilum or javelin), have been discovered in a secluded cave within the ‘En Gedi Nature Reserve. Researchers believe that these weapons, approximately 1,900 years old, were possibly seized from the Roman army and concealed by Judean rebels.

"Finding a single sword is rare—so four? It's a dream! We rubbed our eyes to believe it," shared the excited researchers.

Eli Escusido, the Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, was present alongside the research team, introducing these spectacular artifacts to the world.

Eli Escusido, Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, at the press conference today presenting the discovery. (Adrian Ganor/IAA)

Eli Escusido, Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, at the press conference today presenting the discovery. (Adrian Ganor/IAA)

Remarkable Finds at ‘En Gedi Caves

The cave where these weapons were found has a storied history. Located in the remote cliffs north of ‘En Gedi, a remarkable stalactite bearing an ancient Hebrew inscription, typical of the First Temple period, was discovered there five decades ago.

Academics from several institutions recently revisited the cave, aiming to capture the ancient inscription with multispectral photography. Yet, the real revelation was Dr. Gayer's accidental discovery of the Roman pilum (javelin) and the adjacent swords’ scabbards.

This unique find was subsequently reported to the Israel Antiquities Authority Archaeological Survey Team, who have been rigorously investigating hundreds of Judean Desert caves over the past six years, aiming to rescue archaeological remains from potential looters. When they returned to the cave, their survey exposed the four nearly immaculate Roman swords concealed within a crevice.

One of the four near perfect Roman era swords being removed from the crevice. (IAA)

One of the four near perfect Roman era swords being removed from the crevice. (IAA)

Remarkably, three of the swords were found sheathed in wooden scabbards. Accompanying the swords were other artifacts, including leather strips, wooden components, and metal objects. With blade lengths ranging between 60 cm to 65 cm (23 – 25.5 inches), these weapons are identified as Roman spatha swords, and a shorter ring-pommel sword of 45 cm (18 inches), commonly used by Roman soldiers in Judea during the Roman period.

Dr. Eitan Klein, co-director of the Judean Desert Survey Project, conjectured:

"The hiding of the swords and pilum in this isolated cave hints at their acquisition as spoils from Roman soldiers or battlefields. The Judean rebels likely concealed them for reuse, steering clear of Roman authorities."

The team is keen on identifying the specific historical event leading to the weapons' concealment, with initial signs pointing to the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-135 AD).

From right to left: Dr. Asaf Gayer, Oriya Amichay, Dr. Eitan Klein and Amir Ganor.  (Yoli Schwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority)

From right to left: Dr. Asaf Gayer, Oriya Amichay, Dr. Eitan Klein and Amir Ganor.  (Yoli Schwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority)

Following this groundbreaking find, an exhaustive excavation was carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority. Alongside the Roman-period artifacts, remnants dating back to the Chalcolithic period (c. 6,000 years ago) were unveiled.

Notably, a Bar-Kokhba bronze coin from the time of the Revolt was discovered at the cave's entrance, possibly hinting at the era when the weapons were hidden.

This discovery is discussed in detail in the book 'New Studies in the Archaeology of the Judean Desert: Collected Papers', which is has just launched in Jerusalem, shedding light on these unparalleled findings and adding another layer to our understanding of the ancient Judean Desert's rich history.

Top image: Archaeologists Oriya Amichay and Hagay Hamer removing one of the Roman swords from the crevice where they were hidden. Source: Amir Ganor/Israel Antiquities Authority

By Gary Manners

 
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Gary

Gary is an editor and content manager for Ancient Origins. He has a BA in Politics and Philosophy from the University of York and a Diploma in Marketing from CIM. He has worked in education, the educational sector, social work... Read More

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