The Third Wall of Jerusalem: Where Romans and Jews Battled

Archaeologists believe they have found the third wall of Jerusalem described by Josephus

“Indeed the city would have been impregnable, had the wall been continued as it began…”
—Josephus,
The Jewish War, V.153

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IAA archaeologists believe they have located in Jerusalem’s Russian Compound the so-called Third Wall of Jerusalem described by Josephus. Along with remnants of a wall and tower, the archaeologists found ballista and sling stones—evidence, they say, of the Roman assault in the First Jewish Revolt. Photo: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

According to ancient Jewish historian Josephus, Judean king Agrippa I (r. 41–44 C.E.) began the construction of a third city wall of Jerusalem to protect a new quarter that grew north beyond the first and second city walls. Agrippa stopped work on the wall after only laying the foundation out of fear that Roman emperor Claudius would suspect he was planning a revolt. Jewish rebels subsequently completed this wall in haste leading up to the First Jewish Revolt (66–70 C.E.) (The Jewish War, V.148–155). The revolt, however, concluded with the destruction of Jerusalem and the burning of the Temple.

Where is the so-called Third Wall of Jerusalem? Archaeologists have been debating the identification of the Third Wall since excavations in the 1920s. Recently, Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) archaeologists presented evidence that they have located remains of the elusive Third Wall in the historic district known as the Russian Compound in central Jerusalem.

Jerusalem lies at the heart of Biblical archaeology. In the free eBook Jerusalem Archaeology: Exposing the Biblical City, learn about the latest finds in the Biblical world’s most vibrant city.

The discoveries were made during excavations in preparation for the building of a new campus for the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design. The archaeological team, directed by IAA archaeologists Dr. Rina Avner and Kfir Arbib, found remnants of a Roman-period wall more than 6 feet wide and a tower. According to Josephus, the Third Wall of Jerusalem began at Hippicus Tower (which some scholars believe is the structure known today as the Tower of David) and had 90 towers in all (War, V.144, 158). In front of the wall, the IAA team discovered more than 70 ballista and sling stones—what the archaeologists believe are the remains of Roman warfare in the First Jewish Revolt. (Click here to watch a video of Avner describing the finds on-site.)

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Ballista and sling stones discovered by IAA archaeologists in the Russian Compound. Photo: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

“This is a fascinating testimony of the intensive bombardment by the Roman army, led by Titus, on their way to conquering the city and destroying the Second Temple,” said Avner and Arbib in an IAA press release. “The bombardment was intended to attack the sentries guarding the wall and provide cover for the Roman forces so they could approach the wall with battering rams and thereby breach the city’s defenses.”

The Russian Compound discoveries will be presented on October 27, 2016, in a conference titled “New Studies in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and Its Region” at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
 


 
BAS Library members: Read more about the Third Wall of Jerusalem in “The Jerusalem Wall That Shouldn’t Be There” by Hershel Shanks in Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 1987.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.
 


 

Related reading in Bible History Daily:

New Testament Political Figures: The Evidence by Lawrence Mykytiuk

Jewish Captives in the Imperial City

The Masada Siege

A Second Triumphal Arch of Titus Discovered

How Ancient Jews Dated Years

Coins Celebrating the Great Revolt Against the Romans Unearthed near Jerusalem

New Jerusalem Discovery May Evidence Starvation During Roman Siege

Gold Nero Coin Comes to Light in Jerusalem
 


 
Which finds made our top 10 Biblical archaeology discoveries of 2016? Find out >>
 


 

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  • Tom says

    Dear “Curious”:
    Diatribes against UNESCO have been popping up all over the internet and deserve a response. Like your comment, they typically claim that the recent UNESCO resolution denies any historical Jewish presence in or attachments to the city of Jerusalem, especially the Temple Mount/Haram es-Sharif. In reality, it does no such thing. Rather, it highlights a number of very real, ongoing infractions and excesses by Israel in violation of international humanitarian law and longstanding status quo arrangements.

    Yes, the resolution dares to call the State of Israel an occupying power with regard to East Jerusalem (including the Old City)– which it certainly is under international law (just put a gun to the head of any major-power diplomat and they will admit this truth)!

    Anyone can read the resolution for him/herself, here: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0024/002462/246215e.pdf

    TOM POWERS / Waynesville, NC USA

  • Tom says

    Correction to above: Make that 400 METERS, or about 1400 feet.

    Also, it is interesting to wonder whether the nearby Russian Cathedral (built in the 1860s), which occupies the summit of the ridge, might actually be constructed atop the ruins of the Psephinus Tower, the one named by Josephus as anchoring the northwest angle of Agrippa’s Wall.

    TOM POWERS

  • Curious says

    Ironically, this discovery was announced at the same time as the farcical regressive denialism at UNESCO.

  • Tom says

    On any on-line map (like Google Maps), find the NW corner of the Old City walls. Then follow the line of the northern segment of the western (city) wall northward about 400 feet and you’ll be close. The archaeologist in the little IAA video states that it’s between the Underground Prisoners Museum and the Russian Holy Trinity Cathedral.

    What these sources are not stating is that the present find fits very nicely with what one would expect based on finds in the 1920s (Sukenik and Mayer) and 1950s (Kenyon), further to the east– some of which are still visible if one knows where to look. For archival photos of these discoveries, see: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/search/?q=Agrippa%27s%20wall&co=matpc&op=PHRASE

    TOM POWERS / Waynesville, NC USA
    https://israelpalestineguide.wordpress.com/

  • DENNIS says

    Is there a map showing exactly where this wall section is located?


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