Four 1,900-Year-Old Roman Swords Found Hidden In A Cave In The Judean Desert

A rare cache of Roman weapons has been discovered stashed away in a cave in the Judean Desert. There, tucked away in a rocky hiding place, researchers from the Israel Antiquities Authority and Ariel University retrieved four 1,900-year-old swords, still inside their leather scabbards. It’s thought the weapons were war booty, hidden by Judean rebels within what’s now known as the ‘En Gedi Nature Reserve near the Dead Sea.

“The hiding of the swords and the pilum in deep cracks in the isolated cave north of ‘En Gedi, hints that the weapons were taken as booty from Roman soldiers or from the battlefield, and purposely hidden by the Judean rebels for reuse,” said Dr Eitan Klein, one of the directors of the Judean Desert Survey Project, in a press release emailed to IFLScience. 


“Obviously, the rebels did not want to be caught by the Roman authorities carrying these weapons. We are just beginning the research on the cave and the weapon cache discovered in it, aiming to try to find out who owned the swords, and where, when, and by whom they were manufactured. We will try to pinpoint the historical event that led to the caching of these weapons in the cave and determine whether it was at the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt in 132–135 CE.”

Remarkable footage captures the moment the incredible discovery was made, consisting of four Roman swords, their sheaths, and a pilum – a shafted weapon that was thrown at enemies, like a javelin. The swords were made of wood and metal and ranged in length. Three were around 60 centimeters (24 inches), identifying them as Roman spatha swords, while the fourth was shorter at 45 centimeters (18 inches), making it a ring-pommel sword.

The weapons have now been removed from their hiding place in the cave and will go to the Israel Antiquities Authority’s climate-controlled labs for preservation and conservation. While initial investigations have confirmed that they are the types of swords that were being used by Roman soldiers stationed in Judea, there’s still plenty we can learn from these rare and fragile finds that date back 1,900 years.


The team behind the discovery is also hopeful that the region has plenty more treasure hidden in its many caves.

judean desert cave roman swords

The researchers who made the discovery had a hell of a view as they worked.

Image credit: Oriya Amichai Israel Antiquities Authority

“The Judean Desert doesn’t cease to surprise us. After six years of surveys and excavations, in the course of which over 800 caves were systematically recorded over an area of 170 [kilometers; 106 miles] of cliff-line, we still discover new treasures in the caves,” said Amir Ganor, Director of the Antiquities Looting Prevention Unit at the Israel Antiquities Authority, and one of the Directors of the Judean Desert Survey Project. 

“In the course of the project, we unfortunately encountered tens of caves that have been plundered since 1947. I shudder to think how much historical knowledge would have been lost had the looters reached the amazing artifacts in this cave before the archaeologists. This time, thanks to the national project initiated by the Israel Antiquities Authority, we managed to get there before the looters, and to save these fascinating finds for the benefit of the public and researchers around the world.”

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