Archaeologists in Israel have made a significant discovery at Legio, an ancient Roman military base from the second century, revealing a unique blood-red amphitheater designed for military combat training.
Located near Megiddo, also known as Armageddon, where the Christian Bible predicts a battle at the end of the world, the 1,800-year-old Roman camp lies beneath the fields of Kibbutz Megiddo in the Jezreel Valley.
Legio was initially rediscovered between 1998 and 2000, and further excavations have taken place since 2010, uncovering various structures within the military base. However, during the 2023 excavation season, archaeologists focused on the Principia, an administrative center with religious structures.
Using ground-penetrating radar (GPR), which noninvasively surveys underground features using high-frequency radio waves, researchers mapped out the site’s layout and explored the amphitheater and cemetery outside the base’s walls.
The Roman amphitheater, painted in distinctive blood-red, stands as a rare find in the region, differing from the typical amphitheaters meant for public entertainment.
This structure was reserved for troop combat training and had two phases, indicated by the exposed circular stone walls. The team’s excavation also revealed evidence of cultic activity within the gate of the amphitheater, including numerous lamps, possibly associated with the worship of Nemesis, the goddess of retribution.
Legio, which measured about 1,640 by 1,300 feet (500 by 400 meters), was home to over 5,000 soldiers from Legion II Trajana and Legion VI Ferrata. The importance of well-trained military forces at Legio is highlighted by the expansion of the amphitheater, showing temporal continuity in its use.
Researchers have been collecting DNA samples from the legionary cemetery to gain insights into the ethnic composition of the legion and its recruitment practices, shedding light on the soldiers’ origins—whether they were primarily locals or recruited from distant parts of the Roman Empire.
Legio was strategically located on a major intersection, making it a key Roman military presence during its time. The camp was initially constructed under Emperor Hadrian, who ruled from 117 to 123 CE, and was later abandoned, possibly in the late third or early fourth century, as the Roman army shifted eastward.
This excavation at Legio is part of the Jezreel Valley Regional Project and the Albright Institute in Jerusalem, with support from the Antiquities Authority and funding from American Archaeology Abroad.