The Abraham Path joins the Roman road at Har Amasa and continues on it as it winds down toward the village of Darijat. However, this is merely a small segment of a road which probably ran along the spine of the Hebron mountains, descended into the Negev, and continued from there through the Rift Valley into what is today Jordan. Though we do not know the precise date of the road’s construction, it was probably built by Hadrian’s troops after they had suppressed the Bar Kokhba Revolt in 135 CE. This was part of a new network of roads in the region, geared at reinforcing the presence of the dominant Roman army.
Even in areas of rough topography, such as the slopes of the Hebron hills descending southward toward the desert, the road was made to fit the terrain. This section of the road, for instance, used a series of steps to overcome the decline. It was these steps that gave the road its name – “Ma’ale Dragot” in Hebrew or “Naqeb Darijat” in Arabic, both meaning the “Ascent of Steps.” You can still see the steps every 7-10 meters. When the road was in use, however, the steps were not exposed as they appear today. Rather, they were covered with a pavement of small stones, topped with crushed limestone or compressed dirt – essentially the asphalt of the Roman Empire. Over the years most of this pavement has been washed away, but look for some remaining patches of the stone pavement, which survive from antiquity.
The Roman roads were a crucial innovation of the Roman Empire, enabling it to govern vast regions, and, if needed, react swiftly and forcefully. Militarily, the roads eased the transport of troops and shortened communication lines. In order to maintain its strategic dominance, the road followed the highest path of the ridge. At the same time, the road enhanced commercial relations, and was thus built so as to allow the transit of carts. In addition to dictating a particular width, this necessitated carefully selecting a route with relatively moderate slopes. Compared with other routes at the time this was a veritable ancient freeway. One of the main achievements of the road was shortened distances and reduced travel time for journeys.
Much like modern communication lines (the internet, for example) that have shrunk the world into a “global village,” this brought Roman culture to new places that were not, hitherto, under the empire’s realm of influence. New places could now enjoy exposure to the heart of the Empire – Rome, of course, but also major regional centers such as Jerusalem, Caesarea, Damascus and Gaza. This allowed marginalized peoples living in the periphery, such as the Bedouin and the Nabataeans, to receive and engage with Roman ideas and technology.
But building styles were not the only new ideas disseminated to far away lands along these Roman roads. The emerging tenets of Christianity, and, more generally, the growing world of monotheism, also travelled the Roman roads, reaching, for the first time, the depths of the desert. The Abrahamic message, therefore, broke out of its previous geographic boundaries – the settled communities where monotheism was practiced. Reaching new places and peoples, the roads were the conduits for the dissemination of these new ideologies. Ultimately, however, the roads actually undermined Roman dominance. The empire’s desperate attempts to quench the spread of monotheism and Christianity, were made significantly harder due to the highways that they themselves had built.