Israeli archaeologists have discovered a 1,500 year old mosaic floor near the Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem. It is believed to be part of a hostel built by the Byzantine emperor Justinian for Christian pilgrims.
“The fact that the inscription survived is an archaeological miracle,” explains David Gellman, the director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority. “The excavation in a relatively small area, exposed ancient remains that were severely damaged by infrastructure groundwork over the last few decades. We were about to close the excavation, when all of a sudden, a corner of the mosaic inscription peeked out between the pipes and cables. Amazingly, it had not been damaged. Every archaeologist dreams of finding an inscription in their excavations, especially one so well preserved and almost entirely intact.”
The mosaic includes this inscription: “In the time of our most pious emperor Flavius Justinian, also this entire building Constantine the most God-loving priest and abbot, established and raised, in the 14th indiction”. This would date the mosaic to the year 550/551.
The two people mentioned in the inscription are well known from both ancient historical sources and archaeological finds. The emperor Flavius Justinian was one the most important rulers of the Byzantine period, and was one of the most colorful and charismatic rulers of antiquity.
In the year 543 AD he established a large church in Jerusalem, dedicated to Mary, mother of Jesus, known as The Nea Church. This was the largest church built in Jerusalem and one of the largest in the entire empire. The abbot of the church was Constantine, whose name appears in the inscription discovered recently near the Damascus gate. Remains of this church were partially excavated in 1970, in the Jewish quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, even then sparking interest among archaeologists and scholars of Jerusalem, throughout Israel and across the globe.
“The Damascus Gate served for hundreds of years as the main northern entrance to Jerusalem,” Gellman notes. “Knowing that, it is no surprise that this area is rich with archaeological remains. In the Byzantine period, with the emergence of Christianity, churches, monasteries and hostels for pilgrims were built in the area north of the gate, and the area became one of the most important and active areas of the city.”
The newly discovered inscription was removed from its site by the conservation experts of the Israel Antiquities Authority, and is being treated in the IAA’s mosaic workshop in Jerusalem.