2,000-Year-Old Roman Basilica Unearthed
Archaeologists have recently announced the uncovering of an incredible find at a dig site in Israel. They have unearthed the largest ancient Roman basilica ever found in the nation. Ancient coins found on the dig site support the theory of its construction date falling within the time of the biblical figure, Herod the Great. In fact, the 2,000-year-old structure is suspected of having been built by Herod during this period.
Saar Ganor, Rachel Bar-Natan, and Federico Kobrin are excavation directors for the site. They work within the Israel Antiquities Authority and have explained in a statement how the connection was made between Herod and the basilica. According to the directors, the writings of Josephus, the historian, do describe Herod’s construction within the city of Ashkelon. That description includes several features such as collonaded halls, a bathhouse, and fountains.
Renovations of Tel Ashkelon National Park were the catalyst for this discovery. Israel’s oldest national park has previous had Roman ruins discovered within its depths, and so it was fair to assume there would be more. The basilica ruins recently discovered seen to match the description given by Josephus. There is a central hall, with two marble column-lined side halls.
Renovation and Rediscovery
Coins from Herod’s time seem to provide additional support for the dating of the structure. Additionally, this, among other evidence. has led archaeologists to theorize that the basilica may have been commissioned by Herod himself. It is also thought that during Emperor Septimius Severus’ reign in the 2nd or 3rd century, the basilica was renovated. At which time the marble elements and a small theatre (or odeon) will have been added. Over 200 artefacts have been uncovered during the excavation. Among which are sculptures of the Titan Atlas, the goddess Nike, and Tyche (a depiction of the Egyptian goddess Isis).
An expedition in the 1920s, lead by John Garstang, the British archaeologist, had originally uncovered the basilica almost 100 years ago. After the discovery was made, the basilica was sadly reburied. Research from the expedition, however, led archaeologists to resume the excavation in 2008. According to the Jerusalem Post, the 2008 excavations were carried out until 2012, when they were halted only to resume in 2016.
What was the basilica for?
This basilica will have been used as a civic building – being the centre of court proceedings, commerce, festivals, and other public activities and events. It would appear that it was abandoned following an earthquake in 363 A.D. that devastated the building. The marble was later repurposed for pavings stones and other buildings with the best of it being taken to Jaffa.
Once renovations of the site are complete, Israel plans to open these spectacular ruins to the public. Renovations are being done with the combined efforts of the Leon Levy Foundation, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, the Ashkelon Municipality, and The Israel Antiquities Authority. They intend to erect 15-17 of the 40ft tall pillars where they originally stood within the ancient colonnade. This is being done with the intent of providing visitors with a better feeling for what it would have felt like to stand in that space during its heyday.