In a groundbreaking archaeological revelation within the City of David National Park, surrounding the venerable walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, the earliest documented use of ceramic roof tiles in the Land of Israel has been unearthed. Sixteen fragments of Hellenistic-period roof tiles, dating back to the 2nd century BCE, were meticulously excavated, prompting researchers to marvel at the profound insights offered by such a seemingly modest discovery.
Conducted through a collaborative effort between the Israel Antiquities Authority and Tel-Aviv University at the Givati parking lot, this excavation was made possible by the generous support of the City of David Foundation. Spearheaded by Dr. Yiftah Shalev and Dr. Filip Vukosavović from the IAA, along with Prof. Yuval Gadot from TAU, the findings are attributed to the era of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Hellenistic ruler of the Seleucid Empire from 175 BCE to 164 BCE—a pivotal figure in the narrative of Hanukkah.
Scheduled for public display for the first time on December 11 at the IAA Conference, themed “In Those Days At This Time–The Hasmoneans are Coming,” these archaeological remnants shed light on the introduction of ceramic roofing tiles to the region. Originating in Greece as early as the 7th century BCE, these tiles, known for their resilience against rain, took approximately 500 years to make their presence felt in construction projects within the Land of Israel.
Believed to have been introduced by Antiochus IV himself, researchers propose that the Seleucid king’s representatives disseminated the knowledge and tradition of constructing tiled roofs from Syria, part of the vast empire extending from Syria to Persia.
The historical backdrop suggests that during a military expedition to Jerusalem in 168 BCE, Antiochus IV erected the Acra fortress either on or just outside the Temple Mount. This stronghold, manned by Syrian mercenaries, persisted as a source of tension for Jewish residents and pilgrims, as chronicled in the Books of the Maccabees and Josephus’ later writings. Despite its significance, the precise location of the Acra fortress has remained elusive.
Recent archaeological endeavors, including the unearthing of roof tiles, have reignited discussions on the possible location of the fortress on the City of David hill. Dr. Ayala Zilberstein of the IAA and TAU emphasizes that these discoveries reinforce the identification of Hellenistic influence in the City of David—a testament to foreign construction traditions.
Highlighting the rarity of tiles during this period and their incongruity with local construction practices, Dr. Zilberstein posits that the foreign rulers likely brought the technique of using tiles to the region. Dr. Filip Vukosavović underscores the significance of these findings, noting that the tiles provide tangible evidence of the Seleucid Greek presence in Jerusalem, offering a captivating connection to the narrative of Hanukkah.
Intriguingly, Dr. Vukosavović points out that the climatic conditions and low precipitation in Israel do not logically justify the use of tiles for roofing. However, Antiochus IV’s deliberate choice to employ these tiles, possibly for cultural reasons and to make a symbolic statement, becomes a compelling aspect of this archaeological puzzle. The subsequent disappearance of roofing tiles from Jerusalem with the collapse of Seleucid rule and the rise of the Hasmoneans adds another layer to the historical narrative, resurfacing only with the arrival of the Roman conquerors several decades later.