Archaeologists made a significant find in Israel, which apparently resolves one of the greatest unrevealed secrets of the ancient world. According to the Israel Antiquities Authority, the remnants of a fortress built by Antiochus IV Epiphanes – a Seleucid Greek ruler – in 168 B.C. were found beneath a parking lot in Jerusalem just south of the Old City walls and the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount is revered by Jews and Christians as the site where the Biblical King Solomon built a magnificent place of worship that during the later part of the 1st century A.D. was destroyed by Romans.
Bronze arrowheads found at the Acra site
The fortress that was found by archaeologists is thought to be part of defenses known as the Acra fortress that Antiochus built while crushing a Jewish revolt coinciding with the Temple in 168 B.C. In the Jewish Bible, Antiochus is remembered as the villain who sought to ban all Jewish religious rituals, thus sparking the revolt of the Maccabeans. The celebration of Hanukkah recalls the story that when Jews were able to recover the temple, they found but little oil for lighting the lamps of the revered place. However, the lamps burned miraculously and gave a testimony to the power of the Lord.
The fortress is mentioned, not only in the Book of Maccabees 1 and 2, but also by Titus Flavius Josephus – a 1st century A.D. Romanized Jew whose original name was Joseph ben Matityahu – who wrote “The Jewish War” and “Antiquities of the Jews.”
A coin of the period shows the head of Antiochus IV Epiphanes on the obverse, while the reverse shows Zeus enthroned carrying Nike: the goddess of victory
From the Acra fortress, the Seleucid Greek rulers were able to watch over the Temple and thus control Jerusalem. It was manned by Hellenized Jews who, according to some scholars, were engaged in a full-on war with Jews of the traditional faith who were aligned with the Maccabees. Antiochus added to these forces with mercenaries.
Acra remained a major symbol of dominance, and strategic foothold, for the Seleucids in the area until they were finally routed by Simon Maccabeus in 141 BCE, after a long siege during which the Hasmonean king starved out the Greek defenders. “This sensational discovery allows us for the first time to reconstruct the layout of settlement and the actual look of the city on the eve of the Hasmonean revolt,” said excavation directors Dr. Doron Ben-Ami, Yana Tchekhanovets and Salome Cohen, according to a statement.
Ten years of excavations revealed the Seleucid Greek fortress complex near the Temple Mount
The discovery of the Acra fortress may bring to a close more than 100 years of debate over where it was located. Since archaeological evidence from the period of the Seleucid Greek control of Jerusalem is so slight, the new find significantly contributes to understanding the period. Archaeologists were rewarded, after years of slow excavation, when they found the base of a tower of “with impressive proportions.” It measures approximately 66 feet (20 meters) long and fully 13 feet (four meters) wide, according to authorities. The outer base of the wall was covered with layers of dust, stones and plaster: a technique that made the approach difficult for attackers to assail.
The excavation, which has taken at least ten years, also found ammunition used by a ballista: an ancient catapult. The arrowheads, rocks, and lead shot used by the ballista were marked with the image of a trident: the symbol of Antiochus’s rule. Also, ancient coins found there dated from the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes to that of Antiochus VII Sidetes, who died in 120 B.C.
A statement released by the Israeli authorities said that archaeologists had found “silent remnants of the battles that took place there in the days of the Hasmoneans.” The latter were a family of Kohanim – a clan of Jewish priests who led the rebellion of the Maccabees.
Lead shot, thrown by catapult, were found with the trident symbol of Antiochus
In a statement, the excavation directors declared “The new archaeological finds testify to the establishment of a properly fortified stronghold constructed on the high bedrock cliff overlooking the steep slopes of the City of David hill.”
“This stronghold controlled all means of approach to the Temple, and cut the Temple off from the southern parts of the city. The many coins dating from the reign of Antiochus IV [Epiphanes] to that of Antiochus VII [Sidetes] and the large number of wine jars (amphorae) that were imported from the Aegean region to Jerusalem and were found at the site bear witness to the citadel’s age, as well as to the non-Jewish identity of its inhabitants.”