Israel has seen its share of conquerors. History here is littered with a list of one power after another coming in and wresting control, usually through a bloody war. Perhaps no other empire in history is known for their brutal fighting strategies than Rome. At the heart of the Roman military apparatus stood the Roman legion. Ever since the siege of Jerusalem in 63 B.C.E., until the 4th century C.E., Roman legions fought the battles and controlled the main crossroads in Israel.
The VI Legion, Legio VI Ferrata (Sixth Ironclad Legion) was one of those legions. They are famous for winning the battle after which Caesar declared to the Roman Senate simply, “I Came, I Saw, I Conquered.” Recruited by Julius Caesar in Northern Italy, they served under Marc Anthony in Syria. After the battle of Actium which cemented Octavian’s victory over Marc Anthony, they served under the new emperor and established their base camp in the Galilee.
In the last year, this base camp of the VI Legion has been uncovered near one of the major intersections in the north, Megiddo Junction. Archaeologists have uncovered the principia, the heart of a Roman military base. All important functions happened here and it served as the legionary commander’s headquarters and the legion’s shrine. In the courtyard stood the legion’s standard, the sacred eagle; and it was the site for the aguere, consultation with birds for omens in preparation for battle. The principia was the site of the treasury, the armory and scribal activity of the legion. Archaeologists found a stone mark at the gate with a dedicatory inscription, including the name Flavius, perhaps alluding to Flavius Silva who was the general in charge of the battle of Masada, in which the VI Legion participated.
Soldiers came to the legion for life; and the camp near Megiddo has signs of day-to-day life. Latrines, a standard of Roman society and found in every large Roman city, were found here, as well as Roman coins, glass, potter, and animal bones (like soldiers today, they probably enjoyed a good barbecue). Death happened in the camp as well and the archaeologists found, inside a man-made cave, a Roman cooking pot with the remains of a cremated soldier.
The camp came to a well-planned end. Towards the end of the 3rd century C.E., during the reign of Diocletian, the Ironclad Legion, Legio VI Ferrata, was deployed to the eastern frontier and the base was decommissioned and dismantled.
The Legion which was famous for “I Came, I Saw, I Conquered” added “I Left” to their legacy in Israel.