The ancient walkway most likely used by pilgrims as they made their way to worship at the Temple Mount was first discovered in 1894 by British archaeologists in the “City of David” within the walls of Jerusalem.
Researchers have now found more than 100 coins beneath the paving stones that date the street to around the year 31AD. The finding provides strong evidence that the street was commissioned by Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of the province of Judaea, best known for being the official who presided over the trial of Jesus and ordered his crucifixion.
After six years of extensive archaeological excavations, a team from the Israel Antiquities Authority and Tel Aviv University have uncovered a 220m section of the ancient street.
The road ascends from the Pool of Siloam in the south to the Temple Mount. Both monuments are hugely significant to followers of Judaism and Christianity.
The Temple Mount, located within the Old City of Jerusalem, has been venerated as a holy site for thousands of years. It is where Jesus is said to have cured a man’s blindness by sending him to wash in the Siloam Pool.
The excavation revealed more than 100 coins trapped beneath paving stones. The latest coins were dated between 17AD and 31AD, which provides firm evidence that work began and was completed during the time that Pilate governed Judea.
Study co-author Dr Donald Ariel, an archaeologist and coin expert with the Israel Antiquities Authority, said: “Dating using coins is very exact.
“As some coins have the year in which they were minted on them, what that means is that if a coin with the date on it is found beneath the street, the street had to be built in the same year or after that coin had been minted, so any time after.
“However, our study goes further, because statistically, coins minted some 10 years later are the most common coins in Jerusalem, so not having them beneath the street means the street was built before their appearance, in other words only in the time of Pilate.”
The street – 600 metres long and around eight metres wide – was paved with large stone slabs, as was customary throughout the Roman Empire. The researchers estimate that some 10,000 tons of quarried limestone rock was used in its construction, which the research team say would have required considerable skill.
The opulent and grand nature of the street coupled with the fact that it links two of the most important spots in Jerusalem – the Siloam Pool and Temple Mount – is strong evidence that the street acted as a pilgrim’s route.
Co-author Dr Joe Uziel, of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said: “If this was a simple walkway connecting point A to point B, there would be no need to build such a grand street.
“At its minimum it is eight metres wide. This, coupled with its finely carved stone and ornate ‘furnishings’ like a stepped podium along the street, all indicate that this was a special street.”
Study author Nahshon Szanton added: “Part of it may have been to appease the residents of Jerusalem, part of it may have been about the way Jerusalem would fit in the Roman world, and part of it may have been to aggrandise his name through major building projects.”
The paving stones of the street were found hidden beneath layers of rubble, thought to be from when the Romans captured and destroyed the city in 70AD. The rubble contained weapons, including arrowheads and sling stones, remains of burnt trees, and collapsed stones from the buildings along its edge.
The researchers say it is possible that Pilate had the street built to reduce tensions with the Jewish population.
Dr Ariel added:“We can’t know for sure, although all these reasons do find support in the historical documents.”
The study was published in the Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University.
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