On the occasion of Jerusalem Day and the jubilee celebrations commemorating the reunification of the city, the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Nature and Parks Authority are unveiling evidence from 2,000 year ago of the battle of Jerusalem on the eve of the destruction of the Second Temple, at the City of David in the Jerusalem Walls National Park.
Arrowheads and stone ballista balls were discovered on the main street that ascended from the city’s gates and the Pool of Siloam to the Temple, which was excavated in recent years with funding provided by the City of David Society (Elad). These finds tell the story of the last battle between the Roman forces and the Jewish rebels who had barricaded themselves in the city, a battle that resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem. This battle is described by the historian Flavius Josephus: “On the following day the Romans, having routed the brigands from the town, set the whole on fire as far as Siloam.” (Josephus, Wars, Book 6:363)
According to Nahshon Szanton and Moran Hagbi, the directors of the excavation on the stepped-street on behalf of the IAA, “Josephus’ descriptions of the battle in the lower city come face-to-face for the first time with evidence that was revealed in the field in a clear and chilling manner. Stone ballista balls fired by catapults used to bombard Jerusalem during the Roman siege of the city, were discovered in the excavations. Arrowheads, used by the Jewish rebels in the hard-fought battles against the Roman legionnaires were found exactly as described by Josephus.”
So far, a section of the road about 300 ft long and 22.5 ft wide, paved with large stone slabs as was customary in monumental construction throughout the Roman Empire, has been exposed in the excavations. The archaeological excavations on the street utilize a combination of advanced and pioneering research methods, the results of which so far strengthen the understanding that Herod the Great was not solely responsible for the large construction projects of Jerusalem at the end of the Second Temple period. Recent research indicates that the street was built after Herod’s reign, under the auspices of the Roman procurators of Jerusalem, and perhaps even during the tenure of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, who is also known for allegedly sentencing Jesus to death by crucifixion.
According to the exacvation’s directors, Szanton and Hagbi, “This conclusion in fact sheds new light on the history of Jerusalem in the late Second Temple Period, and reinforces recognition of the importance of the Roman procurators’ rule in shaping the character of Jerusalem.”
“Two thousand years after the destruction of Jerusalem and fifty years since its liberation,” the archaeologists added, “we are going back to the water cisterns, the market and the city square on the eve of its destruction. Naomi Shemer certainly never dreamed of re-discovering Jerusalem in the days of the Second Temple.”
According to Dr. Yuval Baruch, the Jerusalem region archaeologist for the IAA, “We intend to uncover the entire length and width of the street within five years, and thereby complete the excavation of this unique site which had already drawn the attention of archaeologists from around the world about one hundred years ago. In fact, one can consider the current excavations in the City of David a natural continuation of the previous archaeological excavations of the site, which were begun in the past by European and American scholars. About four years ago archeological excavations were renewed along the street, this time in order to expose its full length and width.” Baruch added, “When the excavations are completed, the remains of the street will be conserved and developed and made ready to receive the tens of thousands of visitors who will walk along it.”
In recognizing the importance of the site and the finds, IAA researchers chose to utilize advanced cutting-edge research methods from the fields of natural science, biology and geology in their excavations. A combination of these advanced techniques makes the excavation of the stepped-street in the City of David exceptional in its scientific quality and importance in the development of archaeological research in Jerusalem and Israel in general, and they enable researchers to address questions that have not yet been studied.
The current excavations also focus on exposing the area adjacent to the street, and the shops that were alongside it. Finds revealed in the excavations will allow researchers to answer such intriguing questions as: What did the main street that led to the Temple look like? What was the urban nature of the Lower City that extended on either side of the magnificent road? What did they eat in Jerusalem during the difficult siege, etc.? In order to answer these questions, a multidisciplinary study is being conducted, as well as careful wet sifting at the sifting site in the Zurim Valley National Park, where even the smallest finds are collected.
It seems that it won’t be long before it will be possible for the first time to walk along one of the main streets of ancient Jerusalem, to see how it looked, and receive answers to fascinating historical questions that have been asked for 100 years relating to the history of Jerusalem from the time of the Second Temple, at the height of its splendor, and from the moments of its destruction.