Thief returns stolen Roman ballista stones
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Thief returns stolen Roman ballista stones

Pilferer leaves 2,000-year-old artifacts on Beersheba museum's doorstep, says in note they brought him 'nothing but trouble'

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.

Roman ballista stones from Gamla returned by an anonymous thief (Dr. Dalia Manor, the Museum of Islamic and Near Eastern Cultures in Beersheba)
Roman ballista stones from Gamla returned by an anonymous thief (Dr. Dalia Manor, the Museum of Islamic and Near Eastern Cultures in Beersheba)

An anonymous antiquities thief left a bag with two Roman ballista stones on the doorstep of a museum in Beersheba last week with an apologetic note saying they’d brought him only misery. They have been returned to the Israel Antiquities Authority, a spokesperson said in a statement.

The 2,000-year-old projectiles, the note said, were pilfered in 1995 from Gamla, an archaeological site in the Golan Heights.

“These are two Roman ballista balls from Gamla, from a residential quarter at the foot of the summit. I stole them in July 1995 and since then they have brought me nothing but trouble,” the note read. “Please, do not steal antiquities!”

Gamla was a Jewish town and stronghold during the Jewish revolt against Rome in 66-70 CE. Besieged by Roman forces, it was captured and destroyed in 67 CE. Strewn among the remains of the town were numerous ballista stones fired by the Roman army, such as the ones returned last week. They were roughly the size of grapefruits, and weighed several kilograms apiece.

Dr. Danny Syon, an IAA archaeologist who excavated Gamla for years, said 2,000 such missiles were found at Gamla, “the largest number of ballista stones from the Early Roman period.”

Gamla's unmistakable hump (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)
Gamla’s unmistakable hump (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

“The Romans shot these stones at the defenders of the city in order to keep them away from the wall, and in that way they could approach the wall and break it with a battering ram. The stones were manually chiseled on site by soldiers or prisoners,” he said in a statement.

The ancient projectiles will join others found at Gamla in the National Treasures Department of the IAA.

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