Within the city walls of Cyrene, close to the Trajanic Baths and near the Fountain of Apollo. Besides the main street that leads to the northern gate of the city.
Actual Location (Collection/Museum):
Large milestone, formed of a tapered column with a cubical base. Found alongside a large pedestal with moulded plinth and cornice, believed to have been its monumental base. Only the upper part of the milestone is now preserved.
This inscription commemorates the reconstruction of the Cyrene-Apollonia road following its destruction during the Diaspora Revolt in 115 CE (for discussion of the revolt, its motivation and the scale of destruction, see the commentaries on Temple of Hecate; Basilica of Cyrene; Capponi, Il Mistero del Tempio, p. 13-18; 79-83;Applebaum, Jews and Greeks in Ancient Cyrene, p. 261-344; Smallwood, Jews under Roman Rule, p. 389-427). As well as recording the road’s rebuilding following the devastation wrought upon the city during the riots, it acted as a symbolic statement of Rome’s power in the region, and the dominant presence of her infrastructure. However, a graffito inscribed further along the road from where the milestone was set up demonstrates, as we shall see, the enduring sense of rebellion amongst the Jewish community in Cyrenaica.
The text of the milestone states that the road was “turned up and destroyed (because of) the Jewish revolt” (quae tumultu Iudaico eversa et corrupta erat); along with the important civic structures of Cyrene, such as the Caesareum, the Baths, and a number of temples, the rioting Jewish community tore up the main road that led from the city to Apollonia. As attested by a number of milestones along the road, it was restored by Hadrian in 118 CE—the date given by the reference to his second consulship in this milestone’s inscription—which makes it the earliest known restoration work following the cessation of the revolt in 116 CE (Boatwright, Hadrian and the Cities of the Roman Empire, p. 177). The portion of the road that appears to have been “torn up” by the Jews was in fact just one part of a much larger road that ran close to the shoreline from Berenice (Benghasi) to Teuchira (Tocra) and Ptolemais (Tolmeita), before coming inland to Cyrene. From Cyrene it connected to Apollonia, and then climbed to Gebel Akhdar (500m above sea-level), which it reached close to Messa (Goodchild, “Roman Milestones in Cyrenaica,” p. 83). The stretch of road between Cyrene and Apollonia was especially important, due to the presence of the port in Apollonia, which occupied an excellent strategic position that was protected by the installation there of the Roman fleet (Laronde, Cyrène et la Libye hellénistique, p. 478-479). The port was clearly an important point of communication and trade for the larger city of Cyrene, but it was also likely to have been the point of access for the Roman troops sent to put down the unrest, which may explain why this particular section of the road was selected for destruction during the revolt (Smallwood, Jews under Roman Rule, p. 397).
Richard Goodchild suggested that this particular milestone should be understood as a “special stone,” erected to emphasise Rome’s restoration of order in Cyrene (Goodchild, “Roman Milestones in Cyrenaica,” p. 86). Unlike the other milestones recovered from the road, it makes no reference to the number of miles it was erected to record; its location was neither a mile from the next milestone, nor from the beginning of the road—the so-called ‘zero-point’ in the city—meaning that it served no practical function as a milestone (Boatwright, Hadrian and the Cities of the Roman Empire, p. 177-179). It was excavated close to a monumental pedestal, which Richard Goodchild believed it once stood upon (“Roman Milestones in Cyrenaica,” p. 86), and at a point that may have marked the formal entrance to the newly-founded city that now stood close to double columns and an open square within the defensive northern-gate (Boatwright, Hadrian and the Cities of the Roman Empire, p. 179, n. 28). The significance of the symbolic milestone may be better understood if we consider a further piece of inscriptional evidence; 27 km from Cyrene at Ein Targhuna, the Jewish rebels cut the form of a menorah into the rock-cut road that led to Ptolemais, in what Shimon Applebaum has described as an “aggressive act…in a public place [that] can only possess the significance of defiance or of victory” (Applebaum, Jews and Greeks in Ancient Cyrene, p. 237). He further noted that the choice of a rock-cut—rather than paved—road was also deliberate and symbolic: paved roads can be overturned and broken up, as the language of this milestone indicates (eversa et corrupta), but a rock-cut road is much harder to destroy (Applebaum, Jews and Greeks in Ancient Cyrene, p. 237).
The menorah did not become a Jewish ‘symbol’ until the first century CE, when it began to appear as an artistic representation first in Jerusalem, and later in the diaspora communities following the fall of the Second Temple (for the origin of the menorah, see Hachlili, The Menorah, p. 7-39; for a synthesis of the menorah’s use as a Jewish symbol, see Fine, Art and Judaism in the Greco-Roman World, p. 146-163). Steven Fine has noted that it was not used widely in this Second Temple period, but appears with “some frequency…in the decoration of a patrician house, on a sundial and within funerary contexts,” although not with anything like the same frequency that it came to be used with in late antiquity (Fine, Art and Judaism, p. 152). However, some few examples do exist for the period between the two major Jewish wars, between 70-134 CE, of which this is one. Shimon Applebaum dated the graffito to the same period as the rebuilding of the road on the basis that it is so at odds with its surroundings that it “may be interpreted as a challenge, and after A.D. 70 it would only be attributed to the revolt of Trajan’s time” (Applebaum, Jews and Greeks in Ancient Cyrene, p. 237). If this is indeed the case, then the graffito could be interpreted as a claim of ownership of the road as a Jewish civic space; Karen Stern has suggested that Jewish graffiti, or “acts of non-monumental writing and decoration” are “spatially determined” and intended to assert control of areas of public property, such as the inscriptions naming Ioudaioi and Hebraioi on the seats in theatre and hippdromes in Asia Minor (for this argument, see Stern, Writing on the Wall, p. 141-168, especially p. 142-149). Margaret Williams has also noted that the menorah features as an apotropaic symbol, recording in particular its appearance in a “cave of refuge” in the Judean Desert that has been dated to the first war with Rome, between 66-74 CE (Williams, “The menorah in a sepulchral context,” p. 80). Indeed, Livia Capponi has even suggested that the Jewish rebels from Cyrene may have been descended from exiled rebels from the Flavian war, the “second generation” to whom Trajan offered the possibility of return to Jerusalem in 112 CE, but in whom he instead inspired renewed resistance (Capponi, Il mistero del tempio, p. 81). If intended then, as a symbol of retaliation against Rome, the inscribed graffito of the menorah on the road to Ptolemais, at a reasonably close distance to Cyrene, was perhaps initiated as a permanent expression of Jewish victory over Rome; the Cyrene-Apollonia road may have been quickly rebuilt, with the erection of a commemorative milestone confirming Rome’s restoration of order in the city, but the survival of the Jewish menorah in the rock-cut road nearby is indicative of the kind of victory that the community aimed at through their devastating revolt in 115 CE.