Immediately after the famous proclamation of Cyrus (Ezra 1:2–3) in 538 B.C.E., the first wave of exiles returned to Jerusalem and settled in the City of David. A new Temple was begun in 520 B.C.E. after another wave of returnees arrived and rededicated in 515 B.C.E. (Ezra 6:15), certainly in quite small scale but on the same spot as the first. Since 486 B.C.E. Jerusalem served as capital of the Persian province Yehud (subunit of the satrapy Abr-Nahrain) under Persian governors who at the same time were members of the Yahwistic Judean elite. Things, however, did not go 0well; and much external and internal opposition had to be overcome (Mal 1:6–14, 2:1–9, 3:5–12). The inhabitants first organized themselves under a high priest (Joshua) and the Davidide Zerubbabel (Zech 4:8f., Ezra 5:2) but, after Zerubbabel’s disappearance, eventually formed a hierocratic temple-community with priests and scribes as religious and political leaders (commonly connected with Ezra and Nehemiah), who collected and propagated the foundations of Judaism for the next 500 years (canon, defining who is a Jew). The walls—only surrounding the City of David, not the Western Hill (Neh 3:8)—were finally repaired under Nehemiah, no less than 100 years after resettlement had started (Neh 2—4). It nevertheless remained difficult to populate the small area inside the walls, perhaps covering less than 30 acres (12 ha). Although the number of inhabitants remained low (Neh 7:4), the city became increasingly important as a regional political and economic center during the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.E. Until 70 C.E., Jerusalem remained the only settlement with city status in Judea proper.

The Persian period left only scant archaeological traces in Jerusalem, mainly in the City of David and the Ophel area. How far north the northern wall was situated is unknown. Nehemiah 2:11–16, 3:1–32, and 12:31–42 offer different descriptions, the toponyms of which are notoriously difficult to locate. Evidence of Jerusalem’s administrative role are storage vessels stamped yhwd and since the end of the fifth and the beginning of the fourth centuries B.C.E. minute silver coins for local use also bearing the inscription yhwd.

During the fourth century B.C.E. Greek influence becomes evident (few shards of Attic ware), and Greek authors like Hekataios of Abdera mention the city and praise the splendor of its temple (Diodoros, Hist. 40:3) and its large population of 150,000 people (Josephus, Ag. Ap. 1.197). Despite foreign influences, Persian-period material culture to a very large extent remained within the limits of local, late Iron-Age tradition enriched by Persian elements.

Jerusalem in the Ptolemaic and Seleucid Era (332/301–141 B.C.E.).

Although the conquest of Alexander in 332 B.C.E. had turned Palestine from the western periphery of an eastern empire into an eastern region of a new western, Mediterranean world, society and material culture in Jerusalem at first remained virtually unchanged. Leading priestly families were still the undisputed religious and political rulers of the city. Hellenism continued to be adapted by local elites who were now employed by the Ptolemies, emulating international, Greek standards of social and cultural life, including language, conventions of communication, and conviviality (import of wine, drinking vessels, etc.).

Jerusalem certainly suffered from the presence of foreign soldiers and the threat of raids by the enemy during the five bloody wars between the Ptolemies and the Seleucids in the third century B.C.E. (Josephus, Ant. 12.129f.). At the very end of the third century B.C.E., Sir 50:1–12 praises high priest Simon II “the Just” (d. 196 B.C.E.) for carrying out extensive repair on the Temple, fortifying it, rebuilding the water system, reorganizing the temple service, and beginning to fortify the city. Greek authors show interest in Jerusalem and its social and religious character, testifying that Judea was exotic but no more out of reach. Both Greek and indigenous authors emphasize the eminent role of the Temple and the priests for Judean life (e.g., Sir 50:1–24).

Jerusalem was not particularly large by eastern-Mediterranean standards but, with perhaps 15,000 inhabitants, certainly the biggest town in Judea. Settlement on the Western Hill does not seem to have resumed before the beginning of the second century B.C.E., now offering room for more spacious residences of the hellenizing priestly elite of Seleucid Jerusalem. The continuous influx of Greek goods and lifestyle in the City of David is nicely documented by stamped Rhodian amphora handles from the mid-third to mid-second centuries B.C.E., though still in limited numbers. Somewhat more traditional are handles from storage vessels stamped with a five-pointed star and the Hebrew inscription yrslm.

After Antiochus III (r. 223–187 B.C.E.) defeated the Ptolemies in the battle of Paneion in 198 B.C.E., he issued two edicts granting privileges to Jerusalem (Josephus, Ant. 12.138–146), helping thereby to overcome substantial damage done to city and Temple. But these privileges were not only a blessing. They first of all showed how dependent the Jerusalem hierocracy and the Temple had become on foreign rulers. In 175 B.C.E. Zadokite high priest Jason, who had come to power because he had offered the largest bribe to Antiochus III’s successor Antiochus IV (r. 175–164 B.C.E.), intensively promoted Hellenism and organized public life in Jerusalem according to a Greek polis. Jason received permission to build a gymnasium, soon to be followed by an ephebeion (a college for the Greek elite’s male youth) and a wrestling school, all provocatively close to the sanctuary (1 Macc 1:14, 2 Macc 4:7–17, 4 Macc 4:20; Josephus, Ant. 12.240f.; no remains identified so far). Jason may have seen all this as preparation to draw up a citizens’ list for the new city Antiochia Jerusalem (2 Macc 4:9). To counter growing opposition against Jason’s policy of hellenization and to support his successor, the non-Zadokite high priest Menelaos, and the hellenizers among the Jerusalem elite, Antiochus IV conquered the city first in 169 and then in 168 B.C.E. and twice plundered the Temple (1 Macc 1:20–24, 2 Macc 5:11–16). Jerusalem’s walls were razed, and a garrison of pagan mercenaries was stationed in the newly erected fortress of Akra, whose sheer existence and privileged legal status caused constant tensions with the local Jewish population (1 Macc 1:29–35, 2 Macc 5:1–21). Akra’s precise location is unknown due to conflicting literary sources and inconclusive archaeological data, but the most likely candidate is the area between the southern end of the Temple Mount and the City of David (cf. Josephus, Ant. 12.252). Alternatives are the upper city and the northwestern corner of the Temple Mount, the location of the later Antonia fortress.

According to 1 and 2 Maccabees, Antiochus IV issued a decree in 167 B.C.E., a year after Akra was established, to persecute the Jews (1 Macc 1:44–64, 2 Macc 6:1–17). He established the Greek cult of Zeus Olympios in the Temple (2 Macc 6:2), perhaps understood as a representation of Yahweh, thereby pushing the city more and more into the direction of a Greek provincial stronghold with a syncretistic state sanctuary. When a pagan altar was erected on the traditional high altar (1 Macc 1:54; Dan 9:27, 11:31), pagan sacrifices were offered on it, and circumcision was banned, a revolt broke out under the leadership of the rural priestly family of Bnei Hashmon. In 164 B.C.E. Judas Maccabeus conquered the city, the Temple was purged, and the traditional cult resumed (1 Macc 4:42–59). Only in 141 B.C.E. was Akra taken, razed, and its inhabitants expelled (1 Macc 13:49–52). Jerusalem became the capital of a growing and increasingly independent Judea.

Hasmonean Jerusalem (Mid-Second through Mid-First Centuries B.C.E.).

When things had calmed down, the Hasmoneans established themselves as the new, increasingly hellenizing local dynasty. Buildings like palaces and monumental tombs played an important role in the competition with neighboring rivals, and increasing wealth allowed local elites to express their status. At the same time, the Hasmoneans were priests, and the Temple cult gave an immense boost to developing a distinctly Jewish material identity, later to be continued under Herod the Great (r. 37–4 B.C.E.).

Since few archaeological remains from the pre-Herodian period are securely identified and dated, much of Jerusalem’s development can only be reconstructed from literary sources and is often difficult to pin down, a relative exception being the city’s defenses. Until the mid-second century B.C.E. Hellenistic Jerusalem remained confined to the City of David. But at that time the “Old Wall,” as Josephus calls it (J.W. 5.142–145), was built, mainly by restoring the late First Temple predecessor, to incorporate the new neighborhoods on the Western Hill. Starting at the southwestern end of the Temple platform, the first wall ran straight east–west toward the Citadel, where it turned south and enclosed the upper city from west (see the Kishle and Armenian Garden excavations). At the southern tip of the Western Hill the wall turned east again and ran along the edge of the southwestern hill until it reached the Siloam Pool, where it finally linked up with the eastern edge of “Nehemiah’s wall,” protecting the City of David from east.

In the crucial Citadel area, at 2,549.2 ft (777 m) above sea level Jerusalem’s highest spot, the earlier Iron Age–II defenses were refortified with three massive towers, first ca. 200 B.C.E. by the high priest Simon (Sir 50:1–4) and later between 164 and 135/34 by the Maccabees Judas, Jonathan, and Simon (1 Macc 4:60, 10:10f., 12:36, 13:10), serving as the city’s defense as well as the last refuge for the city’s rulers. Many ballista projectiles, slingshots, and arrowheads document heavy fighting, probably during the siege and conquest of Jerusalem by Antiochus VII Sidetes (r. 139/38–129 B.C.E.) in 134–132 B.C.E., after which John Hyrcanus I (r. 135–104 B.C.E.) had the walls repaired (1 Macc 16:23). Domestic structures close to the towers probably belonged to the garrison, but hewn steps pointing east from the towers suggest that there already existed a palace nearby in the Hasmonean period. Equally spectacular are two massive towers on the eastern side of the City of David set above the earlier, tenth-century B.C.E. “stepped stone structure,” one of them being Macalister’s Tower, measuring 55.8 ft (17 m) in width. Equally impressive is the Valley Gate on the western wall of the City of David, with its 11.5 ft (3.5 m) wide gate and 27.6 ft (8.4 m) wide flanking towers. The fact that the post-Persian walls show a very different makeup may indicate several building phases.

A new fortress, the Baris, was built under John Hyrcanus I on older structures near the northwestern corner of the Temple Mount to overlook and control the Temple area (Josephus, J.W. 1.118; Ant. 15.403, 18.91f.). Used as an additional palace building by the early Hasmoneans, the Baris was taken and reinforced by the Seleucid general Bacchides and reconquered by Simon in 141 B.C.E., who completely razed it to the ground. Herod would later build the Antonia at this spot. From the mid-second century B.C.E. onward stepped, plastered pools turn up in the City of David, the first miqvaot (ritual baths) in Jerusalem. Apart from that, practically no domestic structures from the Hellenistic period have been found, but large numbers of stamped Hellenistic amphora handles in fills document that the inhabitants of Hellenistic Jerusalem (at this location probably the elite) were open to Mediterranean imports.

Sometime during the mid-second century B.C.E. the temenos (temple enclosure) platform was repaired and enlarged toward the south, as the so-called seam, still visible in the twenty-first century near the southeastern corner, indicates. Apart from that, nothing is known about the Temple archaeologically, but the long description in Letter of Aristeas (83–107) gives an impressive picture of the place and the cult.

When Antiochus VII Sidetes left Jerusalem in 132 B.C.E. and the situation in Palestine improved through Roman pressure on the Seleucids, the city, now capital of a large kingdom, had the chance to expand. Remains of domestic structures from the later Hellenistic period were discovered in many places west of the City of David, forming the nucleus of the upper city. Construction expanded toward the south of the Western Hill, and on its northern end close to the old wall a royal palace was built (J.W. 2.344, Ant. 20.189–198). The xystus, probably a large, colonnaded court for public assemblies, was also located in the upper city (Josephus, J.W. 2.344).

In addition to that, a new neighborhood started to grow north of the Temple beyond the confines of the first wall and had soon to be protected by a second wall, connecting a point close to the Gennat Gate near the Citadel and the eastern edge of the Baris/Antonia (Josephus, J.W. 5.146–158). Its exact course is very difficult to ascertain, a late pre-Herodian date seems likely on the basis of Josephus (Ant. 14.476). A first aqueduct (“low-level aqueduct”) was built, too, connecting Jerusalem with springs in the vicinity of Bethlehem since artificial pools, cisterns, and the Gihon Spring did not provide sufficient amounts of water anymore for the thriving city. Outside, to the west of the new urban quarters and in the Kidron Valley, the priestly elite started to erect monumental burial structures to document their wealth and power for everyone to see.

A steady influx of diverse Mediterranean imports and growing use of Hellenistic building elements and styles in the course of the first century B.C.E. show that Jerusalem was becoming an increasingly cosmopolitan, though no less Jewish, city. The motor of that development was, next to Jerusalem’s indigenous priestly elites, the growing Jewish Diaspora in the eastern Mediterranean, which expressed its spiritual affiliation with Jerusalem by regularly sending financial contributions to the Temple and visiting the city in large numbers (Acts 2:5–11). Jerusalem’s rapid development was only threatened at the end of Hasmonean rule when political turmoil caused destruction to the Temple and the city.

Herodian Jerusalem.

In the 40s of the first century B.C.E. Palestine became a victim as much of the Roman civil war as of internal rivalries between competing branches in the Hasmonean dynasty. After Herod conquered the city and pushed out the last Hasmoneans and their Parthian allies with the help of the Romans, he set about to consolidate his rule, repair the damage, and turn Jerusalem into “one of the most beautiful capitals in the ancient Near East” (Geva and Avigad, 1993, p. 719). Herod’s secure status as socius et amicus populi Romani (ally and friend of the Roman people) and the regained stability under the pax Augusta opened Palestine to cultural influences from the entire Mediterranean and created rising economic prosperity, which more and more was “democratized.” Halakhic debates and refinement of everyday piety continued to inspire functional material culture (miqvaot, stone vessels, synagogues, and avoidance of figural art since ca. mid-first century B.C.E.). The king himself, who had to cater to the cultural needs of a very diverse population and wanted to demonstrate his loyalty to Rome on many levels, was the greatest promoter of what appears to be the beginning of a specific Palestinian blend of Hellenistic and indigenous artistic traditions. Outside of the predominantly Jewish-inhabited areas in the center of his realm (Galilee, Samaria, Judea, northern Negev, parts of central Perea), however, Herod acted just like any other Hellenistic client ruler.

Herod’s royal ambition became especially evident in his capital, Jerusalem, which at the same time was the social center of Palestinian Judaism and the spiritual focus for all Jews inside and outside the Roman Empire. The city, therefore, became the stage for both political and religious manifestations, both of which required appropriate locations and infrastructure. Herod took every opportunity to use this stage.

General topography and layout of the Herodian city.

Jerusalem’s urban layout was a product as much of history as of topography. The city sat on two hills (Josephus, J.W. 5.136–137), and its walls more or less continued to follow the natural ravines surrounding the city on the west and south (Hinnom Valley) and on the east (Kidron Valley). In the north Jerusalem extended into the flat Judean hills and lacked a strict topographic boundary. East of the Kidron Valley, already outside the city, rose the Mount of Olives, with Mount Scopus to its northeast on which large cemeteries extended into the hills and the first suburban villages, like Bethany, could be found.

The huge Temple platform and the Antonia dominated Jerusalem’s eastern part, matched in the west by Herod’s palace and the three towers in the Citadel area. The north and south consisted more or less of domestic quarters, with an important exception being the old City of David area south of the Temple where large palaces had been built by the royal family of Adiabene. Siloam Pool was located at the lowest tip of the City of David. From the piazza just north of the pool, a monumental, carefully built road ascended the natural slope of the City of David in two lanes parallel to the Tyropoeon Valley toward the Temple, channeling the huge number of annual pilgrims to the main entrance of the sanctuary.

A line of stores on each side of the valley formed the Lower Market. Just in front of the southern wall of the precinct, a continuation of this axis branched off a little to the west and ran farther north along the platform’s western wall, lined on both sides by numerous shops of fairly standard size. Coins below the pavers show that the street was planned in Herodian times but not completed until shortly before the outbreak of the revolt. According to Reich and Billig, this was the “main commercial thoroughfare in the city” (2008, p. 1810). Traces of vaulted spaces (probably also shops) were identified along the southern wall of the platform next to the wide steps. These shops were important not only for providing worshippers with sacrificial offerings and money suitable for Temple service but might also have fulfilled the function of a city market. Much more scant remains are known of east–west streets. The end of a street connecting up with Robinson’s Arch from the west was identified, as well as traces of another street corresponding to Wilson’s Arch, the latter intensively repaired and reused in Roman and Byzantine times.

Between the Temple platform and Herod’s western palace, the Tyropoeon Valley (“cheese makers’ valley”) divided the city into two halves. The first half, the lower city, comprised the City of David including its northern end, the Ophel (Josephus, J.W. 5.145), and the lower areas of the opposite western hill down to the city wall in the south. The area partly consisted of smaller houses, workshops, and narrow alleys in which the city’s poorer population lived but also comprised larger, luxurious mansions and a number of public buildings like the palaces of the Adiabene royal family (Josephus, J.W. 5.352–353, 6.356), the town hall (bouleuterion) (J.W. 5.144), and the archives (archeion) (J.W. 6.354–355). The famous Theodotus synagogue was also located here, probably not far north of the Siloam Pool. Architecturally interesting is a high-standard, terraced, domestic complex partly hewn into the natural cliff at the southern end of the Tyropoeon Valley opposite the Siloam Pool and partly enclosed by walls.

Separated by a natural cliff along the eastern slope of the Western Hill lay the second half, the upper city, home of Jerusalem’s aristocratic elite. Excavations in the modern Jewish Quarter between 1969 and 1982 and later (e.g., under the Hurva synagogue 2003–2006) not only allow very detailed insights into a prosperous domestic life in Jerusalem during the late Second Temple period but also present evidence of the massive destruction wrought in the year 70 C.E.

Several spacious and luxurious urban villas have been (partly) revealed, for example, the especially luxurious “Palatial Mansion,” covering 6,458.3 ft2 (600 m2); the “House of the Columns”; the “Herodian Mansion,” built over by a wide east–west street at the beginning of the first century C.E.; the basement of the “Western House”; and the basement of the “Burnt House.” Many of the houses extended over several levels down the natural hill, and all contained at least one mikvah, often built under a vault of ashlars and fed by cisterns; sometimes bathrooms complete with bathtubs and paved with colored mosaics were found next to them. Often, mosaics decorated dining halls, their style and decoration being very comparable to parallels in Jericho, Herodium, and Masada. Floors were often paved with colored stone tiles (opus sectile), and walls were decorated in Hellenistic-style frescoes with colored panels, marble imitation, or floral patterns. Stucco was also used, but less frequently, to imitate ashlars or decorate ceilings.

The inventory of these houses comprised glass (some imported like a blue ENNIWN-inscribed cup), red-slipped tableware (Eastern Sigillata A), stone vessels, and some of the oldest examples of stone furniture. The very well-preserved remains in the basement of the Burnt House demonstrate, furthermore, that upper-city mansions were also places of work and industry: a kitchen was found next to a workshop, both full with all sorts of objects including a stone weight bearing the inscription “[belonging to] the son(s?) of Qatros,” a priestly family which may have inhabited this house (b. Pesaḥ. 57a). Similarly, a menorah and other cult objects incised into two wall plaster fragments from Area A may also point to priestly inhabitants. In addition to domestic architecture, drums of monumental columns and delicate capitals document public buildings in the vicinity; their character and exact locations in the upper city, however, remain unknown. In the southwest of the city, excavations on Mount Zion and in the area of St. Peter in Gallicantu have revealed additional evidence of a densely built-up city with courtyard mansions, cisterns, water channels, and neighborhood streets. Because of the steep slope and later intensive destruction and rebuilding, however, not much survived.

Jerusalem, Hellenistic and Roman

Inscription from the corner of the Herodian temple. Kim Walton, courtesy of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem

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In the north, urban sprawl must have extended far beyond the second wall already during Herod’s time. The Bezetha neighborhood (“New City,” Josephus, J.W. 2.529f., 5.149–151.246) became loosely settled, with houses more and more replacing Hellenistic quarries and gardens. A large building in the central area of Bezetha consisting of two concentric opus reticulatum (diamond-shaped bricks forming a net-like pattern) walls (40.7 by 28.9 ft [12.4 by 8.8 m] external diameter) is identified as “Herod’s monument,” perhaps a cenotaph, mentioned by Josephus (J.W. 5.108.507).

Roman destruction and later building activities have obliterated many traces of urban Jerusalem, so one must often depend more on texts than on finds when it comes to the details of both the upper and the lower city. A good example are the synagogues. Although literary texts speak of many different synagogues for freedmen, Jews from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia, and Asia (Acts 6:9, 9:29), only a single inscription and no architectural remains are known that testify to the certainly dense presence of that Jewish institution in Jerusalem (Theodotus inscription Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaeae et Palaestinae [CIIP] I/1, no. 9). Interestingly enough, the inscription mentions not only the synagogue building proper but also a number of secondary facilities like guest rooms (domata) or water installations (chresteria ton hydaton) that must have belonged to every synagogue in Jerusalem that catered for pilgrims. The inscription of Vettenus (the Latin name of Theodotus, the founder) may suggest that his family had come from abroad and settled in Jerusalem.

Defenses and royal palaces.

When Herod came to power, his first concern was to consolidate his realm by constructing or rebuilding a number of large fortresses (first building phase 37–30 B.C.E.). Herod kept and strengthened the entire first wall including the City of David, Western Hill, and Citadel areas and added the second wall to the north of the first (if that was not already done before him). By the time of Herod’s accession Jerusalem had two strongholds: one “guarded the city itself” (Josephus, Ant. 15.248), very likely referring to the Hasmonean fortifications below the Citadel, and another close to the Temple farther east (the Baris).

In his first building phase Herod replaced the old Baris on the northwestern corner of the Temple Mount and built a new fortress, called Antonia in honor of his first Roman patron (Josephus, J.W. 1.387–390.401, 5.238–246). Very few remains have survived Roman destruction around 70 C.E. and the area’s later integration into the forum of Aelia Capitolina. The fortress more or less was a rectangular barrack combined with luxury suites, measuring ca. 393.7 ft (120 m) east–west and 147.6 ft (45 m) north–south. It was built on an 85.3 ft (26 m) high podium of natural, cut rock and protected by 68.9 ft (21 m) high walls and four towers on each corner of 85.3 ft (26 m) height. With 121.4 ft (37 m), only the southeastern tower rose above the others and allowed Herod to control the entire Temple area. Next to military and logistical functions, the Antonia also contained baths and dining and reception halls. When Herod moved into his new palace, the Antonia continued as a garrison for soldiers guarding the Temple.

On Jerusalem’s vulnerable northwestern side Herod built three massive towers: the highest (147.6 ft [45 m]) and most western tower being Phasael, named after Herod’s brother and resembling the famous Pharos in Alexandria; then Hippikos, at 131.2 ft (40 m) just a little lower than Phasael and named after one of Herod’s friends, a Roman cavalry officer who fell in battle; and finally, the 88.6 ft (27 m) high but extremely elegant tower Mariamne, named after Herod’s Hasmonean wife whom he murdered (Josephus, J.W. 5.163–175). The exact location of these towers, each presenting a remarkable memorial of loss and grief about persons Herod loved, and their constructional relationship with the existing Hasmonean defenses are not entirely clear.

The old Hasmonean palace west of the Temple (Josephus, Ant. 15.292), the palatial rooms in the Citadel towers, and the Antonia all served the king as residences for ca. 10 years until his newly built palace on the western side of the city was ready in 23 B.C.E. (Josephus, J.W. 5.156–183, Ant. 15.318). The palace surpassed everything in luxury Herod had designed so far, it was a building “with which the Temple itself bore no comparison” (Josephus, J.W. 1.402). The palace was built south of the three towers and ran parallel to much of the western city wall, consisting of a rectangular complex of perhaps ca. 984 by 328 ft (300 by 100 m) surrounded with 49.2 ft (15 m) high walls dotted with towers at irregular intervals. Together with the three towers to its north, the residence formed the “castle of King Herod” (phrourion), offered additional protection for the king, and kept him removed from the bustling noise of the city (Josephus, Ant. 15.292). The palace consisted of two wings opposing each other, one named Caesareum and the other Agrippeum after the two most important living persons for Herod’s Augustan career. Huge halls and guest rooms with 100 beds were embellished with precious mosaics and decorations, and courtyards with gardens, water channels, and columbaria for domesticated pigeons created a paradise-like atmosphere. Excavations under the Citadel, the old Turkish police station (Kishle), and the parking lot/garden of the Armenian Patriarchate revealed massive substructures and fills but no traces of any structures above the floor level that survived.

The Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s urban landscape.

Herod’s most ambitious building project certainly was the profound refurbishment of the Temple, started in either 23/22 B.C.E. (Josephus, J.W. 1.401; apparently confirmed by a dedicatory inscription, see CIIP I/1, no. 3) or 20/19 B.C.E. (Josephus, Ant. 15.380) (on the Temple see J.W. 5.184–237, Ant. 15.391–402). The Temple, therefore, belongs to Herod’s third major building phase (ca. 20–10 B.C.E.) and was carried out contemporaneously with Herod’s second most ambitious project: the construction of Caesarea harbor and city, a tremendous, unparalleled effort. The dimensions of the new sanctuary were simply breathtaking, making it the largest single holy site in the Roman world (Tacitus, Hist. 5.8.1 immensae opulentiae templum; vgl. Pliny, Nat. 5.15.70).

The inauguration (anaktisis) of the Temple was celebrated in 9 or 8 B.C.E. in connection with Herod’s anniversary as king (Josephus, Ant. 15.423). But the project was so huge that much work dragged on until 28 C.E. (John 2:20), and it was not before 64 C.E. that the Roman governor Albinus declared the Temple finished and ordered construction to stop, creating a major social crisis (Josephus, Ant. 20.219). Herod Agrippa II (r. 48–ca. 93 C.E.) had to repair and embellish the streets of Jerusalem to keep 18,000 workers active who were previously employed at the Temple (Josephus, Ant. 20.220–221). Numismatic finds and the almost perfect state of many pavers on the south–north road confirm that construction of the sanctuary’s infrastructure took much longer than expected.

It is important for understanding the hybrid and creative character of Herodian culture that the Temple’s very biblical purposes were met by employing as much Hellenistic architecture and art as possible. The general, spacious layout follows Augustan models; the royal hall and surrounding porticoes are entirely in line with Hellenistic taste; and the decoration of columns, ceilings, and facades creatively play with floral and geometric patterns already well established in the eastern Hellenistic world. As much as Hellenism supplied its vast repertoire of models and elements, it also provided the freedom to leave out what was not needed and ran counter to indigenous tradition: the Temple itself followed Oriental patterns, and there were no images of animals or humans.

Largely seen as the most powerful symbol of Judaism as a religion, Josephus himself makes very clear that Herod intended the Temple to be a demonstration of his piety, too, and his gratitude toward the biblical god who, Herod claimed, had bestowed kingship on him (Josephus, Ant. 15.382–387). With the Temple, Herod presents himself as legitimate successor of such distinguished kings as David and Solomon (e.g., Herod’s display of spoils from defeated enemies in the Temple’s portico: Ant. 15.402). And regardless of all ideology, the Temple was a huge economic factor.

The Temple in many ways shaped the city’s landscape. Gates on the north, east, west, and especially south sides connected sanctuary and city (m. Mid. 1:3). The main access was from the south, where a large open space gave room to a 215 ft (65.5 m) wide staircase made of at least 30 hewn and paved steps leading visitors to two monumental gates. The steps alternated between 11.8 and 35.4 inches (30 and 90 cm) in depth, a common feature in Hellenistic sanctuaries that creates a rhythmic, particularly solemn pace. Two large gates (the Huldah Gates) opened into the substructures, one in the west consisting of a double gate now largely built over by later structures and a triple gate farther east, of which hardly any Herodian masonry is preserved. From these gates high and elaborately decorated vaults extended 262.5 ft (80 m) through the substructures until they reached the surface of the platform.

The main entrances from the west have been known since the nineteenth century, the most visible and famous one being Robinson’s Arch close to the southwestern corner of the precinct, followed to the north by Barclay’s Gate, Wilson’s Arch, and Warren’s Gate in the Western Wall Tunnel. All of these gates gave access to the north–south axis road; only Wilson’s Arch continued directly via a bridge to the xystus and the rich priestly homes in the upper city (Josephus, J.W. 2.344). At the same time, Wilson’s Arch carried the lower aqueduct that brought water to the Temple from the region around Bethlehem. Only one gate opened the precinct in the north: the Tadi Gate situated between the Antonia fortress and the Pool of the “Sons of Israel” (the name is medieval). Theologically, the single eastern gate (Shushan Gate; the present Golden Gate is not on its location and much younger) was the most important one since it was situated directly opposite the altar and entrance to the Temple (m. Ber. 9:5). It was through this gate that the high priest left the sanctuary on Yom Kippur to lead the red heifer to the Mount of Olives.

Two parts of Robinson’s Arch are preserved: its protruding spring on the southwestern corner of the platform and the base of a massive pillar placed at a right angle to the spring. Robinson’s Arch gave direct access to the monumental hall from the bottom of the Tyropoeon Valley, and a flight of stairs led to the upper city (Josephus, Ant. 15.410).

In the debris at the bottom of the southeastern corner a fragment of the parapet was found with the inscription “to the place of the blowing [of the trumpet] to…, ” probably the place from where a priest gave the signal that the Sabbath had begun (Josephus, J.W. 4.582).

Entertainment facilities.

Herod tried to supplement Jerusalem’s Jewish atmosphere with a distinct pagan, Mediterranean element, mirroring the multiethnic and multicultural character of his kingdom. Early in his rule, the king commissioned athletic and musical games, to be held every five years in honor of Augustus (Josephus, Ant. 15.268–276), thereby complementing the games sponsored at Caesarea (Josephus, Ant. 16.136–138). This, of course, not only required appropriate buildings (Josephus mentions a theater and an amphitheater/hippodrome, Ant. 15.268, 17.255; J.W. 2.44) but also meant that the king provided the means for personnel, liturgies, prizes, and sacrificial animals. It is not known who performed these rituals and how prominent these games were in the city next to the five large annual Jewish pilgrimage festivals, but whoever wanted to take part in the Augustalia had to perform rites prohibited by Jewish laws. Even if athletes and artists were invited from “every land” (Ant. 15.269), spectators might have been mostly from Palestine, if not Jerusalem itself. The theater was a perfect screen to publicize Augustus’s and Herod’s heroic accomplishments with inscriptions and trophies (Josephus, Ant. 15.272). Unfortunately, neither the amphitheater/hippodrome nor the theater has left any traces in the material record, and their exact locations are not precisely known either; but many tokens from the upper city suggest that these buildings were located close by. It is likely the theater and hippodrome consisted of wood, just like many of their kind in the Augustan period. In that case, the stone seats found in 2002 may have belonged to a later, perhaps Hadrianic phase.

Water supply.

During the second half of the second century B.C.E. at the latest the old water supply system consisting of the Gihon Spring, rock-hewn cisterns, pools, and channels reached the limits of its capacity. The biggest single consumer was the sanctuary: worshippers and priests needed water for ritual cleansing, making it necessary that a large number of cisterns and miqvaot existed all along the main pilgrim routes in synagogues or private homes. In addition, the cult as such needed large amounts of water: sacrificial animals had to be washed before they entered the sanctuary, vessels had to be cleansed before use, and the altar and its surroundings had to be cleansed from blood, burnt materials, and soot after sacrifices. Research underneath the Temple platform revealed numerous cisterns hewn into the rock or built into the substructures, many of which might have been in use in the Herodian period as well. It is therefore likely that attempts were made during the later Hasmonean period to transport water from outside Jerusalem to the city and to increase the water-storage capacity inside it. Traces of a Hasmonean-period channel entering Jerusalem from the Damascus Gate area are the oldest remains of an aqueduct in the north of the city (see Let. Aris. 89–91). The channel eventually fed into the still unroofed Struthion Pool, passed the Baris, and finally connected to the reservoirs below the Temple Mount.

Much more substantial, however, was the aqueduct approaching the city from the south. Because the entire complex continued to be repaired until the end of the Ottoman period, only very few original remains have survived. Apparently, Herod reused and enlarged a Hasmonean predecessor to meet the rising water demands created by the rebuilding of the Temple in ca. 20 B.C.E. and bridged the distance between springs south of Bethlehem and Jerusalem first with a system of several aqueducts carrying water to three large pools with a total capacity of ca. 79,251,615 gallons (300,000 m³; Solomon’s Pools, close to Bethlehem), then the “low-level aqueduct” carrying the water over the remaining ca. 13.4 miles (21.5 km; ca. 7.2 miles [11.6 km] direct) to Jerusalem and via Wilson’s Arch into the reservoirs below the Temple Mount. Before the low-level aqueduct entered the city, it filled two large pools, one in the Hinnom Valley in front of the western city wall (“Solomon’s Pool”; according to Josephus, J.W. 5.108, “Serpents’ Pool”) and another located close to the Citadel feeding the western city and Herod’s palace (“Hezekiah’s Pool” or “Tower Pool”).

In addition to existing open reservoirs, Herod dug another reservoir of 360.9 ft (110 m) length, 124.7 ft (38 m) width, and 88.6 ft (27 m) depth sometime between 20 and 10 B.C.E. just north of the sacred precinct (the “Pool of the Sons of Israel”). It was the largest pool in Herodian Jerusalem and partly replaced the old Sheep or Bethesda Pool, which more and more turned into a healing and recreation area. Furthermore, Herod doubled the size of Struthion Pool in the course of building the Antonia (Josephus, J.W. 5.467). Additionally, the southeastern end of the lower city was supplied by a fully refurbished Siloam Pool. Here, excavations since 2004 have revealed a large, two-phase pool complex of ca. 197 by 164 ft (60 by 50 m), surrounded by wide steps on all sides. Apart from supplying the southern city with fresh water from the Gihon Spring, the pool certainly also served pilgrims as “a kind of enormous miqwe” (Amit, 2009, p. 52). The pool was fed by runoff water from the drainage channel below the paved road and from Hezekiah’s tunnel. Like at the Pool of Bethesda, John (9:6–7) reports a healing at Siloam.

Despite Herod’s considerable efforts, water supply continued to be one of Jerusalem’s most pressing problems, such that Pontius Pilate had to undertake additional work using money from the Temple treasury (Josephus, J.W. 2.175f.). In any case, all of these activities taken together created the most complex Second Temple–period water supply system in Israel.

Industrial activities.

During the Herodian period, Jerusalem also was an industrial center as a result not only of a growing population but also of the economic power of the Temple with its personnel, practices, and worshippers. Ever since the pre-Exile period, large quarries surrounded Jerusalem that were successively covered and built over by the city’s expansion (cf. Solomon’s Quarries with Zedekiah’s Cave). Herod’s numerous building projects increased the need of building stones. Other deposits provided soft limestone for large-scale manufacture of stone vessels, ossuaries, table tops, and other household items so popular in the late first century B.C.E. and first century C.E., quarried in large underground complexes like those along the Mount Scopus and Mount of Olives ridges and at Hizma.

Large pottery kilns from the late first century B.C.E. to 70 C.E. were found west of the city along the road to the coast, “specializing mainly in the production of cooking vessels” (Arubas and Goldfus, 2008, p. 1829). The famous “Jerusalem painted ware” found in the Jewish-Quarter excavations and in sites like Masada and Qumran was very likely also produced in Jerusalem. Excavations in the upper city in Jerusalem revealed, for instance, a glass workshop. Outside the city and its necropolis a wide agricultural green belt with terraces, farmsteads, and hamlets provided the food consumed in such a sprawling population center as Jerusalem was.


Many thousands of tombs of various sizes and forms have been found around Jerusalem since modern excavations started in the nineteenth century. The later, typical kokhim graves (tomb complexes with burial shafts cut into the rock) are first attested in late second- to early first-century B.C.E. tombs excavated close to Jaffa Gate. Just like elsewhere in the ancient world, tombs were located outside the city, mostly on Jerusalem’s southern, eastern, and northern sides, with fewer to the west. Some tombs of especially prominent heroes, however, remained inside the city and functioned as important landmarks, such as David’s tomb (Josephus, Ant. 16.179–183) and perhaps the tomb to which the famous Uzzia Inscription belonged. The tombs in general document the increasing differentiation of late Second Temple–period society and the introduction of new burial practices (secondary burial in ossuaries, one-third of which are marked with names) and other cultural influences (e.g., placing coins on the eyes). Monumental tombs of the elite are present in the Kidron Valley, at Akeldama, in the north (Tomb of the Kings), and in the west (Herod’s family tomb).

Jerusalem under the Procurators.

Apart from the short rule of Herod’s son Herod Archelaus (r. 4 B.C.E.–6 C.E.) and a short intermezzo by the Jewish king Herod Agrippa I (r. 41–44 C.E.), Palestine was ruled by 13 Roman governors of equestrian rank until the First Revolt destroyed the city, Temple, and Palestinian Jewish society. During this period Jerusalem witnessed few changes, most of them resulting from the virtual end of the Herodian dynasty after 6 C.E. Although the Romans moved the main administrative center to Caesarea-on-the-Sea, Jerusalem continued to play an important role as the focus of the Jewish cult and elite. To keep a close eye on the Temple platform, the Romans held permanent garrison in the Antonia. When the governor needed to be present in Jerusalem (mostly during festivals), he most likely resided in the old Herodian palace in the west of the city. It is, therefore, likely that the praetorion (Mark 15:16; cf. Acts 23:35) where Jesus had to face trial before Pilate was here and not in the Antonia (Philo, Legat. 38; Josephus, J.W. 2.41–54.175–177). The location of Caiaphas’s house, however, remains unknown (Mark 14:54; cf. Heb 13:11–14). According to the New Testament, Jesus was led out of the city to be crucified at a place called Golgotha, most likely an old quarry whose scarps had also been used to cut tombs into the rock (Mark 15:20). Golgotha must be north or northwest of the second wall (the third wall had not been built yet), with the area of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher being a good candidate despite significant changes through the Roman and Byzantine periods. Apart from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the modern Via Dolorosa does not reflect the situation in Jesus’s time.

As the city continued to grow especially to the north and since these new quarters were very exposed to potential attacks from the north, Agrippa I started to build a third wall with 90 towers surrounding the entire “New City” (Bezetha, Josephus, J.W. 5.147–155). Partly as a result of Claudius’s direct intervention, the wall was not finished before the outbreak of the revolt (Josephus, J.W. 2.219, Ant. 19.326f.). Despite Josephus’s praise for the beauty and strength of the third wall, only few remains have been found and its exact course remains an enigma, as well as the location of the famous Psephinus Tower (Josephus, J.W. 5.159f.). One school of thought positions the northern limit along the line of the present Old City Wall; another suggests that it extended to where the “Sukenik-Mayer Wall” was found. Excavations near Herod’s Gate suggest that the New City was still quite loosely built up.

Jerusalem during the First Revolt.

Although the revolt did not break out in Jerusalem in the summer of 66 C.E., in Caesarea events made the break evident and nonrevertible and ushered in a sequence of events that ultimately led to its destruction. In Jerusalem, moderate voices tried to calm down tensions and prevent radicals from winning over the priests at the Temple and the masses who happened to be in the city for Tabernacles, but in the end they sorely failed (Josephus, J.W. 2.301–316.411–417). Public order rapidly collapsed, the regular sacrifices for the well-being of the emperor were terminated, and the palaces of Agrippa and Berenice as well as of the city’s archives and the house of the high priest Ananias were burnt by the insurgents (Josephus, J.W. 2.293–429). When the rebels took Masada and routed Cestius Gallus’s army (Josephus, J.W. 2.499–555), things looked bright and promising. For a year the old elites managed to uphold public order and prepared for Jerusalem’s defense by continuing the third wall and accumulating weapons and training troops. But when the Galilee and other regions had been conquered after the winter of 66/67 and multitudes of refugees streamed into Jerusalem, the credit of the old elites quickly vanished and the situation got out of hand.

Jerusalem, Hellenistic and Roman

Reconstruction of Herodian Temple precinct from the southwest. Balage Balough / Archaeology Illustrated

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Between 68 and early 70 various gangs under different warlords with or without a clear political or religious agenda took control of the city, including the Temple or only parts of it, and lost it again. John of Gischala, Shimon Bar-Giora, Menachem, and the Idumaeans are just some of the most notorious names. The effect was devastating: purges killed off many members of the former elite, supplies were robbed from normal families, and neighborhoods were destroyed, even those without a single Roman being present. Nothing of this catastrophic situation, however, can be identified archaeologically as it merged with the huge destruction that was about to come.

The Roman siege, starting in the spring of 70 C.E. after the quest for the throne in Rome had been decided, only made things worse. Titus closed off the crammed city with 60,000 soldiers from four legions and numerous auxiliaries only to make internal fighting more relentless and cause terrible hunger and mass starvation. Despite some initial successes, the ca. 23,000 rebels in the city were no match for the Romans, who with relentless routine built siege works and continuously probed the defenses. Starting his attack from the north in late April, Titus step by step gained control of the Bezetha neighborhood and pushed the rebels back behind the second wall. Unfortunately, no traces of the siege have survived apart from occasional slingshots or ballista stones.

The continuous production of coins, documented in small denominations until “year four” (i.e., 69/70 C.E.), indicates that the rebels tried to keep public order as long as possible. In May, the Antonia was conquered and the way to the Temple open. Josephus says that Titus tried everything to spare the Temple from destruction, but other sources are less positive about the matter (Josephus, J.W. 4.92–96; cf. Sulpicius Severus, Chronica II and the lost inscription on the second Arch of Titus in Rome, CIL 6.944). On the tenth of Av 70 C.E., the Temple fell in a huge conflagration killing hundreds of people. The upper city, however, was fiercely defended but fell on the eighth of Elul (Josephus, J.W. 6.374–408). In the following weeks Titus’s soldiers mopped up the rest of the city, killing men, women, and children hiding in cisterns, drainage channels, or basements or taking them prisoner, like John of Gischala and Simon Bar-Giora. When the long, five-month siege had ended, tens of thousands of people were dead and many more about to be sold into slavery (Josephus, J.W. 6.420; Tacitus, Hist. 5.13.3). Unburied bodies lay in the streets (Josephus, J.W. 5.514.518). Nevertheless, remarkably few finds document the ordeal of the inhabitants: most famous are the severed lower arm of a young woman found in the basement of the Burnt House, the mortal remains of 17 individuals (two-thirds women and one-third men, no infants or young children) from City of David excavations, and a nest of skulls. Jerusalem, the Jewish metropolis in a Hellenistic world, had ceased to exist.

Jerusalem between the First and Second Revolts.

Archaeological excavations and Josephus’s detailed account (J.W. 5–6) provide ample evidence of the widespread and profound destruction that Titus’s legions wrought on Jerusalem. Devastation is especially evident in the upper city; the lower city, including the City of David; and, of course, on and around the Temple Mount, while other areas were less affected or not affected by fire.

In general, however, Jerusalem’s prewar urban structure was uprooted and the city was virtually depopulated by violence, famine, and deportation; but “there is no report of any prohibition of a Jewish presence in the ruined city” before Hadrian (Isaac, 2010, p. 15), and “they had little reason to return to the city in its present state” (Price, 2011, p. 414; cf. Josephus, Life 422, J.W. 7.377). Graves are a good indicator. The few burials datable to the period between 70 and 130 C.E. (see the Dominus Flevit necropolis) show “signs of haste and incompletion in so many of the caves” that “are both the product of the high mortality rate and the disruption of routine caused by the Roman siege” (Price, 2011, p. 411). At least the eastern necropolis seems to have remained accessible for Jews.

After a short celebration of victory, all troops were withdrawn apart from Legio X Fretensis, which at least to a substantial part set up garrison in the western part of the occupied city south of the Citadel (Josephus, J.W. 7.2–5). The Romans demolished Herod’s palace and only kept Herod’s three towers as a document of the Roman victory (Josephus, J.W. 6.409–412). The permanent deployment of a legion meant that Judea was no longer subordinate to Syria and the governor now was of senatorial rank (legatus Augusti pro praetore). As legionary headquarters, Jerusalem now functioned as a military pendant to the capital Caesarea and became the logistical, social, and religious focus of one of Rome’s prime units and the many auxiliaries that were stationed across the province. Altars, pagan sacrifices, military emblems, statues, and dedicatory inscriptions made “ruined Jerusalem …a relatively small, effectively pagan settlement long before its re-establishment as Aelia Capitolina” (Price, 2011, p. 414).

Soon after the conquest the Romans started to dismantle the sanctuary (Josephus, J.W. 7.1–3). Stumps of the remaining walls and large piles of stone debris on the western side of the platform document Roman efforts to eliminate all traces of rebellious Judaism as profoundly as possible. Many of these stones were later reused for building projects, the first probably being the castra legionis of the tenth legion just west of the Temple Mount, the military bakery, a bathhouse, later Byzantine buildings, and quite evidently, the large Umayyad administrative complexes just south of it. Apart from being a symbol of Rome’s victory, the Temple Mount does not seem to have had any practical function, that is, as a location for a new, pagan sanctuary.

As in other regions, the legion spearheaded building a new infrastructure in the entire province. Milestones document the construction of roads (one even using Jerusalem as the starting point). As the Herodian low-level aqueduct had apparently been destroyed by the rebels, the tenth legion built the new high-level aqueduct that entered the city somewhere in the Citadel area and fed Hezekiah’s Pools, from which water was distributed to the legionary camp and headquarters. Huge numbers of tiles stamped with the emblem of the tenth legion testify that most of the material for military construction in Jerusalem was produced by the legionaries themselves.

A small number of cremation burials in cooking pots and tombstones can be associated with the legionaries stationed in Jerusalem, who may have originally come from regions like the Balkans, northern Italy, and Gaul, slowly changing the face of the city which already bore the seed of a second, just as devastating revolt that broke out two generations after the first. Close to devastated Jerusalem, however, a village was set up at Shuʿafat that existed until 132 and in which many forms of Jewish life continued, mixed with Roman elements.



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Jürgen K. Zangenberg