Builders uncovered ruins from Alexander the Great’s siege of Gaza at a 2,000-year-old Roman cemetery, the Jerusalem Post reports.
The Roman cemetery near the coast of the northern Gaza Strip contains 31 ornate tombs, with the Israeli Antiquities Authority calling it the most significant discovery of the decade in the area.
The team of archaeologists expect to uncover a total of another 80 such tombs inside the 50-square-meter (8,200 square foot) cemetery.
The remains also include ruins from the siege embarked by Alexander the Great as well as relics of the Mongol invasion of the area.
The site was discovered by accident by a construction team working on an Egyptian-funded housing project in the Gaza Strip.
Roman tombs excavated
Only two tombs in the Roman cemetery have been fully excavated so far, one of which contained skeletal remains and a few clay jars.
Due to the shape of the tombs and their relatively elaborate decorations, researchers estimate that they belonged to high-ranking people in the Roman Empire in the first century AD.
Graves for Roman people who were buried were dug by professional grave diggers inside the city walls. Sometimes a half amphora was placed over the grave so that libations could be poured into it.
The rich had their burial places as conspicuous as possible, with the hope that the inscriptions upon the monuments would keep alive the names and accomplishments of the dead.
The remains of poor people and slaves were often unceremoniously thrown into shallow trench graves or common graves without coffins, located outside the city walls.
Unlike later Muslim tombs that face north to south, Roman tombs face east to west.
“We have made several discoveries in the past, this is the most important archaeological discovery in the last 10 years,” Jamal Abu Rida, director-general of the Gaza Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, told Reuters.
Construction works stopped when the builders unearthed ancient bricks that were part of the cemetery; they immediately summoned archaeologists to investigate the finding.
Gaza is governed by the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which has fought four wars with Israel since 2008.
Abu Rida said that the conflict with Israel has greatly impacted the local economy, so Palestinian authorities usually engage international groups to help excavate and preserve such archaeological findings.
Alexander the Great and the siege of Gaza
The siege of Gaza was part of the Egyptian campaign of Alexander the Great in 332 BC, following the taking of Tyre, using the siege engines his army had employed against Tyre.
Batis, the commander of the fortress of Gaza, expected to hold Egypt under his subjection until the Persian Great King Darius III could raise another army and confront Alexander in a battle based out of this city.
Alexander camped near the southern side of the city after deeming the southern walls were the weakest.
Using the siege engines from Tyre, Alexander’s soldiers successfully destroyed sections of the wall. After three unsuccessful attempts to enter the city — as the Gazans fought to the bitter end — the Macedonians finally entered.
Batis had refused to surrender to Alexander. So when Gaza was finally taken, the males were put to the sword and the women and children were sold into slavery.
After the taking of Gaza, Alexander was able to proceed south into Egypt securely, without his line of communications being threatened from the North by Batis from Gaza.
That made his advance toward Persia proper much easier.