Excavation Reveals Spot Where Romans Breached Jerusalem’s Wall 2,000 Years Ago

“And they burnt the house of God, and broke down the wall of Yerushalayim, and burnt all the palaces thereof with fire, and destroyed all the goodly vessels thereof.” II Chronicles 36:19 (The Israel Bible™)

Exciting evidence of 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 at the city center. The discovery was made 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 built. In 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 at the Jewish guards who were stationed at the top of the tower.

According to Dr. Rina Avner and Kfir Arbib, excavation directors on behalf of the IAA, “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.”

A 2,000 year old jar as it was discovered in the field. (Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.)
A 2,000 year old jar as it was discovered in the field. (Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.)

The historian Josephus, an eyewitness 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 King 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.

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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.

A spearhead from the battle against Titus’ army. (Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)
A spearhead from the battle against Titus’ army. (Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

It seems that the new discovery has resolved a debate among researchers reaching back to the early twentieth century, as to the location of the third wall and the question of Jerusalem’s boundaries on the eve of the Roman onslaught led by Titus. According to the dig in the Russian Compound, we now have proof of the wall’s existence in that area.

The excavation findings will be presented at a conference entitled “New Studies in the archaeology of Jerusalem and its Region,” Thursday, October 27, at the Mount Scopus campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.