Remains of Hellenistic fortress discovered in Israel


Israel Antiquities Authority excavations at the Lachish Forest in the Judean Shephelah, uncovered a Hellenistic fortress that was destroyed and burned by the Hasmoneans!

Remains of Hellenistic fortress discovered in Israel
Aerial view of the excavation in Lachish Forest [Credit: Vladik Lifshits/
Israel Antiquities Authority]

Weapons, charred wooden beams, and dozens of coins currently being unearthed at the fortress provide tangible evidence of a battle between the Hasmoneans and the Seleucids 2,100 years ago. 

According to Saar Ganor, Vladik Lifshits, and Ahinoam Montagu, excavation directors on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The excavation provides tangible evidence of the Hanukkah story. It appears that we have discovered a fortress, part of a fortified line erected by the Hellenistic army commanders, built to protect the large Hellenistic city of Maresha from Hasmonean offensive. However, the finds from the site show that the Seleucid defenses were unsuccessful, and the building was badly burnt by the Hasmonean forces.” 

Remains of Hellenistic fortress discovered in Israel
Some of the findings revealed on the site [Credit: Davida Eisenberg-Degan,
Israel Antiquities Authority]

Remains of Hellenistic fortress discovered in Israel
A weapon uncovered in the Lachish Forest excavation, probably used in battle
in the Hellenistic period [Credit: Saar Ganor, Israel Antiquities Authority]

The fortress, measuring 15 × 15 m, was built from boulders 3m thick with a sloping outer glacis to prevent the wall from being scaled. The inside of the fortress was divided into seven rooms and was preserved to an exceptional height of roughly 2 m. In addition, the excavation uncovered a stairwell leading to a second floor, which was not preserved. 

During the excavation, thousands of collapsed stones were removed, revealing a massive half a meter thick destruction layer. Within the destruction layer, hundreds of finds dated to the late second century BCE were found, including pottery, slingshots, iron weapons, burnt wooden beams, and dozens of coins. “Based on the finds and coins, the building’s destruction can be attributed to the Idumea led by the Hasmonean leader John Hyrcanus around 112 BCE,” say the archaeologists.

Remains of Hellenistic fortress discovered in Israel
Remains of a charred wooden beam [Credit: Saar Ganor, Israel Antiquities Authority]

The Hasmonean rebellion against Hellenistic rule and the Seleucid dynasty was initiated after anti-Jewish decrees of Antiochus IV and led to the Hasmonean state’s southward expansion as described in the Books of the Maccabees and writings of Josephus. 

After the excavations, the fortress will undergo conservation and will be opened to the public as part of the Jewish National Fund’s Kings of Judah Road project currently under development.

Source: Israel Antiquities Authority [November 16, 2021]

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