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Archaeologists uncover Roman soldier’s paycheck at Masada

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Archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) have uncovered a papyrus paycheck belonging to Roman soldier during excavations at Masada.

Masada is an ancient fortress and palace, built by King Herod the Great between 37 and 31 BC, situated on a plateau overlooking the dead sea in the Southern District of Israel.

During the First Jewish-Roman War, also called the Great Revolt, Masada was taken by the Sicarii (meaning “dagger-man”), a splinter group of the Jewish Zealots, and one of the earliest organised groups that specialised in the act of assassination.

In AD 72, the legion X Fretensis, commanded by Lucius Flavius Silva, marched on Masada to break the Sicarii resistance. The legion was supported by several auxiliary units and Jewish prisoners of war (totalling some 15,000 men and women according to accounts by the Romano-Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus).

Masada – Image Credit : Shutterstock

The Romans encircled Masada with a circumvallation siege wall, running for 6.8 miles around the mountain plateau, supported by a series of fortified encampments or temporary forts.

After several attempts to breach Masada’s defences, the Romans constructed a giant siege ramp scaling the western side of the fortress to a height of 61 metres. A siege tower and battering ram was slowly moved up the ramp, where on April 16th, AD 73, the walls of Masada were breached.

The events that followed has divided historians and archaeologists. According to Josephus: “it [was] by the will of God, and by necessity, that [they, the Sicarrii] are to die” and that the defenders drew lots and killed each other in turn, down to the last man (as Judaism prohibits suicide). Josephus further stated that their leader, Eleazar ben Ya’ir’s, ordered all provisions to be destroyed, to demonstrate to the Romans that they defiantly chose death over slavery.

Excavations by the IAA have found a detailed military paycheck (one of only three legionary paychecks discovered in the entire Roman Empire), issued to a Roman legionary soldier from the period of the First Jewish-Roman War in AD 72. The paycheck is one of 14 Latin scrolls found at Masada by archaeologists – 13 of which was written on papyrus, and one on parchment paper.

The paycheck provides a detailed summary of a Roman soldier’s salary over two pay periods (out of three he would receive annually), including the various deductions that he was charged.

Dr. Oren Ableman, senior curator-researcher at the Israel Antiquities Authority Dead Sea Scrolls Unit, said:  “The soldier’s paycheck included deductions for boots and a linen tunic, and barley fodder for his horse.”

“Surprisingly, the details indicate that the deductions almost exceeded the soldier’s salary. Whilst this document provides only a glimpse into a single soldier’s expenses in a specific year, it is clear that in light of the nature and risks of the job, the soldiers did not stay in the army only for the salary,” added Dr Ableman.

According to Dr. Ableman, “The soldiers may have been allowed to loot on military campaigns. Other possible suggestions arise from reviewing the different historical texts preserved in the Israel Antiquities Authority Dead Sea Scrolls Laboratory.

For example, a document discovered in the Cave of Letters in Nahal Hever from the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt (AD 132–135), sheds light on some side hustles Roman soldiers used to earn extra cash. This document is a loan deed signed between a Roman soldier and a Jewish resident, the soldier charging the resident with interest higher than what was legal. This document reinforces the understanding that the Roman soldiers’ salaries may have been augmented by additional sources of income, making service in the Roman army far more lucrative.”

IAA

Header Image Credit : Shai Halevi, Israel Antiquities Authority

This content was originally published on www.heritagedaily.com – © 2023 – HeritageDaily

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Archaeology

Post-medieval township discovered in Scottish forest

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Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of a pre-medieval township in the Glen Brittle Forest on the Isle of Skye.

The discovery was made during an environmental survey before the harvest of a mature conifer plantation.

AOC Archaeologists have found traces of 28 buildings, consisting of houses, byres, barns and corn-drying kilns, which are surrounded by fields and stock enclosures that traditionally formed a small clachan (or township).

An early 19th century map surveyed by John Thomson in 1832 names the site as the township of Brunell, a small agricultural township which dates from the 17th and 18th centuries.

A passage in the Parish of Bracadale on Skye describes Brunell as: “The parish produces black cattle, sheep and horses. Black cattle is the main staple… from the returns of which the people pay their rents and supply themselves with necessities. There are small quantities of sheep on each farm, but there is no farm laid out entirely to sheep pasture”

During the late 18th century, the township experienced a decline due to farms consolidating land for sheep-grazing and reduced the need for labour, consequently displacing and leaving the small tenants adrift.

By the Ordnance Survey of 1881, the town had dwindled to merely two roofless buildings and several fields, suggesting that the entire population had abandoned the township by this time.

According to Forestry and Land Scotland, the survey data was used to guide machine operators during tree harvesting, ensuring they could fell trees without causing harm to any archaeological features.

Header Image Credit : Forestry and Land Scotland

Sources : Forestry and Land Scotland – Dig deeper: revealing the ruins of Brunell Township.

This content was originally published on www.heritagedaily.com – © 2023 – HeritageDaily

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Geophysical study finds evidence of “labyrinth” buried beneath Mitla

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A geophysical study has found underground structures and tunnels beneath Mitla – The Zapotec “Place of the Dead”

Mitla is an archaeological site associated with the Zapotec culture, located in the Oaxaca Valley in the present-day state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico.

The Zapotec civilisation emerged in the late 6th century BC, originating in the Central Valleys of the Etla. The culture was centred on the settlements of Oaxaca, San José Mogote, and Mitla, with the city of Monte Albán serving as the civic-ceremonial centre.

At its peak, the Zapotec had a population of more than 500,000 inhabitants, having developed sophisticated construction techniques, a writing system, two calendar systems, and complex agricultural cultivation.

In 2016, the Lyobaa Project, an institutional collaboration led by the National Institute of History and Anthropology (INAH) employed ground penetrating radar (GPR), electrical resistivity tomography (ERT), and ambient seismic noise interferometry (AIRSA) to explore potential archaeological features beneath the San Pablo Apóstol church, built atop the Zapotec ruins in Mitla.

Image Credit : Lyobaa Project

According to local legend, the church was constructed on an entrance way to an underground labyrinth, serving as a passage between the realm of the living to the realm of the dead, referred to as Mictlán in Nahuatl, meaning the “place of the dead” or “underworld.”

In 1674, the Dominican chronicler, Francisco Burgoa, described Spanish missionaries entering the labyrinth: “Such was the corruption and bad smell, the dampness of the floor, and a cold wind which extinguished the lights, that at the little distance they had already penetrated, they resolved to come out, and ordered this infernal gate to be thoroughly closed with masonry.”

As part of phase two of the Lyobaa Project, the researchers have identified buried architectural complexes and a series of corridors during a study of the Calvario, Arroyo, and del Sur groups within the archaeological zone.

The Arroyo group, located in the central area of the site has three quadrangle features connected by tunnels that likely date from AD 1200 during the Late Postclassic period.

The project also conducted a survey of the quadrangular plaza where the San Pablo Apóstol church was constructed on the remains of a pre-Hispanic temple. Beneath the plaza the researchers found that there are four mounds with clay internal cores.

Archaeologist, Denisse Argote, said: “We were able to determine that, although the core of the stepped structure is solid, the foundation of the historic church requires short-term intervention to guarantee its conservation, so measures must be taken to ensure its structural stability.”

“There are cracks in the historic building, since it does not have a foundation and, underneath, in what corresponds to the remains of the pre-Hispanic building, it seems that there are areas with small cavities,” added Argote.

Header Image Credit : Shutterstock

Sources : INAH

This content was originally published on www.heritagedaily.com – © 2023 – HeritageDaily

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