Archaeologists Find Evidence of Ancient Israel’s Incense Road

August 18, 2020 | Rosella Tercatin
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From the 4th century BCE through the 3rd century CE, a major trade route brought frankincense, myrrh, and other products from Yemen across the Arabian Peninsula to the ancient city of Petra (now in Jordan), and then westward, via the Negev desert, to the Gaza coast, where they could be exported across the Mediterranean. At the time there were four major Negev cities located along it. Archaeologists have recently found remnants of this ancient road, as Rosella Tercatin writes:

[M]ost scholars believed for many decades that the road and its structures, including some milestones, were to be associated with the Nabateans, a people who emerged in the last centuries of the first millennia BCE and settled, among other areas, in the Negev. However, the Latin inscriptions uncovered in the recently identified “lost section” of the route were found to be from the later Roman period, [specifically from the reigns] of the emperors Pertinax (2nd century CE) and Severus (late 2nd to early 3rd centuries CE).

Chaim Ben David, [one of the scholars who identified the milestones] had already suggested that “the milestones in the desert areas of the Negev and southern Jordan . . . were erected on the initiative of the Roman provincial governor, using the labor of army units, without involving the local population at least for maintenance as was usual in the more densely populated parts of the province.”

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