Architectural remains of the 1,800-year-old Roman VIth ‘Ferrata’ Iron Legion military base were uncovered in a recent excavation carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority at the foot of Tel Megiddo, close to the ancient Kfar Othnay village (Greek: Capercotnai).

The excavation, directed by Dr. Yotam Tepper and Barak Tzin and funded by the Netivei Israel National Infrastructure Company, is part of the major infrastructure project to expand and upgrade Road 66 from the Megiddo Junction to the Hatishbi Junction at Yoqn‘eam.

In the course of the excavation, extensive and impressive architectural remains of the Via Pretoria (the main road of the camp) were uncovered, as well as a semicircular-shaped podium and stone-paved areas which were part of a large, monumental public building. The VIth Legion Roman legionary base is the only Roman military base of these dimensions that has been located and exposed in the Land of Israel.

“The Roman Legion camp at Legio was the permanent military base for over 5,000 Roman soldiers for more than 180 years, from 117–120 to about 300 CE,” said Dr. Yotam Tepper, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority. “Two main roads intersected at the center of the 550m long and 350m wide camp, and its headquarters were erected here. It was from this base point that all the distances along the Roman Imperial roads to the main cities in the north of the country were measured and marked with milestones. The ancient building remains were not preserved to a height, as most of the building stones were removed over the years for reuse in building projects carried out during the Byzantine and Early Islamic periods.”

Dr. Tepper emphasized that the discovery of the legionary base was not accidental, as over the last decade, surveys and six seasons of archaeological excavations have been carried out within a joint academic geographical-historical research project directed by Dr Tepper and Dr. Matthew J. Adams, as part of the Jezreel Valley Research Project (JVRP), carried out on behalf of the Albright Institute of Archaeology in Jerusalem.

“In the course of the excavation seasons, the upper part of the commanders’ courtyard (principia) was exposed southwest of Road No. 66, and in the present excavation, carried out on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, we are uncovering the northeastern part of the camp that extends alongside Road No. 66,” he explained.

Preliminary surveys of the camp area, carried out in the context of the JVRP using ground-penetrating radar equipment, indicated that the entire Roman base and all its components underlie the wheat fields of Kibbutz Megiddo.

“The unique contribution of the results of this research project lies in the rarity of such archaeological discoveries,” said Tepper. “Whilst Roman military camps are known in Israel, they are temporary siege camps, or small camps belonging to auxiliary divisions. None compares with the entire complex of the legionary base, as has been uncovered in the archaeological excavations at Legio, next to the Megiddo Junction.”

“Historical sources and some partial information point to the existence of a permanent Roman legionary base of the Xth Fratensis Legion in Jerusalem, but the camp remains to be discovered.”

In the excavation, coins, parts of weapons, pottery sherds and glass fragments were uncovered, but the most predominant finds are the rooftiles that have been found in extremely large quantities: “The rooftiles, some of which were stamped with the VIth Legion stamps, were used for various purposes, for roofing buildings, paving floors, and coating walls. The technology and know-how, the building techniques, and the weapons that the Legion brought with it from the home country, are unique to the Roman army, reflecting specific Roman Imperial military footprints.”

According to Eli Escusido, Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The proximity of the Roman legionary base to the National Park of Megiddo, recognized as a World Heritage Site, and also to one of the earliest Christian prayer halls known in the world, discovered by the Israel Antiquities Authority within the Megiddo Prison compound, provide potential to enhance the tourist experience at this central location at the gateway into the Galilee. Thanks to the excavations and the concentration of well- preserved archaeological remains, the Israel Antiquities Authority, and the Ministry of Heritage, together with Netivei Israel National Infrastructure Company and the National Parks Authority will evaluate the conservation of the site and the future of the planned Road No. 66.”

Engineer Dima Pritsker, Director of the Northern Branch of the Engineering and Development Unit in the Netivei Israel Company, said: “We are talking about an extremely important road project from the Hatishbi Junction to Megiddo, a distance of 15 km, in order to reduce traffic congestion along the road, and to improve the safety of the road users. The project incorporates the construction of the Megiddo Interchange at the junction of Roads 65 and 66. The Ministry of Transport is investing 1.5 billion shekels in the project carried out by Netivei Israel. The infrastructure works are being carried out parallel to the Israel Antiquities Authority excavations, and the archaeological finds have been uncovered thanks to this project. We continue to carry out additional infrastructure projects together with the Israel Antiquities Authority, as required, and appreciate being part of these important discoveries.

credit: אמיל אלג
credit: אמיל אלג
credit: אמיל אלג
credit: אמיל אלג
credit: אמיל אלג
credit: אמיל אלג
credit: אמיל אלג
credit: אמיל אלג
credit: אמיל אלג
credit: אמיל אלג
credit: אמיל אלג
credit: אמיל אלג
credit: אמיל אלג