For over a century, excavations in Jerusalem have been uncovering segments of the city’s Roman-period network of streets, particularly the so-called Stepped Street that wended its way from the southernmost gate of the city, alongside the Siloam Pool and towards the Temple Mount. Based on newly-discovered numismatic evidence, archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and Tel Aviv University believe that the Stepped Street was constructed in the 1st century CE, in the middle of the first period of direct Roman rule, specifically during Pontius Pilate’s tenure as governor of the province of Judea.
The importance of the Stepped Street is evident from its dimensions as well as from the quality of its construction, which undoubtedly required an expansive workforce that included skilled laborers and craftsmen.
First discovered by British archaeologists in 1894, the magnificent street was about 2,000 feet (600 m) long and 26 feet (8 m) wide, and was paved with large stone slabs.
The archaeologists estimate that some 10,000 tons of quarried limestone rock were used in its construction.
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.
“At the time of the street’s construction, it is where Jesus is said to have cured a man’s blindness by sending him to wash in the Siloam Pool,” the researchers said.
“If this was a simple walkway connecting point A to point B, there would be no need to build such a grand street,” added IAA archaeologists Dr. Joe Uziel and Dr. Moran Hagbi.
“At its minimum it is 8 m 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.”
“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 aggrandize his name through major building projects,” said Dr. Nahshon Szanton, a researcher at the IAA and Tel Aviv University.
The archaeologists uncovered a 722-foot (220 m) long section of the street and found pottery sherds and over 100 coins trapped beneath paving stones.
The coins were minted between 17 CE to 31 CE, which provides firm evidence that work began and was completed during the time that Pontius Pilate governed Judea.
“Dating using coins is very exact,” said Dr. Donald Ariel, an archaeologist and coin expert with the IAA.
“As some coins have the year in which they were minted on them, what that means is that if a coin with the date 30 CE 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 30 CE.”
“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 paving stones of the Stepped Street were found hidden beneath layers of rubble, thought to be from when the Romans captured and destroyed the city in 70 CE.
The rubble contained weapons such as arrowheads and sling stones, remains of burnt trees, and collapsed stones from the buildings along its edge.
The findings were published in the Tel Aviv: Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University.
Nahshon Szanton et al. 2019. Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem: The Monumental Street from the Siloam Pool to the Temple Mount. Tel Aviv: Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University 46 (2): 147-166; doi: 10.1080/03344355.2019.1650491