Photo Credit: Yoli Schwartz / Israel Antiquities Authority
Israel Antiquities Authority excavation director Kfir Arbiv cleans a ballista stone.

On Sunday, the 9th of Av, the Israel Antiquities Authority presented the results of a new research project that sheds light on the power of the Legio X Fretensis (Tenth legion of the Strait), and the spots of their attack on Jerusalem in the battle that led to the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70 CE.

“The Fast of the 9th Av commemorates the day of the destruction of the Second Temple,” said IAA researcher Kfir Arbiv. “The Temple was destroyed after a four-month siege and an intense battle led by the Roman General Titus to conquer the city and suppress the revolt the Jews started four years earlier. The Romans had a well-trained massive army, equipped with the best military innovations of their day. It was a ruthless war machine.”

The Russian Compound excavation site where the ballista stones, the physical evidence of the battle that took place 1,952 years ago, are visible on the ground. / Yoli Schwartz / Israel Antiquities Authority

Arbiv recorded Roman military equipment retrieved in excavations in Jerusalem, many of which he directed, together with Dr. Rina Avner, in the Russian Compound adjacent to the Jerusalem Municipality building. The Roman arsenal that has been exposed to date includes hundreds of different-size ballista stones that were launched using sophisticated bolt-throwing machines to a distance of 100–400 yards, small sling stones used by trained infantry, and catapult machines that launched spearheads for a distance of 150–200 yards. They also found spears, swords, and arrowheads, including heavy arrowheads that could penetrate armor.

“We know from the historical sources that the Roman army employed massive siege rams to batter the fortification walls, and siege towers that reached the height of the walls, but these have not yet been found in Jerusalem,” said Amit Reem, director of the IAA Jerusalem Region.

The Russian Compound excavation site where the ballista stones, the physical evidence of the battle that took place 1,952 years ago, are visible on the ground. / Yoli Schwartz / Israel Antiquities Authority

Arbiv’s research focused on the hundreds of ballista stones, and his analysis defined different sizes and weights. Some, directed against people, were launched against the walls to prevent the Jewish rebels from emerging above the walls, and other heavier ones were launched fiercely against the walls to penetrate them.

“With the help of the computer, I located all the ballista exactly where they were found,” Arbiv recalled. “I took into account the local topography and the location of the Second Temple-period city fortification walls, and made ballistic calculations, including the launching angle, and the throwing distance of the stones. All the data was compared to the Jewish historian Josephus’s contemporary detailed descriptions of the battle, and the conquest and destruction of Jerusalem, in his book, The Jewish War.”

According to the research, some of the Roman army artillery machines were located in the center of the modern city of Jerusalem, in the Nahalat Hashiva area, nicknamed Cats’ Square.

Ballista stone uncovered at the Russian Compound excavation. / Yoli Schwartz / Israel Antiquities Authority

Arbiv’s research also shows for the first time, the probable spots where the Roman army penetrated the city walls. The Russian Compound excavations exposed part of the Third Wall, the third line of defense that surrounded the city. An exceptionally large concentration of ballista stones was found in one spot, some broken after use. It was evident that the Roman army concentrated their efforts here, and hundreds, if not thousands of ballista stones, were directed at this spot.

“This is not surprising,” said Arbiv. “Whoever controls this spot, dominates the whole area and the fate of the city. This aligns with Josephus’s account that Titus gave the order to penetrate the city walls at the northwestern side of the city.”

IAA Director Eli Eskosido said: “The physical evidence of the huge resources employed by the Roman army in Jerusalem reflects the extremely harsh battles that eventually led to the destruction of the Second Temple. Notwithstanding the internal factions and the impossible odds, a small group of Jewish defenders delayed the Roman invasion for a few months until the tragic destruction of the city. The use of up-to-date research methods reveals more and more of the fascinating history of Jerusalem.”


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