Roman boots leave 2,000-year impression
Historical footnoteHistorical footnote

Roman boots leave 2,000-year impression

Excavations in northern Israel yield rare imprints of hobnailed caligae worn by legionaries

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

The Roman bootprint found in northern Israel. Inset: a 3D scan of the print (courtesy Michael Eisenberg)
The Roman bootprint found in northern Israel. Inset: a 3D scan of the print (courtesy Michael Eisenberg)

Rarely do archaeologists literally walk in the footprints of the ancient people they study. But recent excavations by a University of Haifa team of the ruins of a Hellenistic city in the Golan Heights yielded the 2,000-year-old imprints of Roman soldiers’ boots.

The hobnailed boot impressions were left in the still-wet mortar of the fortifications at Hippos, situated just east of the Sea of Galilee, according to an article published earlier this month in Popular Archaeology by Professor Michael Eisenberg.

Hippos was one of 10 Hellenistic cities in modern Israel, Syria and Jordan known as the Decapolis in antiquity.

Archaeologists from the University of Haifa have excavated its remains annually since 2000.

The ruins are remarkable for their well-preserved basilica, forum, and theater, all hewn from the black basalt of the Golan Heights and perched on the cliffs above the Sea of Galilee.

The team found one complete sole imprint of a Roman caliga, and several incomplete impressions, easily identifiable by the pocks left by the boots’ iron nails.

“The complete imprint was 24.50 cm. long and had 29 round impressions,” Eisenberg told the magazine. “It was a left foot caliga, approximating a European size 40.”

Such footwear was the standard-issue gear for rank and file Roman soldiers.

“The bastion and its imprints raise the possibility that Roman cohorts or auxiliary stationed in Syria were also in charge of building the bastion,” Eisenberg wrote.

“This is an exceptional case and probably occurred during a time of emergency. Such an emergency may have been in connection with the Great Revolt in the Galilee (66-7 CE),” he said — several years before the Romans overran Jerusalem and burned the Second Temple.

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