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
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.
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.)
“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.
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