Hidden from View

New Jerusalem discovery may evidence starvation during Roman siege

Three intact cooking pots and an oil lamp were discovered in a cistern near Robinson’s Arch in Jerusalem. The vessels may be evidence of the famine experienced during the Roman siege of the city during the First Jewish Revolt. Excavation director Eli Shukron suggests that Jews ate their meager provisions in the cistern in secret. Photo courtesy Vladimir Naykhin.

The Roman siege of Jerusalem during the First Jewish Revolt in the first century A.D. forced many of the city’s residents into starvation. For the first time, evidence possibly connected to the famine experienced during this siege has been discovered. Excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) in a small cistern near the Western Wall in the area of Robinson’s Arch revealed three intact cooking pots and a small oil lamp dated to the period of the First Jewish Revolt. The vessels were found in the cistern’s drainage channel, which originated in the Siloam Pool in the City of David.

The first-century Jewish historian Josephus wrote that Judean rebels interrogated their fellow Jews and ransacked homes in frantic search of food. The Jews would hastily eat their food in hidden spaces in their homes to prevent the rebels from stealing their meager provisions (The Jewish Wars, 5.424–428). The finds discovered by the IAA in the cistern near Robinson’s Arch seem to corroborate Josephus’s description. According to excavation director Eli Shukron, “The complete cooking pots and ceramic oil lamp indicate that the people went down into the cistern where they secretly ate the food that was contained in the pots, without anyone seeing them.” It is not hard to imagine that in such desperate times, Jerusalem residents would have left their cookware in the cistern in order to hide the evidence of their meals.

Read more about the finds from the cistern in Jerusalem.

This summer, the Jezreel Valley Regional Project teamed up with Israeli archaeologist Yotam Tepper to expose a Roman camp just south of Tel Megiddo known as Legio. In a web-exclusive report, directors Matthew J. Adams, Jonathan David and Yotam Tepper describe the first archaeological investigation of a second-century C.E. Roman camp in the Eastern Roman Empire.

BAS Library members: Read more about Josephus and the First Jewish Revolt:

Steve Mason, “Will the Real Josephus Please Stand Up?” Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 1997.

Ehud Netzer, “The Last Days and Hours at Masada,” Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 1991.

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  • Paul says

    By simply surviving the people were regarded as “some poor wretch in their lair” (Habakkuk 3:14}.

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