Finding the Ironsides

Evidence of the Roman legion military camp found in Israel

**The article below reported the 2013 archaeological fieldwork at Roman Legio during the excavation season. In a web-exclusive report on Bible History Daily, Legio excavation directors Matthew J. Adams, Jonathan David and Yotam Tepper describe the first archaeological investigation of a second-century C.E. Roman camp in the Eastern Roman Empire.**

Archaeologists in the Jezreel Valley excavate a pipe that may have belonged to the Sixth Roman Legion camp. Though known from historical sources, the exact location of the camp has remained a mystery. Photo courtesy Jezreel Valley Regional Project.

For the first time, the camp of the Sixth Roman Legion may have been located. Analyzing an enhanced high-resolution satellite photo, archaeologist Yotam Tepper of the Israel Antiquities Authority, in collaboration with the Jezreel Valley Regional Project, identified what he believes to be the camp’s square-shaped boundary. The team conducted ground-penetrating radar and electromagnetic testing and subsequently carried out excavations at the site. They uncovered the base of a battery or wall, a moat surrounding the camp, water pipes, a covered sewage channel, coins, tiles and a shingle decorated with the legion’s symbol. These discoveries seem to support Tepper’s identification of the site as the camp of the Sixth Legion. The site sits between Tel Megiddo (Biblical Armageddon) and the oldest known Christian house of worship, located half a mile south of the camp, which was abandoned by the end of the third century.

According to historical sources, the Legio Sexta Ferrata, known as the “Ironsides,” was based in the Galilee in the second century A.D. The Sixth Legion was most likely stationed there in response to the Jewish antagonism that eventually resulted in the Second Jewish Revolt of 132–136 A.D. From their headquarters, 3,500 Roman soldiers ruled over Galilee and part of Samaria. The city that grew around the camp became known as Legio during the Roman Empire and later as Lajjun after the arrival of Muslim forces in the seventh century. The actual camp site of the Sixth Legion, however, remained unknown. According to Matthew Adams, director of the Jezreel Valley Regional Project, “If [Tepper’s] right and we locate the camp archaeologically, it will be the first time in the archaeology of the Roman Empire that a Roman camp of this period has been excavated in the Eastern half of the Empire!”

Read more about the excavation in the Jezreel Valley.

Read the directors’ excavation report on Bible History Daily for free.

BAS Library Members: Read more about the early church found near Megiddo, as well as the Roman forces sent to suppress the Second Jewish Revolt:

Vassilios Tzaferis, “Inscribed ‘To God Jesus Christ’: Early Christian Prayer Hall Found in Megiddo Prison,” Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 2007.

Werner Eck, “Hadrian’s Hard-Won Victory,” Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2007.

Hanan Eshel and Ro’i Porat, “Fleeing the Romans,” Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 2006.

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