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A Roman Milestone was incidentally discovered (in 1996) on the Roman Road which was used for centuries by pilgrims on their way to the Sanctuary of Moses in Arabia (Mount Nebo) from Jerusalem. The discovery occured while we were preparing for the next archaeological campaign of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum on Mount Nebo to commence at the end of this month. But this discovery has a story in itself: it was an incident caused by the uncontrolled use of the bulldozer to open up roads and destroy mountains, countryside and desert even next to such a rich archaeological area as Nebo.

In fact on an area of 60 sq. km a Danish expedition led by Peder Mortensen of the prehostoric museum of Moesgard has discovered to date 442 sites ranging from the palaeolythic period to the Roman-Byzantine era. These remains are scattered all around the area of Mount Nebo where for the last 60 years the archaeologists of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum have been working on the christian remains.

Some days ago I once more went with some Florentine architects atop al-Mushaqqar to the north of Mt. Nebo with the intention of showing them the area from which passed the roman road (to be included in the Archaeological park which is in an advanced state of finalisation). I was very much surprised not by the beauty of the silent desert but by not finding at this spot 13 (thirteen) roman milestones that had been laying there for hundreds of years! It is true that some fifeteen years back at the VI (sixth) mile we were able to raise up again one of the milestones with an inscription which last year was reduced to fragments but to be able to make 13 milestones literally disappear from the V (fifth) mile is surely a feat! I am sure they disappeared due to the recently built country road that follows the same ancient roman road opened by the department of public works last spring.

I was able to air my concern to the Minister for Tourism and Antiquities over the situation where I continually see the helpless mountain left in the hands of those whose aims are far from historical and cultural. The police intervened and in an unprecedented effort ordered the whole area to be dug up by bulldozers in search of the missing milestones! Thank God I, together with the inspector of antiquities of Madaba, arrived in time as the bulldozers were uncovering and breaking a new milestone! This new milestone had a perfectly preserved inscription in Latin with deep engraved lettering.

A first reading of the incription informed us that this milestone was put up after restoration works were carried out on this part of the roman road. These works, according to the inscription, were the works of the architects of Furnius Giulianus in 213 AD at the time of emperor Caracalla who is remembered in the inscription with all his official titles: Emperor Cesar Marcus Aurelius Antonius Pius Felix Augustus Particus Brittannicus Pontifex Maximus, at his fourth consulate, restored the roads and bridges. The road indication is found in the last two lines of the inscription in latin and greek: from Hesbus Millia (passum) VI!

This new roman milestone, uncovered in very strange circumstances, serves to point out the care the romans had for this part of the roman road that joined the Jordan valley to the high ridges of the plateau at al-Mushaqqar in front of Mount Nebo. At the same time this is the opening of the new archaeological campaign by the SBF in Jordan. We surely look forward to keep you informed of what is happening in the plains, hills and desert of the Madaba region!

© Michele Piccirillo ofm
Studium Biblicum Franciscanum


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On Saturday, 31 July, 2004 at 6:31:35 pm
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