“The Road of the Sea.” This major trade route that went right through Capernaum (there is a Roman mile marker now on display at Capernaum) is most often known by its more modern name that comes from the Latin, the Via Maris. The Via Maris is the ancient trade route linking Egypt with Damascus and all Syria, Anatolia (modern Turkey) and Mesopotamia. Its early name was “Way of the Philistines” (Exod. 13:17) because after leaving Egypt it ran north along the coast of Israel through the territory of the Philistines. The name “Via Maris” is much later and based on the Latin Vulgate translation of Matthew 4:15. It means “the Way of the Sea,” or “the Road of the Sea.” The history of the Via Maris is long and the main road changed at different periods. For example, before the Roman period the Via Maris went from Capernaum north to Hazor and from Hazor it crossed the Jordan River at Jacob’s Ford then went over the Golan Heights to Damascus. This road still existed in the time of Christ, but recent archaeological evidence suggests that in Roman times the road left Capernaum and headed east to Bethsaida-Julius and then northeast to Damascus.
The Via Maris goes from Egypt across Sinai, through the Philistine Plain and the Plain of Sharon through the cities of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Joppa. At Dor it branches into two roads. One continues directly north along the Mediterranean coast, and the other follows an inland route by Megiddo, through the Jezreel Valley, then to Old Testament Beth-shean (which is New Testament Scythopolis, a city of the Decapolis). From there it branched, and one branch ran on the west side of the Sea of Galilee, passing through Tiberias, then continuing north through Migdal and Capernaum. The east branch crossed the Jordan south of the Sea of Galilee and ran along the east coast of the lake until Hyppos (Susita) when it turned northeast and climbed over the Golan and then continued down to Damascus. The fact that the Via Maris passed by Capernaum helps explain why that city had a tollhouse (Matt. 9:9) so revenue could be collected from the passing caravans. That money needed protection, so it was also a Roman outpost and had a centurion and troops (Matt. 8:5). Also, it shows us that when Jesus Christ chose Capernaum to be his home town after he left Nazareth, he chose a cosmopolitan town where there would be plenty of opportunity to share the Word and reach others, as well as opportunity for others to more easily reach him.