A broad, impressive road in remarkably good condition that archaeologists are dating to the Roman period 2,000 years ago has been discovered near Beit Shemesh.
The Israel Antiquities Authority made the find in February during excavations near Highway 375, prior to laying a water pipeline to Yerushalayim, at the initiative of the Bet Shemesh water corporation Mei Shemesh. Students from Ulpanat Amit Noga in Ramat Bet Shemesh participated in the dig.
According to Irina Zilberbod, director of the dig: “The road that we discovered, which passed along a route similar to Highway 375 today, was up to 18 feet wide, continued for a distance of approximately 1 mile, and was apparently meant to link the Roman settlement that existed in the vicinity of Beit Natif with the main highway, known as the Emperor’s Road.
“That road was, in fact, a main artery that connected the large settlements of Eleutheropolis (Bet Guvrin) and Yerushalayim. The construction of the Emperor’s Road is thought to have taken place at the time of Emperor Hadrian’s visit to the country, just before or during the time of the Bar Kochba revolt, 62 years after Churban Bayis Sheni.
“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.”
Coins were discovered between the pavement stones: a coin from Year 2 of the Great Revolt (67 C.E.), a coin from the Umayyad period, a coin of the prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate, dating to 29 C.E. and a coin of Agrippa I from 41 C.E., that was minted in Yerushalayim.
Up until the Romans arrived, most of the roads in the country were actually improvised trails. However, during the Roman period, as a result of military and other campaigns, the national and international road network started to be developed in an unprecedented manner.
The Roman government was well aware of the importance of the roads for the proper running of the empire. From the main roads, such as the Emperor’s Road, there were secondary routes that led to the settlements where all of the agricultural products were grown. The grain, oil and wine, which constituted the main dietary basis at the time, were transported along the secondary routes from the surrounding villages and then by way of the main roads to the large markets in Israel and even abroad.
According to Amit Shadman, the Israel Antiquities Authority district archaeologist for Yehudah: “The ancient road passed close to the Israel National Trail and we believe that it will spark interest among hikers. The Israel Antiquities Authority and Mei Shemesh Corporation have agreed that the road will be conserved in situ, for the public’s benefit.”