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 of northern Israel 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 complete imprint was 24.50 cm. long and had 29 round impressions,” Eisenberg told the magazine. “It was a left foot caliga, approximating a U.S. size 7.”
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.