In 2016 during an underwater excavation in the Mediterranean Sea, Israeli archaeologists from Haifa University uncovered a large stone with an ancient inscription. The writing was determined to be roughly 1900 years old and bore the name of mostly unknown procurator of Judea – Gargilius Antiquus.
The stone laid at the bottom of the sea near Tel Dor, the site of an important port in Roman times which was in operation till at least the fourth century CE. Over the years many artifacts were recovered at Tel Dor: anchors, pottery, and other common items but this giant stone found by students was the only item with inscription discovered at this site. The researchers believe that this 1300-pound (or 6oo kg) stone was originally a part of a statue base.
The inscription is missing a section but most of it is legible and it read this way: “The City of Dor honors Marcus Paccius, son of Publius, Silvanus Quintus Coredius Gallus Gargilius Antiquus, governor of the province of Judea, as well as […] of the province of Syria, and patron of the city of Dor.”
The name of prefect Antiquus was first found on another inscription about 70 years ago but it was not clear whether he governed Syria or Judea. This newly found stone made it clear that Gargilius Antiquus governed Judea in the year 131 CE, just before the legendary Bar-Kochba revolt. Between the years 132-136 CE, the forces of Shimon Bar-Kochba waged war against Romans in Judea. They temporarily pushed out Romans and captured key strongholds, including Jerusalem. But eventually, Romans regrouped and crushed the rebellion.
What is most significant about this stone is that outside of ancient texts this stone is only the second mention of Judea on artifacts. The first mention of Judea by name was discovered 80 years ago in Caesarea, on the famous Pontius Pilate inscription.
It was in the wake of the Bar-Kochba’s revolt when Romans decided to abolish the province of Judea and even erase its name. Emperor Hadrian intentionally renamed Jerusalem into Aelia Capitolina. Then the entire territory of Judea was administratively connected to Syria and from this time forward it became known as Syria Palaestina and not Judea. The inscription on this stone dates just a few years prior to these historical developments.
This stone is an amazing find which now fills in the gaps in the timeline of Roman rule of Judea when both Christianity and Judaism emerged. Another piece of the puzzle which helps us to confirm what we know with tangible evidence.
Original Sources: Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel, Archaeology.org