Archaeologists have found evidence that an ancient walkway believed to have been used by pilgrims as they made their way to worship at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem was built by Pontius Pilate.
The street, known as the Stepped Street, ascended from the southernmost gate of the city, alongside the Siloam Pool and towards the Temple Mount
It is where Jesus is said to have cured a man’s blindness by sending him to wash in the Siloam Pool.
And its discovery has led scholars to conclude that the rule of Pontius Pilate was not an era characterised purely by self-interest and corruption, as it has often been described.
After six years of digging, researchers found the new 220-metre-long section of the Stepped Street, first discovered to exist by the British more than a century ago. On the newly-found section, they unearthed more than 100 coins have from the time of Pilate.
Archaeologists and historians have been investigating the early Roman network of streets in Jerusalem for more than 150 years. This street was known about as significant, but was thought to be the work of the Herodian period, Herod, and Herod Agrippa II. The new finds have made a more precise date possible, attributing it directly to Pontius Pilate during his time as governor of Judea.
Charles Warren, the British Royal Engineer who dug in Jerusalem during the last third of the 19th century, was the first to expose portions of the street during his excavations of a series of shafts and tunnels along the Temple Mount walls. There have been many more excavations since then but it was during the most recent, by researchers at the Israel Antiquities Authority and begun in 2013, that the new section of the street was found.
In their findings published in "Tel Aviv: Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University", researchers at the Israel Antiquities Authority say the 100 coins they dug up in the new section date the street to approximately 31 CE, more than three decades after Herod died. This is strong evidence that the street was commissioned by Pontius Pilate, they say.
View of the foundations of the Western Wall (left) and the retaining wall that abutted it, built on bedrock (below). To the right are the constructive layers that filled the support system (photograph: M. Hagbi, IAA).
The authors of the paper, Nahshon Szanton, Moran Hagbi, Joe Uziel and Donald T Ariel, say that the opulent and grand nature of the street, at minimum eight metres wide and with many beautiful carvings and other additions, coupled with the fact that it linked two of the most important spots in Jerusalem, the Siloam Pool and Temple Mount, is strong evidence that the street acted as a pilgrim’s route.
The street is also thought to be the place from where the Romans captured and destroyed Jerusalem in 70CE. The researchers found rubble and other artefacts from this destruction.
They conclude: "Considering the chronological framework, the length of Pontius Pilate’s tenure and the stability in which his era can be viewed, alongside other infrastructure projects noted in the historical sources, it is likely that Pilate was behind the construction of one of Jerusalem's main streets.
"Prior to this study, none of Jerusalem's building projects, save for the aqueduct, was securely attributed to any Roman governor. The dating of the Stepped Street to this timeframe, specifically to the days of Pilate, is now one such project. The Stepped Street stands alongside Herod’s Temple and its domain as one of Jerusalem's most grandiose Early Roman period monuments.
"It is no longer possible, therefore, to refer to the Stepped Street as merely a ‘Herodian Street’ – and it is no longer possible to view this first period of direct Roman governance in Judea as one exclusively characterised by self-interest and corruption."