Four Roman swords in scabbards found in Dead Sea cave

Four Roman swords still sheathed in their wooden scabbards and one shafted pilum (javelin) head have been discovered in a desert cave overlooking the Dead Sea. The typology of the swords and the pilum date them to the first half of the second century. Archaeologists believe they were stashed there by Judean rebels who took them from Roman soldiers during the Bar Kokhba revolt (ca. 132-136 A.D.).

They were found two months ago by some seriously fearless archaeologists who climbed a high cliff face to photograph a Hebrew inscription of the First Temple period on a stalactite first found 50 years ago using multispectral imagery. To their astonishment, they spotted a pilum in excellent condition in a deep crevice in the rock. In an adjacent niche, they found wooden fragments which turned out to be the remains of a sword scabbard.

The team called in reinforcements from the Israel Antiquities Authority and with the aid of the Judean Desert Archaeological Survey Team, the researchers discovered the four swords. Three of them are of the spatha type, about two feet long. The fourth was a ring-pommel sword with a short blade about 18 inches long. Three of them were still inside their wooden scabbards, preserved by the arid desert climate. They had ornate handles made of metal or wood and the leather strips that once wrapped them were found nearby.

The cave was comprehensively excavated following the exceptional discovery and artifacts going back as far as 6,000 years were found there, as well as a bronze coin from the time of the Bar Kochba uprising that could well have been left there at the time the swords were hidden.