Archaeologists Find Battle Site Where Romans Breached Jerusalem Walls

Archaeologists Find Battle Site Where Romans Breached Jerusalem Walls

Israeli archaeologists found the site of a fierce battle where the Roman army bombarded and breached the walls of Jerusalem before conquering the city and destroying the Second Temple almost 2,000 years ago, officials said Thursday.

They said that the discovery, made last winter during an excavation of a construction site for the new campus of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design outside the Old City, also finally confirmed the description of the wall that was breached provided by the historian Josephus Flavius.

During the dig, the archaeologists found the remains of a tower surrounded by scores of stones and boulders fired by Roman catapults at the Jewish forces guarding the wall, the Israel Antiquities Authority said in a statement.

“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 statement said.

The excavation site in the Russian Compound. One can see the sling stones on the floor, which are tangible evidence of the battle. (Yoli Shwartz/ Israel Antiquities Authority)

“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,” it said.

The part of the wall that was breached was known as the Third Wall. It was found in the area of modern Jerusalem known as the Russian Compound. According to accounts by Josephus, this part of the wall was designed to protect a new quarter of the city that developed outside the other two existing walls.

The boulders fired by Roman catapults at the Jewish defenders of the wall. (Yoli Shwartz/ Israel Antiquities Authority)

For much of the 20th century, scholars have been debating the route of this Third Wall and “the question concerning Jerusalem’s boundaries on the eve of the Roman onslaught,” the statement said. “It seems that the new discovery in the Russian Compound is proof of the wall’s existence in this area.”

In his “The War of the Jews,” Josephus describes the wall as follows: “… the beginning of the third wall was at the tower Hippicus, whence it reached as far as the north quarter of the city, and the tower Psephinus …It was Agrippa who encompassed the parts added to the old city with this wall, which had been all naked before.”

The Third Wall had been completed as part of preparations by the Jews for the Great Revolt against Rome that began in 66 CE and ended in 70 CE when the Romans breached the walls of Jerusalem and destroyed the Second Temple. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed, and the rout heralded the start of nearly two thousand years of exile.

The 1st century Roman portrait bust said to be of Josephus, conserved in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, Denmark (Wikipedia/ Creative Commons)

The excavation findings will be presented in a conference at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem later this month.

News of the discovery comes during a week in which Israel has been engaged in a fierce diplomatic spat with UNESCO, over a decision by the United Nations cultural body that Israel says ignores Jewish and Christian historical ties to Jerusalem’s holiest sites.

The resolution, passed last Thursday in the committee stage at UNESCO, referred to the Temple Mount and Western Wall only by their Muslim names and condemned Israel as “the occupying power” for various actions taken in both sites. The resolution was confirmed by UNESCO’s executive on Tuesday.

Tourists look at a model of the Second Temple on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)


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