Beneath a once paved parking lot archaeologists uncover Greek King Antiochus’ fortress in Jerusalem


After a century of searching, archaeologists in Israel say they have found the remnants of the ancient Greek fortress used to fight the rebellion led by Judah Maccabee, that’s celebrated in the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.

BY Reuters & Israel Hayom Staff


Researchers have long debated the location of the Acra, built more than 2,000 years ago by Greek king Antiochus Epiphanes. Many asserted it stood in what is now the walled Old City, at spots like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre or by the hilltop where the two Jewish temples once towered.

The site in Jerusalem where the remnants of Acra have been found – Photo: AFP

After a century of searching, archaeologists say they have found the remnants of an ancient Greek fortress once a center of power in Jerusalem and a stronghold used to fight the rebellion celebrated in the Jewish holiday Hanukkah.

But the remains unearthed by Israel’s Antiquity Authority and made public on Tuesday are outside the Old City walls, overlooking the valley to the south around an area known as the City of David, which was built by the biblical King David.

The Greek king Antiochus, who lived from 215-164 BCE, later chose that spot for the Acra to control Jerusalem and monitor activity in the Jewish temple, said Doron Ben-Ami of Israel’s Antiquities Authority, who led the recent excavation.

With an estimated length of up to 250 meters and 60 meters wide, it would have dominated the countryside.

Beneath what a decade ago was a paved parking lot, Ben-Ami’s team sifted through an artificial hill made of layers of earth left behind by successive cultures.

In one area they uncovered stones from a section of a massive wall, the base of a tower and a sloping defensive embankment that nearby artifacts like coins and wine jug handles suggest date to the period of Antiochus.

Lead sling stones and bronze arrowheads from the period were also found, perhaps left over from battles between pro-Greek forces and Jewish rebels trying to take over the fortress.

“Now we put, taking together, the small finds related to this discovery, mainly coins, but other artifacts. We know that the dating of this fortification system, precisely, falls within the presence of the Hellenistic presency, in general, and Seleucid time here in the beginning of the second century BCE,” Ben-Ami said.

The Acra’s location was referenced vaguely in at least two ancient texts: the Book of Maccabees, which tells of the rebellion, and a written record by historian Josephus Flavius.

The reason it took so long to find it is because so little evidence from Greek-ruled Jerusalem is left, Ben-Ami said.

“It’s been more than six months since we uncovered these remains,” Ben-Ami said. “It took us quite a long time to bring all the specialists here, all the archaeologists and historians working in this field. We consulted with them, we asked their opinion, begging them to tell us why we are wrong, not why we are right.”

Historians tell how the rebels, led by Judah Maccabee, took back Jerusalem from the Greeks, a victory marked in the holiday Hanukkah. But the Acra still did not fall, until Judah’s brother Simon later laid siege and forced its surrender.


View original Israel Hayom publication at: