Remains of Hellenistic citadel of Acra found

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A fascinating discovery recently uncovered in archaeological excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is conducting in the Givati ​​parking lot at the City of David, in the Jerusalem Walls National Park, has apparently led to solving one of Jerusalem’s greatest archaeological mysteries: the question of the location of the Greek (Seleucid) Acra – the famous stronghold built by Antiochus IV in order to control Jerusalem and monitor activity in the Temple which was eventually liberated by the Hasmoneans from Greek rule.

Remains of Hellenistic citadel of Acra found
Remains of the citadel and tower uncovered in Jerusalem 
[Credit: Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority]

The parking lot excavations in the City of David National Park have been ongoing for a decade. The Elad Foundation, which operates the national park, is funding the extensive excavations. The Givati excavation continues to uncover numerous artifacts from more than ten different ancient cultures from Jerusalem’s history. the Givati excavation is open daily to the general public.

Remains of Hellenistic citadel of Acra found
Built by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, Acra is the stronghold from which 
the Greek king was able to monitor activity in Jerusalem 
[Credit: Israel Antiquities Authority]

Over the past 100 years of archaeological research in Jerusalem numerous theories have been put forth identifying the location of the Acra, The uncertainty stemmed from the paucity of architectural remains that can be traced to the Greek presence in Jerusalem.

Remains of Hellenistic citadel of Acra found
A general view shows workers from the Israel Antiquities Authority 
digging at the excavation site near the City of David 
[Credit: Israel
Antiquities Authority]

Both the Book of Maccabees, as well as the historian Josephus Flavius, locate the Acra within the City of David.

Remains of Hellenistic citadel of Acra found
A member of the Israel Antiquities Authorityshows lead sling stones, bronze 
arrowheads, and balista stones found at the excavation site 
[Credit: Israel Antiquities Authority]

“And they built the city of David with a great and strong wall, and with strong towers, and made it a fortress [Greek: Acra] for them: And they placed there a sinful nation, wicked men, and they fortified themselves therein.” (1 Maccabees 1:35 – 38)

Remains of Hellenistic citadel of Acra found
Sling stones uncovered by Israeli archaeologists at the excavation site 
[Credit: Reuters/Ronen Zvulun]

“….and when he had overthrown the city walls, he built a citadel [Greek: Acra] in the lower part of the city, for the place was high, and overlooked the temple; on which account he fortified it with high walls and towers, and put into it a garrison of Macedonians.” (Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 12:252-253)

Remains of Hellenistic citadel of Acra found
Arrowheads, uncovered by Israeli archaeologists at the excavation site 
[Credit: Reuters/Ronen Zvulun]

In recent months, excavators believe that they have exposed evidence of the Acra citadel on the City of David hill: a section of a massive wall, a base of a tower of impressive dimensions (width c. 4 m, length c. 20 m) and a glacis. The glacis, which was built next to the wall, is a defensive sloping embankment composed of layers of soil, stone and plaster, designed to keep attackers away from the base of the wall.

Remains of Hellenistic citadel of Acra found
Wine jug handles uncovered by Israeli archaeologists  at the excavation site 
[Credit: Reuters/Ronen Zvulun]

This embankment extended as far down as the bottom of the Tyropoeon  – the valley that bisected the city in antiquity and constituted an additional obstacle in the citadel’s defenses. Lead sling shots, bronze arrowheads and ballista stones that were discovered at the site and stamped with a trident, which symbolized the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes, are the silent remains of battles that were waged there at the time of the Hasmoneans, in their attempt to conquer the citadel which was viewed as a ‘thorn in the flesh’ of the city.

Remains of Hellenistic citadel of Acra found
Wine jug handles, uncovered by Israeli archaeologists  at the excavation site 
[Credit: Reuters/Ronen Zvulun]

Historical sources state the stronghold was occupied by mercenaries and Hellenized Jews and tell of the suffering Jerusalem’s residents were exposed to at the hands of the Acra’s inhabitants. The fortification’s mighty defenses withstood all attempts at conquering it, and it was only in 141 BCE, after a prolonged siege and the starvation of the Greek garrison within the Acra that Simon Maccabee was able to force its surrender.

Remains of Hellenistic citadel of Acra found
A general view shows workers from the Israel Antiquities Authority 
digging at the excavation site near the City of David 
[Credit: Israel Antiquities Authority]

According to archaeologists, Dr. Doron Ben-Ami, Yana Tchekhanovets and Salome Cohen, excavation directors on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “This sensational discovery allows us for the first time to reconstruct the layout of the settlement in the city, on the eve of the Maccabean uprising in 167 BCE.

The new archaeological finds indicate the establishment of a well-fortified stronghold that was 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 atop the Temple Mount, and cut the Temple off from the southern parts of the city.

The numerous coins ranging in date from the reign of Antiochus IV to that of Antiochus VII and the large number of wine jars (amphorae) that were imported from the Aegean region to Jerusalem, which were discovered at the site, provide evidence of the citadel’s chronology, as well as the non-Jewish identity of its inhabitants.”

Source: Israel Antiquities Authority [November 03, 2015]

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