Four remarkably preserved Roman swords “in almost mint condition” — with their wooden and leather hilts and steel blades still intact after 1,900 years — have been discovered inside a remote cave near the Dead Sea.
The trove of ancient artifacts – four swords and the head of a javelin known as a “pilum” — was found by Israeli archaeologists during an excavation in an area known as a hideout for Jewish rebels against the Romans in the 130s, leading researchers to believe that the weapons were booty captured by the insurgents.
The shape of three of the blades recalls Roman “spatha” swords, and the fourth has a ring-and-pommel design consistent with the period, the Israel Antiquities Authority said.
A bronze coin from the time of the Bar Kokhba rebellion of 132-135 AD, which challenged the Roman Empire’s rule of Judea, was found at the entrance to the cave concealing the weapons for nearly two millennia.
“The hiding of the swords and the pilum in deep cracks in the isolated cave … hints that the weapons were taken as booty from Roman soldiers or from the battlefield,” archaeologist Eitan Klein said in a statement. “Obviously, the rebels did not want to be caught by the Roman authorities carrying these weapons.”
The swords, which were unearthed about two months ago, have not yet undergone radiocarbon dating to determine their exact age, but their initial examination confirmed that these were standard swords used by the Roman soldiers stationed in Judea around the time of the Jewish insurrection.
The rare find was part of the antiquities authority’s Judean Desert Survey, which aims to document and excavate caves near the Dead Sea and secure scrolls and other relics before they fall into the hands of looters.
Hundreds of caves have been investigated over the past six years, and 24 archaeological excavations have been carried out in selected caverns.
Earlier this summer, archaeologists returned to the cave in an area of isolated and inaccessible cliffs near the desert oasis of Ein Gedi in the Judean Desert to document an ink inscription on a stalactite written in ancient Hebrew found 50 years earlier.
“At the back of the cave, in one of the deepest part of it, inside a niche, I was able to retrieve that artifact — the Roman pilum head, which came out almost in mint condition,” said Asaf Gayer, an archaeologist with Ariel University.
Video shot during the excavation showed the archeologists’ unbridled excitement in response to the discovery, which they described as “shocking” and “wild.”
“We are talking about an extremely rare find the likes of which has never been found in Israel,” Dr. Klein gushed.
Boaz Langford, a researcher with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said that blades looked “as if they could be picked up and used tight now, even 2,000 years after they were forged.”
The bladed weapons were likely crafted in a distant European province and brought to the province of Judea by Roman soldiers, said Guy Stiebel, a Tel Aviv University archaeologist specializing in Roman military history.
He said the quality of their preservation was exceptionally rare for Roman weapons, with only a small handful of examples from elsewhere in the empire and beyond its borders.
“Each one of them can tell you an entire story,” he said.
With Post wires