Jerusalem’s third wall uncovered, testimony of bombardment by Roman army

IAA Excavation Co-Director Kfir Arbib cleans one of the unearthed sling stones found at the site. (photo credit: Yoli Shwartz/ Israel Antiquities Authority)

Given the ancient history of the land of Israel, whenever new construction requires removal of even a few feet of earth from the ground’s surface an archaeological discovery of some kind is usually made.

The Israel Antiquities Authority, by law, must be notified if anything is uncovered that looks even remotely to be of importance during digging at building sites. All construction is halted – to the ire of builders with deadlines – and, if the experts deem the find significant, the area is cordoned off and an official dig is scheduled, further delaying construction.

And so it happened when Jerusalem’s “third wall,” dating back to the Roman destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70, was uncovered.

Due to Israel’s mixed Mediterranean and Middle Eastern climate, summer is the most logical time for mandated archaeological digs throughout the country and its high-lying capital, Jerusalem. So when the remnants were discovered last winter on the grounds of the new Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design campus, the IAA scheduled the dig for this summer.

Archaeologists soon discovered remains of a tower of an ancient wall that they believe was part of the capital’s boundary when Titus and his army destroyed the city.

At a conference titled “New Studies in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and its Region” on Oct. 27 at Hebrew University, the IAA will present the excavation’s exciting findings.

The historic site, located in the modern Russian Compound of downtown Jerusalem, has revealed that this part of the many-roomed wall complex housed ballista balls and sling stones that were used by the Romans with their catapult machines to fire at Jewish guards defending the wall.

“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 and confirmation of the writings of the historian Josephus who documented in detail the brutality of the Roman offensive against the city,” the IAA archaeologists said in a joint statement.

Josephus wrote in prolific detail of the third wall designed to protect Beit Zeita, the new quarter of the capital, which evidence shows extended north of the two existing walls of the city. It was begun by Agrippa I, the work subsequently suspended for 20 years and then resumed in preparation for the Great Revolt against Rome.

The route of the wall began what is now known as David’s Citadel, continuing north to the Psephinus Tower before turning east to where we now find the Tombs of the Kings.