BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

Roof Tiles and Hellenistic Jerusalem

Rare evidence of Seleucid rule discovered in the City of David

Hellenistic Jerusalem

Hellenistic Jerusalem: Roof tile fragment discovered in the City of David. Courtesy Eliyahu Yanai, City of David National Park.

Archaeological evidence of Hellenistic Jerusalem is sparse, especially for the final years of the reign of the Seleucids (c. second century BCE). However, a new discovery in the City of David has revealed an intriguing part of the city’s architectural and political history from this time: six unassuming roof tiles that might just point the way to the infamous Acra fortress, a major feature in the story of Hanukkah.

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Roofing Hellenistic Jerusalem

Discovered in the Givati Parking Lot excavation, the tile fragments all date to the second century BCE and are the oldest ceramic roof tiles ever discovered in Israel. Indeed, such tiles would not become prominent in the region until more than century later during the Roman period (c 37 BCE–324 CE). Although six roof tiles may not seem like that important of a discovery, this architectural feature was foreign to the Levant and, therefore, likely introduced by the city’s Seleucid rulers and wealthy elites.

Givati Parking lot

Givati Parking Lot excavations at the City of David. Courtesy Kobi Harati, City of David National Park.

First used in Greece around the seventh century BCE, ceramic roofing tiles were incredibly durable and resistant to rainwater and precipitation. However, it was not until the spread of Hellenism that this technology reached the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. According to researchers from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and Tel Aviv University, it may have been the Seleucid king Antiochus IV—also known as Antiochus Epiphanes—who introduced the ceramic roofing tiles following his sacking of the city.

Roof tiles

A collection of roof tile fragments discovered at the City of David. Courtesy Emil Aladjem, IAA.

According to Filip Vukosavović of the IAA, “The climate and the relatively low precipitation in Israel, as well as other factors, do not justify the use of tiles for roofing, yet Antiochus still chose to make use of these roof tiles, probably for cultural reasons and to make a statement, by introducing Greek monumental material culture in the country at a short distance from the Jewish Temple. It is therefore probably not incidental that with the collapse of Seleucid rule and the ascent of the Hasmoneans, roofing tiles disappeared from Jerusalem, until the arrival of the new Roman conquerors.”

More than just evidence of Seleucid control over the city, these tiles could also help solve one of the biggest mysteries of Hellenistic Jerusalem, the location of the Acra. A Seleucid fortress, the Acra was built by Antiochus IV to maintain control of the city in the face of the Maccabean Revolt commemorated in the story of Hanukkah. However, despite numerous literary references to the fortress, its exact location remains elusive.

Seleucid Acra

A proposal for the reconstruction of the Acra. Courtesy Shalom Kveller, City of David Archives.

Discovered near a fortified building that some believe may be the remains of the Akra, the roofing tiles offer additional evidence to support this identification. “The architectural remains uncovered over recent years have reopened the debate, and they strengthen the identification of the fortress on the City of David hill,” said Ayala Zilberstein of the IAA and Tel Aviv University. “The discovery of the roof tiles constitutes additional evidence and further reinforcement from a different direction, for the identification of the Hellenistic presence in the City of David, characterized by foreign construction traditions.”


Read more in Bible History Daily:

Antiochus Epiphanes—The Bible’s Most Notoriously Forgotten Villain

The Seleucid Akra: 2,200-Year-Old Jerusalem Fortress Uncovered?

All-Access members, read more in the BAS Library:

The Hasmonean Kings: Jewish or Hellenistic?

“Sounding Brass” and Hellenistic Technology

Small Inventions? They Changed How People Lived in the Hellenistic Age

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1 Responses

  1. Mahlon Marr says:

    As Robin Ngo reported in Bible History Daily in Nov. 2015, Leen Ritmeyer accused the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) of sensationalism for declaring the location of the Seleucid Akra to be in the Givati Parking Lot section of the City of David. She later reported, in Sep. 2019, Ritmeyer’s continued insistence that for it to be there, “and also overlook the Temple, it must have been over 400 feet high at least.”
    The solution is not sensationalist, it’s obvious, but only when one realizes that the Temple wasn’t up the hill on the site of the traditional Temple Mount, but downhill in the City of David. From there, the Akra would have towered over the Temple by its ground elevation alone. Ritmeyer has provided inadvertent evidence to go with the IAA’s hard evidence, nay proof, that the Temple was indeed in the City of David

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1 Responses

  1. Mahlon Marr says:

    As Robin Ngo reported in Bible History Daily in Nov. 2015, Leen Ritmeyer accused the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) of sensationalism for declaring the location of the Seleucid Akra to be in the Givati Parking Lot section of the City of David. She later reported, in Sep. 2019, Ritmeyer’s continued insistence that for it to be there, “and also overlook the Temple, it must have been over 400 feet high at least.”
    The solution is not sensationalist, it’s obvious, but only when one realizes that the Temple wasn’t up the hill on the site of the traditional Temple Mount, but downhill in the City of David. From there, the Akra would have towered over the Temple by its ground elevation alone. Ritmeyer has provided inadvertent evidence to go with the IAA’s hard evidence, nay proof, that the Temple was indeed in the City of David

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