Israeli archaeologists investing the harbor of the ancient city of Caesarea Maritima have discovered two shipwrecks, including a third century Roman wreck which contained, among other spectacular finds, a gold ring with an early Christian symbol. Caesarea, located on the coast of what is now northern Israel, was a major port city and administrative capital in Roman times and one of the most important centers of early Christianity.
Archeologists discover Roman shipwreck
Archaeologists from the Israeli Antiquities Authority had no idea that this particular shipwreck existed but surveys of ancient harbors routinely uncover great finds in this part of the world.
Archaeologist Jacob Sharvit said that the team of divers spotted a broken anchor and suspected there must be more to find in the area, which is not far from the coast.
To their delight, the researchers discovered that they had found not one but two ancient shipwrecks. The second is believed to date to the 14th century AD and contained a hoard of Egyptian Mamluk coins. The Mamluks themselves destroyed much of Caesarea after taking the city from Christian crusaders.
The Roman-era ship is believed to have gone down in a particularly powerful storm which smashed the hull to pieces and likely killed the crew and passengers.
Among the artifacts found amongst scattered remnants of the wooden hull were coins, figurines, and pottery. By far the most spectacular find, however, was a beautiful gold ring with a carved green gemstone.
The carving depicts a young man carrying a sheep on his shoulders, a known early Christian symbol which refers specifically to the Gospel description of Christ as the good shepherd.
Early Christian symbolism
The find is exceptional but archaeologists excavating around Caesarea shouldn’t be too shocked to uncover evidence of early Christianity.
This was the city in which Saint Peter baptized the Roman Centurion Cornelius, the first gentile to receive a Christian baptism. Saint Paul visited the city on several occasions and was imprisoned there before being sent to Rome.
The Roman Empire was torn apart by civil wars and economic collapse for much of the third century in a nearly 50 year period which is collectively described by historians as the Crisis of the Third Century.
The empire ultimately recovered after being pushed to near disintegration but it was a dark and uncertain time for the people of the ancient Mediterranean and Christianity grew extensively as soldiers and civilians alike looked for new sources of hope and certainty.
Archaeologists suggest that the Christian who was traveling on the doomed ship was probably an upper-class Roman woman judging by the small size and superb craftsmanship of the ring.
At the time of her death the image of the good shepherd was a covert symbol for a semi-underground religion. Over the course of the next century that religion would become the official faith of the Roman Empire, uniting tens of millions of Christians from Scotland to Arabia.
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Author: Staff Writer
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