Via Maris is the modern name for an ancient trade route, dating from the early Bronze Age, linking Egypt with the northern empires of Syria, Anatolia and Mesopotamia — modern day Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria.
Its earlier name was "Way of the Philistines", a reference to a passageway through the Philistine Plain. At this point the Way branches into two Ways — one along the Mediterranean coast, through Megiddo, and the other following an inland route through the Jezreel Valley, the Sea of Galilee and Dan.
"Via Maris" is Latin and means "the Way of the Sea". The name is based on a passage from the Vulgate (the New Testament in Latin translation) from the Gospel according to Matthew ("Secundum Mattheum"), chapter 4 verse 15:
- terra Zabulon et terra Nephthalim via maris trans Iordanen Galilaeae gentium
- (the land of Zebulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles).
There is also a reference to the Via Maris ("the way of the sea") in Isaiah 9:1.
Some consider the name Via Maris a misnomer and instead prefer to call this route the Great Trunk Road.
Together with the King's Highway, the Via Maris was one of the major routes connecting Egypt and the Levant with Anatolia and Mesopotamia. The Via Maris was crossed by other trading routes, so that one could travel from Africa to Europe or from Asia to Africa. It began in al-Qantara and went east to Pelusium, following the northern coast of Sinai through el-Arish and Rafah. From there it followed the coast of Canaan through Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Joppa, and Dor before turning east again through Megiddo and the Jezreel Valley until it reached Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee. Again turning northward along the shore, the Via Maris passed through Migdal, Capernaum, and Hazor. From Hazor it crossed the northern River Jordan at Jacob's Ford then climbed sharply over the Golan Heights and wound its way northeast into Damascus. Here travellers could continue on the King's Highway as far as the Euphrates River or proceed northward into Anatolia.