Tag Archives: Roman Army

Where the Romans breached Jerusalem wall

There is abundant evidence of the presence of the Romans in Jerusalem and the land they would later call Palestine. Now comes specific evidence of the place where Titus’ army breached the Third Wall of the city.

The excavation site in the Russian Compound. One can see the sling stones on the floor, which are tangible evidence of the battle that was waged here 2,000 years ago. Photographic credit: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The excavation site in the Russian Compound. One can see the wall and sling stones on the floor, which are tangible evidence of the battle that was waged here 2,000 years ago. Photographic credit: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The Israel Antiquities Authority released this information earlier today.

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Impressive and fascinating evidence of the battlefield and the breaching of the Third Wall that surrounded Jerusalem at the end of the Second Temple period was uncovered last winter in the Russian Compound in the city center. The finds were discovered in an archaeological excavation the Israel Antiquities Authority conducted in the location where the new campus of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design is slated to be constructed.  During the course of the excavation archaeologists discovered the remains of a tower jutting from the city wall. Opposite the tower’s western facade were scores of ballista and sling stones that the Romans had fired from catapults towards the Jewish guards defending the wall, who were stationed at the top of the tower.

Kfir Arbib, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, cleans one of the sling stones. Photographic credit: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Kfir Arbib, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, cleans one of the sling stones. Photographic credit: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

According to Dr. Rina Avner and Kfir Arbib, excavation directors on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “This is a fascinating testimony of the intensive bombardment by the Roman army, led by Titus, on their way to conquering the city and destroying the Second Temple. The bombardment was intended to attack the sentries guarding the wall and provide cover for the Roman forces so they could approach the wall with battering rams and thereby breach the city’s defenses”. The historian Josephus, an eye witness to the war, provided many details about this wall. According to him, the wall was designed to protect the new quarter of the city that had developed outside its boundaries, north of the two existing city walls. This quarter was named Beit Zeita. The building of the Third Wall was begun by Agrippa I; however, he suspended its construction so as not to incur the wrath of Emperor Claudius and to dispel any doubts regarding his loyalty. The construction of the Third Wall was resumed some two decades later by the defenders of Jerusalem, as part of fortifying the city and the Jewish rebels’ preparations for the Great Revolt against Rome.

. Dr. Rina Avner, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Photographic credit: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

. Dr. Rina Avner, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Photographic credit: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Josephus described in detail the route of the wall that began at Hippicus Tower, which is now identified with David’s Citadel. From there the wall continued north to the enormous Psephinus Tower, which defended the northwestern corner of the city wall. At that point the wall turned east and descended toward the Tomb of Queen Helena, which is identified with the place known as the Tombs of the Kings. [Jewish Wars 5:147]

The excavation site in the Russian Compound. One can see the sling stones on the floor, which are tangible evidence of the battle that was waged here 2,000 years ago. Photographic credit: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

One of the sling stones on the floor, tangible evidence of the battle that was waged here 2,000 years ago. Photographic credit: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the IAA.

An unresolved debate among researchers has been going from the early twentieth century up until the current excavation as to the identity of the Third Wall and the question concerning Jerusalem’s boundaries on the eve of the Roman onslaught led by Titus. It seems that the new discovery in the Russian Compound is proof of the wall’s existence in this area.

. A spearhead from the battle against Titus’ army. Photographic credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

. A spearhead from the battle against Titus’ army. Photographic credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

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Christians see the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem as a fulfillment of the prophecy of Jesus.

“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.” (Luke 21:20 ESV; see also Matthew 24 and Mark 13)

Some of the photos can be enlarged by clicking on the image.

HT: Joseph Lauer, several Israeli newspapers.

More artifacts of the Tenth Roman Legion

We had a good response to our recent posts, here and here, about the Roman Tenth Legion in Jerusalem.  I will post a few photos of other artifacts that are readily available for those who visit Israel.

The first is an inscription of the eighth cohort of the Tenth Legion. According to the accompanying sign in the Israel Museum this limestone inscription comes from Jerusalem or Samaria and belongs to the first or second century A.D. The inscription reads “LEG X FRE COH IIX” and is decorated with dolphins and a wild boar, symbols of the legion.

Inscription of the Eighth cohort of the Tenth Legion. Israel Museum.

Inscription of the eighth cohort of the Tenth Legion. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

About halfway between Jerusalem and Bethlehem is the site of Ramat Rachel. It was first occupied in the 7th century B.C. Stratum III revealed evidence of a Roman villa dating to the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D. Some of the clay tiles from the villa are displayed in the hotel at the site.

Information about Ramat Rachel is available on the Archaeological Project website here.

Tile of the Tenth Legion from Ramat Rachel. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Tile of the Tenth Legion from Ramat Rachel. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Finally, here is a tile fragment with a stamp of the Tenth Legion. The inscription reads “LG X F.” A wild boar and a battleship are the symbols on this one. The Israel Museum says this tile dates to the 1st-2nd century A.D.

Tenth Legion tile in the Israel Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Tenth Legion tile in the Israel Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Roman period in the Holy Land is usually dated from about 63 B.C. to A.D. 323. This includes the entire period of Jesus, the early church, and the New Testament, but it also includes the time of the destruction of Jerusalem and the period when Jerusalem was rebuilt by the Emperor Hadrian and named Aelia Capitolina.

Added Note: See the helpful comments by Tom Powers below. Tom is licensed as a guide in Israel, but is no longer living there. Here is the photo he mentions in the comment about the reused stone in the wall of the Old City near Jaffa Gate.

Partial stone bearing inscription of the Tenth Legion reused in the wall of the Old City near Jaffa Gate. Photo by Tom Powers.

Partial stone bearing inscription of the Tenth Legion reused in the wall of the Old City near Jaffa Gate. Photo by Tom Powers.

More on Roman Roads and Milestones

We have had a few follow-up questions from our post on Roman Roads and Milestones. One reader asked on Facebook, “Is the milepost inside Jaffa Gate for real??”

If you enter the Old City of Jerusalem at Jaffa Gate you should turn left on the second street (lane would be better). You may not see the name, but it is Demetrius Street. A column, now serving as a lamppost, is actually a portion of an inscribed Roman column. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor (Holy Land, 5th edition) says the Latin inscription reads,

M(arco) Iunio Maximo leg(ato) Aug(ustorum) Leg(ionis) X Fr(etensis)—Antoninianae—C. Dom(itius) Serg(ius) str(ator)eius.

Roman column near Jaffa Gate. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Roman column near Jaffa Gate. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Murphy-O’Connor explains,

The inscription honours Macus Junius Maximus, Legate of the Augusts (i.e. the emperor Septimius Severus and his eldest son Caracalla), which implies that he was the governor of the province of Judaea, and Legate of the Tenth Legion Fretensis.

The column was erected about A.D. 200. Hoade (Guide to the Holy Land) says the once-taller column “was scalped by a bomb in 1948.” [See comment below by Tom Powers, with link to a photo of the column made in the 1930s.] This column is comparable to a milestone but apparently never served that purpose. The camp of the Tenth Roman Legion was immediately south of this place in the area now occupied by the Armenian Quarter. After the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, Titus allowed the Tenth Legion to remain in Jerusalem.

[Titus] … permitted the tenth legion to stay, as a guard at Jerusalem, and did not send them away beyond the Euphrates, where they had been before; (Josephus, Wars of the Jews 7:17)

Close-up of Roman column mentioning 10th Roman legion. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Close-up of Roman column mentioning 10th Roman legion. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

What is a mile? Another reader asked, “How does the mile mentioned in the NT (I would assume the Roman mile) compare in length to our mile?”

The Greek term used in Matthew 5:41 is milion. BDAG says the term is used of “a Roman mile, lit. a thousand paces, then a fixed measure = eight stades = 1,478.5 meters.”

But the term used in Luke 24:13 and John 6:19 is stadion. This term is defined as “a measure of distance of about 192 meters, stade, one-eighth mile” (BDAG). This word also came to mean “an area for public spectacles, arena, stadium.” This is the term translated race in 1 Corinthians 9:24.

Our English versions typically adapt the Greek term stadion “to familiar measurements of distance” (Louw-Nida).

Walking up the Roman siege ramp at Masada

Masada has caught my attention in the past few days. Those who have visited the site are aware of the Byzantine ruins, including a church, on the top of the plateau. A brochure published by the The Israel Nature and Parks Authority points out that Masada “sank into oblivion until the nineteenth century.”

The first scholars to identify Masada with the plateau known in Arabic as es-Sebbeh were Smith and Robinson in 1838, and the first to climb it were Wolcott and Tipping in 1842. Warren climbed Masada in 1867, Conder described and mapped it in 1875, Sandel discovered the water system in 1905, and Schulten studied mainly the Roman siege system in 1932.

Perhaps most visitors today associate the excavation of Masada with the late Yigael Yadin from 1963 to 1965. Masada National Park opened in 1966, and the first cable car to take visitors to the top was in 1971. The larger cable cars, holding about 40 passengers each, were added several years later.

My first visit to Masada was in 1969. At that time it was necessary to walk up the path on the siege ramp made by the Romans. In A.D. 73 or 74, “the Roman Tenth Legion Fretensis, led by Flavius Silva, laid siege to the mountain.” The ramp was built so the Romans could move their battering ram up to the western gate of Masada. The photo below was made from the plateau. The ramp is visible just below the bottom half of the photo, and the path is on the ridge. The path leading to our right (view from the top) goes to the large water cisterns.

The Roman siege ramp at Masada. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Roman siege ramp at Masada. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Acts 10 & 11 — Photo Illustrations

Cornelius was the first Gentile convert to the faith. This case illustrates clearly that morality alone is not adequate to save one. It was necessary for Cornelius to hear and obey the word of God (Acts 11:14).

A centurion enters the hippodrome. An actor in the RACE show at Jerash, Jordan. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

An actor playing the role of a centurion in the RACE show at Jerash, Jordan, enters the hippodrome. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A centurion in the Roman army normally had charge of 100 men (= to Army captain). A regular cohort was one tenth of a legion and had a paper strength of 600 men. An auxiliary cohort was usually comprised of 1,000 men. Cornelius was of the Italian cohort. There is inscriptional evidence for the “Italian cohort” from Syria (See Bruce, The Book of Acts in NICNT, 215). When Paul set sail from Caesarea for Rome he was accompanied by a centurion of the Augustan cohort named Julius (Acts 27:1).

The centurions mentioned in the New Testament make a favorable impression:

  • At Capernaum – Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:2-10
  • At the crucifixion – Luke 23:47.

This was not true of soldiers generally (Luke 3:14).

Short video on Masada

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority has prepared a short video on Masada. The narrator presents a brief history of the fortress of Masada while beautiful scenes of the site are shown.

Arutz Sheva (Israel National News) provides a link to the video with an article about Masada here. (A direct link to the video on You Tube is here.) Elad Benari, author of the article, describes Masada in these words:

The top level had four bedrooms and a semicircular balcony, from which there was a spectacular view of the Dead Sea, Ein Gedi, and the Moab Mountains. A sophisticated and hidden staircase led to a middle level in which a large hall was built, surrounded by a veranda whose poles were placed at the edge of the cliff. The staircase went down to the bottom level, in which a large hall surrounded by vestibules was established. The walls of the hall were decorated with spectacular frescoes. A private bathhouse was built adjacent to the hall for the occupants of the northern palace.

At the peak were 29 large warehouses, each one 27 meters long. Excavations of the site found hundreds of pottery vessels in which huge amounts of food were stored. Thus, using a rare combination of natural conditions and human endeavors, Masada became a cliff that was almost impossible to conquer.

The great halls of the palaces were unsuitable for housing families, and thus became headquarters and public buildings.

The building near the north wall, which served as a stable in the days of Herod, was later turned into a synagogue. This is one of the Jewish people’s most ancient synagogues, known to be in use during the period of the second Holy Temple in Jerusalem, an unusual occurrence as synagogues became the accepted place to pray only after the destruction of the second Temple.

Our photo shows some of the large warehouses at the fortress. The Dead Sea and the mountains of Edom are visible in the left background.

Warehouses at Masada with the Dead Dea visible in the distance. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Warehouses at Masada with the Dead Sea visible in the distance. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

It is possible that David visited the site of Masada long before it was turned into a fortress by King Herod. Gordon Franz has examined evidence for this suggestion at his Life and Land blog here.

One of the verses examined is Psalm 18:2 in which the term for fortress is the Hebrew metsudah (our English masada)

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, the servant of the LORD, who addressed the words of this song to the LORD on the day when the LORD rescued him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. He said: I love you, O LORD, my strength.
2 The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. (Psa 18:1-2 ESV)

HT: Joseph I. Lauer

Wall of Jerusalem breached by the Romans

Prof. Aren Maeir, director of the Tel es-Safi/Gath archaeological excavation, explains why some of his team is not working today.

Today, part of the team was not working in the field, since it is the Jewish fast day of the 17th of Tammuz, which commemorates the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem by the Romans, prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE (and according to some traditions, during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem in 586 BCE as well). Others though were in the field and had a very good day.

Titus, Roman commander at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, was later Emperor (A.D. 79-81). Bust in British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Titus, Roman commander at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, was later Emperor (A.D. 79-81). Bust in British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Whatever the exact day of the event, the siege and destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans was a traumatic event. Christians, and perhaps others, understand it as a judgment upon the corrupt nation at that time (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21). I use judgment in the sense of repeated judgments upon cities and nations as we see it used in the Old Testament prophets. We believe that Jesus predicted the destruction of the city of Jerusalem about 40 years prior the the actual destruction by the Romans.

But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. (Luke 21:20 ESV)

There is much archaeological evidence in Jerusalem of the Roman occupation of the city and of the destruction in A.D. 70. In the excavations conducted in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem following 1967, archaeologists uncovered evidence of the destruction and burning of the city. The Herodian Mansion and the Burnt House are two places that are especially interesting to Bible students who visit the Old City. Here is a photo of the exhibit at the Burnt House. The Burnt House is known to be the priestly House of Kathros.

The Burnt House in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Burnt House in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

In this photo you see furniture, stone vessels, and clear evidence of the burning of the building in A.D. 70. A larger image, suitable for use in teaching, is available by clicking on the photo.