Israel Postal Authority: Megiddo Prison (Legio)
(May 9, 2006)
A mosaic from the antiquities site in Megiddo Prison (Kfar ‘Othnai – Legio), which was recently uncovered in IAA excavations that were carried out by prisoners, will be commemorated in a special souvenir sheet that will be issued on the occasion of the international stamp exhibition – Jerusalem 2006. The exhibition will be held in Jerusalem on May 8-11, 2006, at the Jerusalem International Convention Center (Binyaney Ha'ooma). The mosaic was discovered in an antiquities site situated along the edge of the Jezreel Valley, on a hill south of Nahal Kini and Tel Megiddo, in the Megiddo Prison compound. The site is identified with Kfar ‘Othnai, which is mentioned in historical sources of the Land of Israel from the first century to the fourth century CE.
In archaeological excavations that were conducted at the beginning of the 20th century at the top of the hill above the Jewish settlement, Roman fortifications were exposed that are probably the remains of a small military fortress that was erected in the Early Roman period. The headquarters of the Sixth Roman Legion (VI Legio Ferrata [Ironclad]) established its seat here in the beginning of the second century, in a field northwest of the hill where the Jewish settlement was located and which has since been referred to as Legio. The Roman military presence at the site continued for approximately two hundred years, during which the rural settlement absorbed a foreign population that included Samaritans. The settlement grew until it became a polis (city) in the latter part of the third -the beginning of the fourth century CE. The name of the new city was Maximianopolis, and it is mentioned in Christian sources and primarily in the lists of church councils from the Byzantine period. Following the Muslim conquest the settlement adopted the name Lejun.
In the archaeological excavations that were conducted at the site in 2003-2005, on behalf of the Antiquities Authority and under the direction of Yotam Tepper, remains of a large settlement were revealed – buildings, courtyards and alleys – in which there are plastered water cisterns and numerous installations that were used to store oil, wine and agricultural produce. Ritual baths and other finds that were discovered there indicate this was a Jewish settlement. In the western part of the Megiddo Prison compound a large building was exposed in which there is a mosaic floor of a Christian prayer hall. Depicted in the mosaic are geometric patterns, a medallion with fish and three ancient Greek inscriptions: an inscription mentioning a Roman army office who contributed for the construction of the mosaic (see the margin of the souvenir sheet); an inscription honoring the memory of four women and an inscription that mentions a woman who dedicated a table (altar) to the memory of the Lord Jesus Christos. The fish that adorned the mosaic floor were an early Christian symbol, and it is known that the Christians ascribed an acronym to the Greek word for fish meaning "Jesus Christ Son of God, the Savior”.
The combination of the three inscriptions in the mosaic from the third century, which link a Roman army officer with Christianity in a prayer hall, is a unique and rare find. It precedes the proclamation of Christianity as a recognized and official religion and is therefore extremely important in understanding Christianity in this period, in studying the Roman army in the eastern empire and in matters relating to the presence of a Christian community existing along side a mixed Jewish- Samaritan settlement.
The site at Megiddo was uncovered during extensive salvage excavations that the Antiquities Authority conducted at the request of the Israel Prison Service and the Israel Defense Forces. As part of a prisoner rehabilitation project approximately 100 Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Druze prisoners serving their sentences in Megiddo and Tsalmon Prisons participated in the excavation.
On the first day cover is the symbol of the Israel Antiquities Authority and the tools used in archaeological excavations, against the background of another portion of the mosaic. The sheet was designed by Yitzhak Granot and costs 15 NIS.
Source: Israel Antiquities Authority