previous next

AELIA CAPITOLINA (Jerusalem) Israel.

Jerusalem cannot really be said to have entered the Classical world until the time of Herod the Great in the last third of the 1st c. B.C. The influence of the Classical Greek period barely penetrated into Palestine and not at all into Jerusalem. Palestine was peacefully incorporated into Alexander's empire after the battle of Issus in 333 B.C. At first it was governed by the Ptolemies of Egypt, but for the whole century of Ptolemaic rule there is little evidence of Hellenistic influence. Jerusalem remained the cult center for the worship of Yahweh, and the old Semitic material culture prevailed. In 198 B.C. it passed into the hands of the Seleucids of Syria.

The misguided attempt of Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 167 B.C. to substitute the worship of Zeus Olympios for that of Yahweh caused the revolt under the Maccabees, which resulted in a virtually independent Jewish kingdom in the 2d and 1st c. B.C., fiercely xenophobic and opposed to all forms of Hellenistic culture. The archaeological evidence of this is not only the complete absence of Classical architecture, but also of imported Hellenistic pottery and its imitations, so common in the N part of Palestine, for instance at Samaria. Jerusalem thus had no true Hellenistic period. It entered the Roman world with the reign of Herod the Great (40-4 B.C.), who achieved power at the expense of the heirs of the Maccabees, and was a great admirer of Rome and Augustus.

In Jerusalem, Herod's enthusiasm for Classical culture was severely circumscribed by the orthodox adherents of Yahweh; it was in other areas that he could build Classical structures, for instance at Samaria and Caesarea. On the evidence of Josephus, he built a theater and amphitheater at Jerusalem, but no trace of them has survived; probably such alien structures were outside the walls. In connection with the Temple and with the area of his palace, however, there is visible evidence.

The great monument of the Old City of Jerusalem today is the Moslem Dome of the Rock. It stands on a massive platform which is in effect the enlarged platform built by Herod for his new Temple. The join between Herod's masonry, characterized by massive blocks with slight margins and beautifully flat centers, and that of the earlier platform can be seen ca. 32 m N of the SE corner of the platform. The Herodian masonry can be traced right along the S side and for at least 185 m on the W face. The whole W face was therefore probably a Herodian rebuilding, to provide the doubling of the area predicated by Josephus. Of Herod's Temple itself, nothing survives. The description of Josephus suggests that it was purely Semitic in form and decoration, but with some Classical elements in the architectural features.

Of Herod's other buildings, the only certain element to survive is a part of the three towers on the W of the two ridges covered by later Jerusalem. The main tower of the modern citadel adjoining the Jaffa Gate is today called the Tower of David, but its lower courses are unambiguously Herodian, and it is probably the tower Phasael of Herod.

Josephus states that the Temple platform and the W ridge were connected by a bridge. Two arches spring from the platform wall. That known as Robinson's Arch, a little N of the SW angle, has been shown by excavations possibly to be part of a staircase from the S. Perhaps, therefore, the bridge was on the line of Wilson's Arch, 185 m N of the corner. Excavations in progress since 1967 have added details of adjacent streets and the approach to the Temple from the S.

The N wall of Herod's Jerusalem is probably the second north wall described by Josephus. Excavations have provided a clue to its line. Its terminal to the E is the fortress Antonia, built by Herod at the NW corner of the Temple platform to replace the Maccabean tower Bans. The general position of Antonia is certain, but the association with it of a pavement in the area of the Convent of the Sisters of Sion, which it is claimed is the lithostratos of the Gospels, has been disputed with some cogency. Evidence suggests that the wall turns S to join the earlier wall about halfway between the Temple and the citadel, which would mean that the traditional sites of the Crucifixion and of the Holy Sepulcher were outside the contemporary wall.

The relatively independent rule of Herod the Great broke down owing to the inadequacies of his successors, and direct rule from Rome followed. A brief acknowledgment of the influence of native leaders comes with the recognition of Herod Agrippa I as the ruler of a relatively minor area centered on Jerusalem. The official period of his reign is A.D. 40-44, and he seems to have accomplished quite a lot.

To the S of the city and beyond the present Old City extend the spurs of the two main ridges upon which Jerusalem is built. The original town was on the E ridge, but later, probably only in the Maccabean period ca. 100 B.C., the greater part of the W ridge was included within the city. Excavations indicate that only at the time of Herod Agrippa was a complete circuit joining the two ridges established. The surviving evidence of Herod Agrippa's extension to the S is not architecturally impressive, for very little survives. On the evidence of Josephus, Herod Agrippa also extended the city to the N, for he built the third north wall of Josephus. Excavations have proved that there is, under the present Damascus Gate, a part of a gate in Roman style that can be stratigraphically dated to the mid 1st c. A.D. It is quite certain that there was here an extension of the town, with a gate built in masonry of Herodian type, at this period.

The final stage of the First Revolt of the Jews was the siege of Jerusalem by Titus in A.D. 70. It is probable that the wall of circumvallation built by Titus is to be identified in a wall ca. 200 m N of the Old City, constructed of enormous ashlar blocks, originally of high quality, but battered and obviously reused. When Jerusalem eventually fell to Titus, the city was destroyed. Only the great walls supporting the Temple platform and the towers of Herod's palace survived. Titus left the Legio X Fretensis to guard the ruins. On the evidence of Josephus, the legionary headquarters were in the area of Herod's palace on the W ridge, and the towers of the palace formed part of the defenses. No remains of the headquarters have been found, and the only evidence of the presence of the legion in Jerusalem until ca. A.D. 200 is the large number of bricks with its stamp.

The second revolt of the Jews led Hadrian, in A.D. 135, to complete the abolition of Jewish Jerusalem by substituting for it Aelia Capitolina. The S part of the site, including all of Davidic Jerusalem and the greater part of the city of subsequent periods, was left outside the walls, and much of the whole area was quarried to provide stone for the new town.

The best evidence for Aelia Capitolina is the street plan of the present Old City, the antiquity of which is shown by the Madaba mosaic of the 6th c. A.D. The N-S axis was a colonnaded street running S from the Damascus Gate; portions of the columns survive in shops adjoining the present street. There was no E-W street crossing the whole city, for the great mass of the Temple platform made this impossible. The main E gate was that now known as St. Stephen's Gate; the main W gate, shown by the line of the present David's Street, was approximately on the site of the present Jaffa Gate. The streets from both gates connected with that from the Damascus Gate. On the line of the street from the E gate was a triumphal arch, part of which survives in the Convent of the Sisters of Sion, and part is still visible in the street today. Good reason has been given to suggest that the pavement, shown to visitors as part of the lithostratos of the time of the Crucifixion, is contemporary with the arch, and forms part of a small forum. The main forum may be adjacent to the present Church of the Holy Sepulcher, but nothing is visible today.

The street plan shows that there must have been a gate on the site of the present Damascus Gate. In a rebuilding of the arch over the E pedestrian entrance of the Herod Agrippa gate is a stone with an incomplete inscription certainly referring to Aelia Capitolina. It is not exactly in situ, but may have been only slightly displaced in Ommayad times. The evidence of the street plan suggests that it can be accepted as belonging to the original gate of Aelia Capitolina.

Probably the S wall of Aelia corresponded closely with that of the present Old City. The area immediately E of the present Dung Gate forms a salient from the Herodian Temple platform. The wall here is certainly post-Herodian and grandiose in its masonry. There is no exact evidence, but it seems probable that it belonged to the S wall of Aelia Capitolina. Certainly there is nothing Roman (pre-Byzantine) to the S.

There is little evidence concerning the history of Aelia. The city regained its importance with the conversion to Christianity of the Emperor Constantine, and by the 5th c. A.D. had expanded once more to the S. Remains of the Constantinian church can be identified beneath the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The city fell to the Arabs in A.D. 638.

Museums: Palestine Archaeological Museum (Rockefeller Museum) N of the Old City; Eretz Israel Museum in W Jerusalem.


Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews and War of the Jews, trans. W. Whiston, ed. D. S. Margoliouth (1906); L. H. Vincent & F. M. Abel, Jérusalem, Recherches de Topographie, d'Archéologie et d'Histoire. II. Jérusalem Nouvelle (1914-26); K. M. Kenyon, Jerusalem: Excavating 3000 Years of History (1969); id., Digging up Jerusalem (1974); J. B. Hennessy, “Preliminary Report of Excavations at the Damascus Gate,” Levant 2 (1970); P. Bénoit, “L'Antonia d'Hérode le Grand et le Forum Oriental d'Aelia Capitolina,” HThR 64 (1971); B. Mazar, The Excavations in the Old City of Jerusalem, near the Temple Mount (1969). Preliminary report.


hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: