A 1,500-year-old mother-of-pearl tablet inscribed with a six-branched menorah, which was likely part of a box housing a Torah scroll, was recently found at the ancient Roman city of Caesarea, on Israel’s coast, archaeologists announced Wednesday.A fragment of a Greek inscription was also found.
The artifact, the first of its kind made of the precious material bearing Jewish iconography, was among an assortment of discoveries made by the Israel Antiquities Authority amid new excavations carried out as part of the restoration of the ancient port. It was found close to a Roman-era temple dedicated to Augustus Caesar that was constructed by King Herod in the first century BCE, but dates to the fourth or fifth centuries CE.
The find was made just a few days before the Jewish festival of Passover, which began on April 10, said Israel Antiques Authority archaeologist Peter Gendelman.
Other articles are also reporting that the excavation found the head of a Roman-era figurine of the healing-god Asclepius. An article by Nir Hasson in Haaretz has good photos of all three artifacts: Archaeologists Uncover Ancient Entrance to Caesarea in Israel. 'Herod’s megalomaniac spirit hovers over Caesarea': Discoveries lend credence to the Roman historian Josephus’ the 'Wars of the Jews.'. Hasson's article reports that some of the ruins may be of a temple of Augustus mentioned by Josephus:
The Jewish-Roman historian Flavius Josephus wrote of a temple atop a hill above the harbor. The temple, devoted to the emperor Augustus and the goddess Roma, did not survive the ages. As with many sacred compounds elsewhere, a Byzantine church was built on the same grounds, then another temple and finally, a Crusader church. But recent excavations found the base of a large altar that stood close to the entrance.If the Haaretz article has gone behind the subscription wall, you can also find good photos with an AFP article in the Daily Mail: Israeli archaeologists find altar dedicated to Augustus Caesar and mother-of-pearl tablet inscribed with a menorah at Mediterranean port.
“Josephus relates how the Romans who conquered Jerusalem planted their banners [the flags of the victorious legions] across from the gate, followed by offering a sacrifice. This could be a similar arrangement,” says Dr. Peter Gandelman, who heads the dig along with archaeologist Mohammed Khater.
In his book “Wars of the Jews," Josephus waxes prolix on the wonders of the Caesarea temple: “On a hilltop across from the entrance to the harbor was Caesar’s temple, prominent in its size and beauty. It contained a gigantic statue of Augustus which was no less magnificent than the statue of Zeus in Olympia, on which it was modeled. There was also a statue of Roma, equal in beauty to the statue of Hera in Argos,” he wrote.
A week ago I noted the announcement of a NIS 100 million project to renovate the ancient Caesarea harbor. That post also collects some links to recent past posts on the archaeology of Caesarea.