Police caught a man with dozens of ancient floor tiles produced by soldiers of the Tenth Roman Legion, the military unit that was involved in destroying Jerusalem and its Second Temple some 2,000 years ago, the Israel Antiquities Authority said Wednesday.
The bricks, each of which was stamped with the emblem of the legion, were found in the trunk of a car in the Beit Hanina neighborhood of East Jerusalem early Tuesday. They were likely used as floor tiles in an ancient bathhouse, the IAA said.
The owner of the car was detained and told investigators that the tiles came from the Hebron area in the southern West Bank.
Detectives from the Israel Police serious crimes unit operating in the area came across covered crates in the trunk of a car. Suspicious, they opened them to find the bricks, which had apparently been recently dug up from an archaeological site, the statement said. There was no further indication as to the exact location the bricks had been taken from.
Amir Ganor, head of the IAA theft prevention department, said the bricks may have been part of an oven that was in a bathhouse used by the Roman soldiers.
“It hurts to see that for filthy lucre, people deface the floor of a 2,000-year-old public building and tear up a piece of history,” Ganor said.
Israel Antiquities Authority Director Eli Eskosido lamented that the removal of the bricks from their original site deprived archaeologists of the information they could have provided.
“Discovering ancient bricks in the trunk of a car with fresh dirt on them and signs of breakage and displacement is heartbreaking, as another ancient site was looted and destroyed,” he said in the statement.
“If archaeologists had found the bricks on the site itself, we would have been able to add a lot of information to archaeological research, as well as to place another point on the historical map of the country. At the moment, we are left to try to find out, through investigative operations, where the tiles were dismantled and looted from.”
The Tenth Legion, Legio X Fretensis, arrived in the region in the year 6 BCE to bolster Rome’s control of the land of Judea, Ganor explained. During the Jewish rebellion against Rome in 66-70 CE, the legion fought against Jewish rebels in the Galilee region, the Judean desert and Jerusalem until the eventual Roman victory and the destruction of the Second Temple. The legion also defeated the rebels holed up in the hilltop fortress of Masada near the Dead Sea.
Ganor said that after the war, legion soldiers settled in the greater Jerusalem area, building manufacturing sites with bricks that were unique to the legion. The materials were stamped with the symbols of the Legion — LXF — and are the key means of identifying where the legion units were located throughout the country.
The Tenth Legion also took part in suppressing the Bar Kochba rebellion in 132-135 CE but is assessed to have suffered heavy losses, Ganor noted. The legion remained in ancient Judea until the 3rd century CE.