In the Judean Desert, four perfectly preserved Roman swords and a fragment of a pilum were discovered in a hard-to-reach cave in the En Gedi nature reserve. Israeli archaeologists accidentally found the weapons hidden in a rock niche while examining an Old Hebrew inscription on one of the stalactites. The discovery was announced on 6 September 2023 by the Israel Antiquities Authority. Dating probably from the 2nd century CE, the weapons were hidden in a cave in an area of inaccessible cliffs by the Dead Sea.
In the upper part of the cave, one of the archaeologists noticed a pilum spearhead a rocky crevice. He also found the wooden remains of sword scabbards in an adjacent niche. The researchers reported the discovery to the Israel Antiquities Authority Archaeological Survey team conducting a scientific project in the caves of the Judean Desert. During further exploration of fissures in the rock, four Roman swords were found exceptionally well-preserved. Three of them – along with their wooden scabbards. Thanks to the very dry climate, the blades had hardly corroded. Leather belts and wooden and metal weapon fragments were also found alongside. Wood and metal sword handles are also partially preserved. The blades of three of the swords are 60-65 cm long, and the fourth is about 45 cm long.
Preliminary examination has confirmed that these were standard types of swords used by Roman soldiers stationed in Judea. Archaeologists speculate these weapons may have been taken by Jewish rebels as loot and hidden in an inaccessible location. Further research is expected to verify whether the findings may date from the period of the Bar Kokhba revolt (132-135 CE).
The swords and the pilum fragment were transferred to the air-conditioned laboratories of the Israel Antiquities Authority for conservation.