The Golan’s Roman Road

A Roman road and Jewish rebellion

Roman Road

Aerial view of the Remains of the Roman road in the Golan. Courtesy Pazout et al.

Extending through the southern Golan is one of the best-preserved Roman roads in the region, connecting the Sea of Galilee to the ancient Syrian city of Nawa. However, recent excavations suggest it may be hiding a secret. Running across the rugged terrain of the Golan Heights, the road seems to have bypassed nearly all local Jewish villages, and its multiple watchtowers paint a picture of a Roman army concerned with regional security. Publishing in the journal Tel Aviv, one team suggests the road could be evidence that, even years after the revolts that engulfed Judah in the first and second centuries CE, the Romans still felt a Jewish threat.

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A Roman Road in the Middle of Nowhere

While the Roman road has been known for decades, recent work by archaeologists from Aarhus University and Haifa University has uncovered portions that were previously lost. Stretching 25 miles from the Sea of Galilee to Nawa, the road was constructed during the last half of the second century CE, with milestones erected along it in the years 161 and 162, likely in preparation for the Parthian War (c. 163–167). Along with other Roman roads in the region, it was likely constructed to improve communication and travel between the Mediterranean ports of Tyre and Akko-Prolemais and inland Syria.

roman road

Map of the Roman road and the various watchtowers and mile markers found along it. Courtesy Pazout et al.

This Roman highway would have been used for military transport, postal services, and to connect supply centers and economic hubs. But one thing it did not do was connect local villages to the rest of the Roman world. Instead, it appears to have passed the predominantly Jewish villages at a distance. While a possible explanation is that the road followed the most direct topographic route from the Sea of Galilee to Nawa, the presence of several watchtowers along the route could hint at a different reason.

Based on excavations, the team suggests at least three watchtowers were built in the third century. This was well after the Golan was already safely in the interior of the Roman Empire and therefore suggests there were other internal security concerns. The watchtowers, they believe, were likely erected to protect against the local population, which, even a century after the Bar-Kokhba Revolt, was still hostile towards Roman rule. Similar conditions are seen along the Roman road from Caesarea Paneas (Banias) to Damascus as well as in southern Syria in the first century.

roman watchtower

The el-Qusayyibe East watchtower after excavation. Courtesy, M. Eisenberg, Pazout et al.

The road, which consisted of two branches, fell out of use by the fourth century. This was likely due to the large-scale reorganization of the Roman military under emperors Diocletian (r. 284–305) and Constantine (r. 306–337). The roads were constructed with two curbs and a central line of large field stones that divided them into two lanes, each paved with smaller field stones. In total, the width of the main branch of the road ranged from 15.5 to 17 feet, with the smaller branch ranging from 14.5 to 15.5 feet. These sizes suggest that the Golan road was of secondary importance to the Roman military, as both branches were markedly smaller than the empire’s main roads, such as that from Damascus to Nawa.

roman road

Roman road system of the Galilee, Golan, and southern Syria. The Golan road is in a dashed line. Courtesy Pazout et al.

Although neither branch could be traced to their eastern ends, which are located in modern-day Syria, they both likely connected to the major Roman road running south from Damascus. On their western end, the road led to the Sea of Galilee, where it met the road heading south from Caesarea Paneas to Nysa-Scythopolis (Beth Shean), The team was able to date the road based on Roman mile marker inscriptions as well as pottery and coins excavated in the watchtowers.

Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Hundreds of Roman Forts Identified in Syria and Iraq

Lost Roman Army Camps Discovered in Jordan

Ancient Roman Swords Discovered Near Ein Gedi

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