Archaeological find in Yavne
Archaeological find in YavneYaniv Breman, Antiquities Authority

A new apartment project in the city of Yavne has led to the discovery of a rare lead projectile from the Hellenistic period featuring an inscription in Greek that was intended to ensure victory in battle.

The 2,200-year-old projectile, which bears the inscription - "Victory of Heracles and Cronus", was uncovered in excavations conducted by the Yavneh Antiquities Authority with funding from the Israel Lands Authority for the purpose of expanding the city by 12,000 housing units, in cooperation with the Yavneh Municipality.

The projectile was designed to be fired from a sling device (a kind of ancient launcher), and measures 4.4 cm in length.

"Cronus and Heracles were considered divine patrons of Yavneh during the Hellenistic period," says Prof. Yulia Ustinova from Ben Gurion University of the Negev, who deciphered the inscription. "Actually, the inscription on a projectile is the first archaeological evidence of the two [guardian gods] of Yavneh. Until today, the [two pairing of the two deities] had only been seen on one inscription on the Greek island of Delos."

המילה "ניצחון" ושמות האלים הרקלס והאורונאס על גבי הקליע
המילה "ניצחון" ושמות האלים הרקלס והאורונאס על גבי הקליעצילום: דפנה גזית, רשות העתיקות

As a couple, Heracles and Cronus were a perfect team for Greek oracles prophesizing victory in battle. "The announcement of the future victory of Heracles and Cronus was not a call addressed to the deity, but a threat addressed to the opponents," says Prof. Ustinova. "Lead projectiles were known throughout the ancient world starting with the 5th century BCE, but in Israel individual projectiles were found with inscriptions on them. The inscriptions convey a message of unifying the warriors with the aim of raising their spirits, scaring the enemy, or a call intended to magically energize the projectile itself. These inscriptions were part of psychological warfare, the main purpose of which was to terrorize the opponent.

"It seems that we will not be able to know for sure if the projectile belonged to a Greek soldier," say Pablo Betzer and Dr. Daniel Varga, heads of the excavation project, "but it is not out of question that it is related to the conflict between the Greeks and the Hasmoneans. In the 2nd century BCE, pagan Yavneh - which was an ally of the Seleucids (the Greeks who ruled over Israel), was subject to attacks of the Hasmonean armies. The Hasmoneans sought to subjugate other nations and create a homogeneous and pure state from a religious-ritual point of view. The tiny lead projectiles, which announce the imminent victory of the Pagan deity of Yavneh, are tangible evidence of a fierce battle that took place in the area."

"One can only imagine what that warrior who held the projectile 2,200 years ago thought and felt, as he held on to the hope of divine salvation," concluded Eli Escozido, director of the Antiquities Authority. "The Yavneh excavation is a huge excavation - one of the largest conducted by the Antiquities Authority, so far, it has yielded fascinating discoveries that testify to a rich and diverse history of 7,000 years, and the hand - without a doubt, is still tipped."