The Israel Antiquities Authority announced this week the discovery of four 1,900-year-old Roman swords and a pilum stowed in a cave in Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, on the west bank of the Dead Sea.
Researchers who reviewed the finds believe that the Roman blades were likely hidden by Judean rebels as trophies of war. The small cave in which they were hidden sits high in an “isolated and inaccessible” part of the cliffs on the park’s northern side, according to an authority release. The release noted that, 50 years ago, a stalactite with a partial ink inscription in ancient Hebrew was found in the same cave.
Asaf Gayer, an archaeologist at Ariel University, Boaz Langford, a geologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Shai Halevi, a photographer for the authority, revisited the cave recently to image the stalactite. But during their visit to the cave, Gayer found a pilum—a long javelin—stuck in a crevice. Upon further inspection, an alcove next to the crevice contained worked pieces of wood—parts of the swords’ scabbards, the research team concluded.
A full investigation of the cave followed, revealing four Roman swords. The iron blades were “exceptionally well preserved,” according to the release, and three of them were found still inside their wooden scabbards. Three of the swords were 23.6 inches long and 25.6 inches long (60 to 65 centimeters), and one was about 17.7 inches long (45 cm).
“The hiding of the swords and the pilum in deep cracks in the isolated cave north of ‘En Gedi, hints that the weapons were taken as booty from Roman soldiers or from the battlefield, and purposely hidden by the Judean rebels for reuse,” said Eitan Klein, a director of the Judean Desert Survey Project, in the authority release.
“We will try to pinpoint the historical event that led to the caching of these weapons in the cave and determine whether it was at the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt in 132–135 CE,” Klein added.
The Bar Kokhba revolt was a Jewish rebellion against Roman rule that eventually failed. But at least some Judeans apparently made away with war spoils, if the team’s initial conclusions are correct. A bronze coin dating from the time of Bar Kokhba was found in the cave, providing further evidence that the swords may have been stowed away at that time.
If the Dead Sea Scrolls weren’t enough evidence, the cache of Roman weaponry shows that the caves in and around Ein Gedi still contain plenty of ancient secrets. With a little industry and the careful eyes of archaeologists, more of those stories may be divulged.