BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

Jerusalem’s Iron Age Moat Discovered

Monumental construction used during time of biblical kings

Jerusalem's Iron Age Moat

Standing in Jerusalem’s Iron Age moat. Courtesy Yuval Gadot, Givati Parking Lot excavations.

Excavations in the City of David have revealed a fascinating feature of Iron Age Jerusalem’s urban landscape—a massive rock-cut moat. Separating the northern and southern ridges of ancient Jerusalem, the moat would have drastically altered the natural terrain, but its exact purpose is still unknown. Indeed, while the moat’s existence answers some questions, it raises others.

Protecting Iron Age Jerusalem

The moat measures nearly 100 feet wide, is at least 20 feet deep, and likely runs across the entire width of the City of David ridge. Cut into the hill’s natural bedrock, the ditch would have required the quarrying of nearly half a million cubic feet of stone, making it a truly monumental achievement. In use by at least the end of the Iron Age IIA (c. 1000–900 BCE), the moat separated the area of the Temple Mount and the Ophel to the north from the City of David in the south. Similar moats had previously been identified at northern sites such as Hazor and Samaria and were, therefore, considered to be characteristic of Omride construction in the Northern Kingdom. With the discovery of the Jerusalem moat, however, it appears such moats were a regular feature of urban planning throughout both the northern and southern kingdoms.

Jerusalem's Iron Age Moat

Schematic drawing of the moat over an aerial photo. Courtesy Yuval, et al.

The moat would have provided a natural defense against enemies attacking Jerusalem from the north. Notably, the moat’s southern scarp is cut at a vertical angle while its northern scarp was made into a series of rock terraces. Such a defensive structure would have been very important, as the southern ridge (the City of David) sits at a slightly lower elevation than the area of the Temple Mount and the Ophel to the north. It remains unclear, however, where exactly ancient Jerusalem was located and, as such, whether the moat had a defensive function or served some other purpose.


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Because Jerusalem has been inhabited for millennia, with only limited archaeological work conducted in key areas, much about the Iron Age city remains a mystery, particularly its size and location. While biblical tradition holds that Solomon was the first to carry out large-scale construction on the northern hill (2 Samuel 24:18–25), some archaeologists suggest that much of the earlier Bronze Age city was built on the more naturally defensible northern hill, in the area of the Ophel and the Temple Mount.

Jerusalem moat

Close-up of the channel installation cut into the rim of the moat; dated to the ninth century BCE. Courtesy Nathan Steinmeyer, BAS.

It is also unclear when the moat was first quarried. Based on other finds, including a unique set of channels carved into the moat’s northern scarp, archaeologists believe the moat must have been in use by at least the end of the Iron Age IIA (ninth century BCE). However, the weathered sides of the moat have left few clues as to its earliest phases. Indeed, according to archaeologists, a Middle Bronze Age (c. 2000–1550 BCE) date for its construction cannot be ruled out. Interestingly, this date would correspond to the presumed date of the massive Spring Tower constructed around the ancient Gihon Spring, a structure some have suggested is the biblical Millo.

Without a firm date for the building of the moat or a clear picture of the location or size of ancient Jerusalem during the Bronze and Iron Ages, it is impossible to say what purpose the moat originally served. Its steep southern scarp and strategic placement suggest it may have initially had a defensive function, but archaeologists remain cautious in drawing more definitive conclusions without additional evidence. It seems more apparent, however, that by the ninth century BCE, the moat had come to serve as a physical barrier that functioned to separate Jerusalem’s acropolis from its lower city. This barrier appears to have remained in place until the late second century BCE, when it was finally filled in and covered over to allow for new construction.


Read more in Bible History Daily:

OnSite: The Walls of Jerusalem

Mysterious Jerusalem Channels Confound Archaeologists


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

Jerusalem and the Holy Land(fill)
Jerusalem in David and Solomon’s Time
Jerusalem as Eden

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4 Responses

  1. Kent Moorlach says:

    “So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress.

    Daniel 9:25(NASB)

  2. Mahlon Marr says:

    The article says, “The moat would have provided a natural defense against enemies attacking Jerusalem from the north.” I agree, but wouldn’t that mean it defended the area of the City of David from the north, where the high ground of the supposed traditional temple site was. Wouldn’t it make more sense that the moat was defending the City of David, which would have included the Temple? The evidence continues to mount.

  3. anonymous says:

    this moat seems to be mentioned by Josephus (wars 5:4:1) “But the other hill, which was called “Acra,” and sustains the lower city, is of the shape of a moon when she is horned; over against this there was a third hill, but naturally lower than Acra, and parted formerly from the other by a broad valley. However, in those times when the Asamoneans reigned, they filled up that valley with earth, and had a mind to join the city to the temple. They then took off part of the height of Acra, and reduced it to be of less elevation than it was before, that the temple might be superior to it.”

  4. Theodore Brandley says:

    “(c. 2000–1550 BCE) date for its construction cannot be ruled out.” This would be at the time of Melchizedek, King of Salem (Jerusalem), who also built a temple on Mt Moriah. (See Josephus,, Wars of the Jews, Book V1, Chapter 10:1

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4 Responses

  1. Kent Moorlach says:

    “So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress.

    Daniel 9:25(NASB)

  2. Mahlon Marr says:

    The article says, “The moat would have provided a natural defense against enemies attacking Jerusalem from the north.” I agree, but wouldn’t that mean it defended the area of the City of David from the north, where the high ground of the supposed traditional temple site was. Wouldn’t it make more sense that the moat was defending the City of David, which would have included the Temple? The evidence continues to mount.

  3. anonymous says:

    this moat seems to be mentioned by Josephus (wars 5:4:1) “But the other hill, which was called “Acra,” and sustains the lower city, is of the shape of a moon when she is horned; over against this there was a third hill, but naturally lower than Acra, and parted formerly from the other by a broad valley. However, in those times when the Asamoneans reigned, they filled up that valley with earth, and had a mind to join the city to the temple. They then took off part of the height of Acra, and reduced it to be of less elevation than it was before, that the temple might be superior to it.”

  4. Theodore Brandley says:

    “(c. 2000–1550 BCE) date for its construction cannot be ruled out.” This would be at the time of Melchizedek, King of Salem (Jerusalem), who also built a temple on Mt Moriah. (See Josephus,, Wars of the Jews, Book V1, Chapter 10:1

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