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Roman Jerusalem: A New Old City

Roman Jerusalem: A New Old City

Edited by Gideon Avni and Guy D. Stiebel (JRA Suppl. 105). Pp. 161. Journal of Roman Archaeology, Portsmouth, R.I. 2017. $99.50. ISBN 978-0-9913730-9-3 (cloth).

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This volume is a well-produced and important study of the archaeological evidence for the date, layout, inhabitants, and materials of Hadrian’s Aelia Capitolina. It could be said to fall into two parts, the archaeological evidence for what happened in Jerusalem between the suppression of the First Jewish Revolt in 70 C.E. and the founding of Aelia in the second century, and then the current archaeological evidence for Aelia itself into the fourth century.

The 13 articles are all by Israeli scholars, mainly field archaeologists who have excavated and mostly previously published their work on this subject. With excavation linked to rescue and development proceeding continuously, there is much new material to be assessed. Some of the field reports were originally published in Hebrew, so the present work provides a more accessible overview of current knowledge for English speakers. There now appears to be fairly general consensus that the city was founded before, not following, the Second Jewish Revolt in the 130s C.E., rather earlier than previously thought, which strengthens the literary evidence that the founding of the city was one of the causes of the revolt.

In such a discussion, supporting maps are a primary consideration, underpinning all evidence for the layout of the city. The volume is well provided with maps, particularly by Weksler-Bdolah and Onn (ch. 2), while Gutfeld relies on Avigad’s map with the result that some sites described are difficult to locate. The only omission noted is in Kloner and Bar-Nathan’s contribution, where sites 9 and 10 are not located (51).

For the period immediately after 70 C.E., literary sources indicate that only the camp of the Tenth Legion was located on the site, an establishment of uncertain size, but possibly occupying the whole of the southwestern hill. What happened to the surviving population in the region has been uncertain, but Avni describes the excavation of a large settlement north of Jerusalem dated between 70 and ca. 135 C.E. that includes the ritual baths and stone vessels associated with Jewish praxis and thus is identified (129) as a place where Jews expelled from Jerusalem lived. It may be a new settlement for those who fled the city at the time of the revolt or were permitted to leave by Titus as described by Josephus, or part of the Roman reorganization of the hinterland. For Aelia itself, Seligman drastically downgrades the number of people living in the city, from Avi-Yonah’s estimated 80,000 to just a few hundred. This seems rather low in a complex situation that should take into account a Roman military presence; the building, servicing, and use of major monuments; the evidence for markets and nearby service facilities (kilns); and the settlement of veterans that developed over time. Kloner, Klein, and Zissu provide a valuable study of the hinterland of the city, in some respects a neglected subject, but which is a major source for understanding how the city functioned. Roman military camps usually had their vicus, with civilians offering facilities for the troops, but as Jews were banned from the city itself, the interaction was more complex. Avni’s study of the Jerusalem cemeteries follows this development. The evidence for the chronology and distribution of both pagan and Jewish burials is important, and the smaller overall numbers of known burials of the Roman period certainly supports the estimate of a smaller population.

A fresh body of material associated with the Roman army before the establishment of Aelia was discovered in the excavations in the eastern cardo area and is reviewed by Rosenthal-Heginbottom. These are mostly items of tableware and lamps, which she concludes were probably the personal domestic property of legionary officers in the late first or early second century C.E. They form an interesting contrast to items also recently published from Kenyon’s Site R, on the east side of the city, where the tableware and cooking vessels offer similarities but where there is a more extended range of items associated with the military, including a fibula and horse bit, as well as mortaria and terracottas (K. Prag, Excavations by K.M. Kenyon in Jerusalem 1961–1967. Vol. 6, Sites on the Edge of the Ophel [Oxford 2017]). Together, these previously rare finds extend our picture of the Roman legionary occupation. Additionally, Rosenthal-Heginbottom makes the observation (40) that the introduction of the large basin forms, Magness’ rilled and arched rim basins, like the use of mortaria, were new additions to the Jerusalem repertoire, and their introduction, perhaps also with the rouletted bowls, should be added to the list connected with the new food processing and consumption practices associated with the pagan incomers during the Roman occupation.

For Aelia itself, much of the discussion concerns the excavation of the eastern cardo, where the well-stratified sequence from Iron Age II through to the Early Islamic period provides a major addition to the archaeology of Jerusalem. Drawing together the range of material from this site with the evidence from many small excavations around the Old City (chs. 2–7) offers a more coherent picture than has been previously available.

Onn and Weksler-Bdolah (ch. 8) offer resolution to problems of the sequence and dating of the great viaduct linking the upper city and the Temple Mount, which, with its ancillary structures, forms one of the most complex and largest ancient monuments in Jerusalem. It is relevant to understanding the layout of the city both in the first century C.E. and after Hadrian’s foundation, and questions surrounding it have preoccupied archaeological investigators for more than a century and a half. The suggestion that a Temple of Jupiter was built on the Temple Mount still is debatable, not least because very little trace of such a major structure, apart from statue bases, has been found. The hypothesis links to the identification by Reuven ( ch. 9) of a carved beam reused in the Aqsa Mosque in the late seventh century, which may have come from such a building, but the identification is based only on parallels for the decoration.

The development of the eastern cardo in the second century C.E. and the lack of evidence for the occupation of the southwestern hill until the fifth century (Gutfeld) both suggest that the development of the cardo, a paved street 820 m long, was a primary factor in the development of expensive dwellings built down the Tyropoeon Valley in the late third and fourth centuries, which were probably occupied by well-to-do army officers (D. Ben-Ami and Y. Tchekhanovets).

This volume provides more than an important interim statement; it moves the study of the city forward and offers much material for discussion. Useful though it is, there is more unpublished material emerging all the time, especially as, increasingly, the ceramics of a “lost” period (70–135 C.E.) can be identified. The impact on local assemblages of the materials belonging to an incoming military with different cultural patterns is clearly and increasingly visible, as are the processes of interaction, providing information on the aftermath of conquest, which is of interest to students of Roman military history as well as to a much wider audience.

Kay Prag
Manchester Museum

Book Review of Roman Jerusalem: A New Old City, edited by Gideon Avni and Guy D. Stiebel

Reviewed by Kay Prag

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 123, No. 1 (January 2019)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1231.prag

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