University of Haifa researchers have made an important discovery underwater: a rare inscription from the period preceding the Bar Kochva revolt offers for the first time the definite identification of Gargilius Antiques as the Roman prefect of Judea at that time. The inscription was found in a University of Haifa underwater excavation at Tel Dor, on Israel’s Mediterranean coast, about 20 miles south of Haifa.
“For the first time, we can state with certainty the name of the Roman prefect of Judea during the critical period leading up to the Bar Kochva revolt,” stated Prof. Assaf Yasur-Landau of the University of Haifa, who is directing the underwater excavation with Dr. Gil Gambash, head of the Marine Civilizations Department at the University of Haifa, who helped him interpret the inscription. “In addition, this is only the second time that the name ‘Judea’ has appeared in any inscription from the Roman period,” he added.
Tel Dor, identified as Biblical Dor, was an active community until at least the fourth century CE. It has been first excavated as early as the first half of the twentieth century. Since 2003, the excavation has been led by Dr. Ayelet Gilboa of the University of Haifa and Dr. Ilan Sharon of the Hebrew University, together with Prof. Rebecca Martin of Boston University and Prof. Yasur-Landau.
Anchors, earthenware, and many other items have already been found in the inlets at Dor, but it is doubtful that anything prepared the researchers for their latest discovery. In January, Ehud Arkin-Shalev and Michelle Kreisher, two research students from the Coastal Archeology laboratory at the University of Haifa, found a massive rectangular stone within the area of Dor Nature Reserve. Even before they took it out of the water they could see that the stone bore an inscription. After consulting with Kobi Sharvit, the director of the Marine Archeology Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority, and Yigal Ben Ari, head of the Coastal District in the Nature and Parks Authority, it was decided to remove the inscription from the sea as quickly as possible to prevent it being damaged or covered by sand.
After a complicated engineering operation to remove the artifact, the researchers realized that they were looking at a hewed rectangular stone 33.46 inches high and weighing more than 1,323 pounds. The stone bore a seven-line inscription in Greek, and, according to Prof. Yasur-Landau, “probably formed the base of a sculpture from the Roman period. As far as we know, this is the longest inscription found underwater in Israel.”
Dr. Gambash joined in the task of deciphering the inscription. The work on the eroded stone has not yet been completed, but the researchers have already made two exciting discoveries. First, and most importantly, the inscription mentions the name Gargilius Antiques, and states that his position was prefect of Judea. Antiques’ name also appears in a similar inscription that was found some 70 years ago, but in that case the finding did not include the name of the province where he served as prefect. An academic debate followed, with some scholars arguing that the inscription stated that Antiques was the prefect of the province of Syria, while others were convinced that it clearly identified him as prefect of Judea. The newly-found inscription proves beyond all doubt that Gargilius Antiques was the Roman prefect of Judea during the period leading up to the outbreak of the Bar Kochva revolt in 131 CE.
But the identification of Antiques’ position is not the only exceptional feature of this finding. To date, the name “Judea” has only been found in one other Roman inscription – a famous item from Caesarea that mentions the name of the prefect Pontius Pilate.
Immediately after the Bar Kochva revolt, the Romans decided to abolish the province of Judea and to obliterate any mention of its name. The province was united with Syria to form a single province called Syria Palaestina, from 135 to about 390. So the newly discovered inscription dates to just before Judea ceased to exist as a province under that name.
After the inscription has been fully deciphered, the researchers will turn to examining its historical context. “Together with the inscription that was found around the time the State of Israel was established, we have here two sculptures honoring and lauding the prefect Antiques,” note the researchers, adding: “The question is – why? Do these inscriptions mark two different significant events, or was it usual practice to erect a new sculpture for the patron of the city without any special reason?”
The inscription was revealed to the public for the first time on Wednesday, as part of a special exhibition entitled Via Maris, in the Younes & Soraya Nazarian Library at the University of Haifa. It is part of the fourth annual Haifa Conference on Mediterranean Research, which is devoted this year to the history of the Mediterranean. The exhibition and the conference were organized by Dr. Gil Gambash and Historian Dr. Zur Shalev, to mark the upcoming inauguration of the Haifa Center for Mediterranean History (HCMH).