Jerusalem During the Second Temple Period
(516 BCE - 70 CE)
During the reign of King
Herod (end of the 1st century BCE), Jerusalem grew enormously in area and intensive building activity, unparalleled
in the city's history, took place. Many public buildings were
constructed - the most impressive of them the Temple
Mount and the Temple itself.
The city was surrounded by
walls with many towers. At the northwestern corner of the city wall,
Herod built three massive towers that protected the royal palace just
south of them. Of these towers, only the base of the one
traditionally known as the "Tower
of David" remains today; it was incorporated into the Ottoman citadel of the city, south of the Jaffa Gate.
The residential area on the
western hill of Jerusalem during the Second Temple Period (its area
today extends over the Jewish and Armenian quarters of the Old
City and Mount Zion beyond the walls, to the south) became known
as the "Upper City". The name stems from the fact that it
is topographically higher than the rest of the city, even the Temple
Mount. It was re-planned and rebuilt in the finest Roman tradition by Herod and
his successors, with blocks of large buildings separated by streets,
and plazas along which palaces and public buildings stood.
The Upper City was the
neighborhood of the rich, with large, elaborate dwellings inhabited
by the families of the high priests and of the local aristocracy.
Here were the palaces of the Hasmonean
kings, of King Herod and of the High Priest Caiaphas (who is mentioned in the New
Testament). Here, Jesus was arrested and held for a night before
he was handed over to the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate, for
sentencing. (Matthew 26:
57-75; Luke 22:54-71, 23:1)
According to Christian tradition, the palace of the High Priest
Caiaphas stood on Mt. Zion, which today is outside the Old
City wall, to the south.
The walls, the towers and
the elaborate palaces of the Upper City are described in detail by
the contemporary Jewish historian and native Jerusalemite, Josephus
Flavius. He was an eyewitness to the destruction of Jerusalem in
70 CE, and he also describes the conquest of the Upper City, where
the Roman soldiers plundered the palaces and elegant homes and burnt
them to their foundations, on the 8th day of Elul in the year 70 CE,
one month after the destruction of the Temple.
Caesar, finding it
impracticable to reduce the upper city without earthworks, owing to
the precipitous nature of the site, on the twentieth of the month
Lous (Ab) apportioned the task among his forces. The conveyance of
timber was, however, arduous, all the environs of the city to a
distance of a hundred furlongs having, as I said, been stripped
bare. The earthworks having now been completed after eighteen days'
labor, on the seventh of the month Gorpiaeus (Elul) the Romans
brought up the engines. Of the rebels, some already despairing of
the city, retired from the ramparts to the citadel, others slunk
down into the tunnels. Pouring into the alleys, sword in hand, they
(the Romans) massacred indiscriminately all whom they met, and
burnt the houses with all who had taken refuge within. Often in the
course of their raids, on entering the houses for loot, they would
find whole families dead and the rooms filled with the victims of
the famine... Running everyone through who fell in their way, they
choked the alleys with corpses and deluged the whole city with
blood, insomuch that many of the fires were extinguished by the
gory stream. Towards evening they ceased slaughtering, but when
night fell the fire gained the mastery, and the dawn of the eighth
day of the month of Gorpiaeus (Elul) broke upon Jerusalem in flames
- a city which had suffered such calamities...The Romans now set
fire to the outlying quarters of the town and razed the walls to
the ground. Thus was Jerusalem taken in the second year of the
reign of Vespasian, on the eighth of the month of Gorpiaeus. (20
September, 70 CE)
(War VI. 8-10)
From 1969 to 1982, when the Jewish
Quarter of the Old City of
Jerusalem was rebuilt, the Upper City of the Second
Temple period became subject to comprehensive archeological
investigation. Impressive remains of continuous settlement on the
western hill were uncovered - from the end of the First
Temple period (8th-7th centuries BCE) to modern times.
Remains of the dwellings of
the Upper City, which had been buried for almost 1,900 years, were
exposed. Houses and artifacts were preserved almost in their entirety,
protected by a thick blanket of the debris of later occupation. The
finds confirm very precisely the written evidence of Josephus
Flavius and the fierceness of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem
and the Upper City.
Upon completion of the
excavations, remains from the Upper City were preserved as museums,
beneath the new buildings of the Jewish Quarter. Visitors may walk
through the courtyards and the rooms of houses, in which the stone
furniture and vessels used by the inhabitants 2,000 years ago stand
intact. They provide a vivid record of the way of life that ended there
in the year 70 CE.
The Herodian Quarter
This was the main excavation
site in the Jewish Quarter, with parts of six or seven houses covering
an area of some 2,700 sq. m. The houses were built on terraces, on the
slope of the hill facing eastward toward the Tyropoeon Valley, opposite
the Temple Mount.
The Palatial Mansion
Mansion" in the Herodian Quarter is the largest, most complete and
most elaborate of the Second
Temple period dwellings uncovered in the Jewish Quarter. It
faithfully represents the architecture, and the splendor of the
buildings typical of the Upper City.
Located at the eastern edge of
the Upper City, the building was constructed during the reign of King
Herod. It provided a good view of the Temple Mount and the Temple, and extended over three terraces with a total area of 600
sq. m. Remains of two stories of this house were excavated: the ground
floor in the western portion of the house included a central courtyard
and living quarters; a basement in the eastern and northern portions
included water installations, storage and service rooms. The house had
thick walls built of well-trimmed Jerusalem limestone and its
foundations were laid on bedrock. Some parts of the house were
preserved to an impressive height of 2-3 m.
The central courtyard (8 x 8
m.) on the ground floor was paved with square stones. It was surrounded
by many rooms and gave access to the other wings of the house. On the
eastern side of the courtyard was an opening to a large underground
cistern, which was hewn into the rock and plastered with thick gray
plaster to prevent seepage. From the mouth of the cistern, a narrow
shaft led down into its bell-shaped cavity. Rainwater was collected
from the roofs and courtyards of the house and carried via a network of
channels and pipes into the cistern, which had a capacity of several
hundred gallons and provided water for daily use during the dry summer
The ground floor of the
elaborate western wing of the Palatial Mansion included a vestibule
(entrance room) with a mosaic pavement consisting of a colored square
panel with a multi-petalled rosette in the center and pomegranates at
On the walls of the room next
to the vestibule, frescos were preserved to a considerable height.
These colored frescos are in the style popular at the time in the
Hellenistic-Roman world, with colored panels, imitation marble,
architectural elements and floral motifs.
Numerous examples of colored mosaic floors were
found in the houses of the Upper City, both in reception halls and
baths. These are the oldest mosaic floors found in Jerusalem to date.
Similar designs were found in King Herod's palaces at Masada,
Herodium and elsewhere. The decorative motifs in these mosaics include
geometric designs - interlacing meanders, wavy lines and pleated bands.
Floral motifs are also common, especially stylized rosettes with
differing numbers of petals. It is also noteworthy that the corpus of
decorative motifs used in the mosaics and frescos of the Second Temple
period did not include representations of humans or of animals, since
Jews strictly avoided figurative art.
The reception hall of the house was particularly
large (11 x 6.5 m.) and very elaborate. Its walls, preserved to a
height of 3 m., were covered with white stucco, modeled in relief as
panels. The imitation is of the costly Hellenistic-Roman construction
of ashlars with marginal boss, as in the retaining walls of the
Herodian Temple Mount complex. To the west of the reception hall, three
rooms partially cut into the rock of the hillside, were uncovered. The
walls of these rooms, decorated with frescos, were found covered with a
layer of white plaster in preparation for redecoration, indicating that
the residential wing of this mansion was in the process of renovation
when the Romans destroyed it.
East of the central courtyard a small room with a
bench and a mosaic floor was uncovered, with a small mikve (Jewish
ritual bath, pl. mikva'ot) next to it. From the courtyard two stone
staircases led to the basement level: one to a storage room and a mikve;
the second to a network of storage areas, rooms and mikva'ot in the
northern and eastern parts of the house. One of the rooms on the
basement level was paved with a mosaic in chessboard pattern (black and
white stones) and from it a double entrance gave access to a large
mikveh with a vaulted ceiling.
Mikva'ot are among the most common features
in the residences of the Upper City of Jerusalem. In each house there
were one or two - and sometimes more - mikva'ot, evidence of the
importance accorded to ritual purity. A typical mikve was cut into the
rock, plastered and roofed with a vaulted stone ceiling; a broad flight
of steps led to its bottom. The mikva'ot were filled in winter
with rainwater and in summer with water from the cisterns. At times
bathtubs, constructed of small stones, cement and plaster were placed
next to the mikva'ot.
It might be assumed that the Palatial Mansion, with
its location overlooking the Temple Mount and its large number of
mik'vaot, was owned by a priestly family.
The Burnt House
The residence known as the
Burnt House, located north of the Palatial Mansion, also dates from the
Second Temple period. Here, for the first time, evidence was found of
the total destruction of the city by the Romans in the year 70 CE.
Although only a small area of the house was exposed, it proved to be
far richer in small finds than the other houses uncovered in the Upper
The ground floor of the Burnt
House was exposed, including a small courtyard, four rooms, a kitchen
and a mikve. The walls of the house, built of stones and cement and
covered with a thick white plaster, were preserved to a height of about
one meter. In the floors of the rooms, of beaten earth, were the sunken
bases of round ovens made of brown clay, indicating perhaps that this
wing of the house was used as a workshop.
The courtyard of the house was
paved with stone, and through it one reached the kitchen and the other
rooms. Three of these were medium-sized and a fourth, a side room,
extremely small. The mikve is very small, covered with gray plaster,
and has four steps descending to its bottom. In the corner of the
kitchen was a stove, basalt grinding-stones next to it, and a large
The Burnt House was found
buried under a thick layer of destruction. Throughout the house,
scattered in disarray among the collapsed walls, ceilings and the
second story, were fragments of stone tables and many ceramic, stone
and metal vessels, evidence of pillaging by the Roman soldiers. Leaning
against a corner of one of the rooms was an iron spear, which
apparently had belonged to one of the Jewish fighters who lived here.
At the entrance to the side room, the arm bones of a young woman were
found, the fingers clutching at the stone threshold. The many iron
nails found in the ruins are all that was left of the wooden roof, the
shelves and furnishings which were completely burnt. Numerous coins
minted during the rebellion against the Romans (66-70 CE) attest to the
date of the destruction of this house.
In one of the rooms a round
stone weight, 10 cm. in diameter, was found. On it, in square Aramaic
script was the Hebrew inscription (of) Bar Kathros, indicating that it
belonged to the son of a man named Kathros. The "House of Kathros"
is known as that of a priestly family, which had abused its position in
the Temple. A ditty preserved in talmudic literature speaks of the
corruption of these priests:
Woe is me because of the
House of Boethus,
woe is me because of their slaves.
Woe is me because of the House of Hanan,
woe is me because of their incantations.
Woe is me because of the House of Kathros,
woe is me because of their pens.
Woe is me because of the House of Ishmael, son of Phiabi,
woe is me because of their fists.
For they are the High Priests, and their sons are treasurers, and
their sons-in law are trustees, and their servants beat the people
(Babylonian Talmud, Pesahim 57, 1
Tosefta, Minhot 13, 21)
Can we assume that the Burnt
House was actually the House of Kathros?
Finds from the Second
Temple Period in the Upper City
Hundreds of complete pottery
vessels were found, mainly in the mikva'ot and the cisterns of the
houses, where they had apparently been placed during the siege. Many of
the artifacts and vessels, objects of daily use in the 1st century CE,
are currently displayed in the museums of the Herodian Quarter and the
Tables - fragments of dozens of stone tables of two types - typical household
furniture - were discovered in the excavations. Large tables of local
limestone consist of a rectangular tabletop (averaging 85 x 45 cm.)
engraved on three sides with geometric and floral motifs, which stood
on one, central leg (70-80 cm. average height) in the form of a column
with a base. These heavy tables were placed against a wall.
Small, round tables, ca. 50
cm. in diameter, made of different stone including local limestone and
imported granite and marble, stood on wooden tripod legs that have not
been preserved. These were portable tables used for serving food to
guests who reclined on low wooden couches in the elaborate reception
Stone Vessels - An enormous number of stone vessels of the Second Temple period were
found in the houses of the Upper City. The vessels were made of easily
worked, soft local limestone, found in abundance in Jerusalem and
especially on Mount Scopus and on the Mount of Olives. The vessels were
made on a lathe or by hand. More unusual are the large, lathe-made
vessels. They are 60-80 cm. high with thick straight or rounded walls,
goblet-shaped with wide mouths, on a pedestal. Most of the smaller
vessels are also lathe-made, in a wide variety of sizes and shapes:
bowls, cups and vessels in imitation of imported pottery. Among the
vessels made by hand with a broad-bladed gouge are trays and containers
of various sizes. The so-called measuring cups, shaped like mugs with
straight walls and large handles, were also handmade.
The stone vessel industry that
flourished in Jerusalem during the 1st century CE is clearly related to
the strict observance of Jewish laws governing ritual purity, according
to which stone does not absorb impurity. (Mishna, Kelim 10:1;
Parah 5:5) The purity of stone vessels is also mentioned in the New
Testament, in the miracle of the changing of water into wine at
Cana. (John 2: 1-7)
Menorah Engraving - Two fragments of light-colored plaster, dating to the Second Temple
period, on which a seven-branched menorah (candelabrum) is depicted,
were found in the Jewish Quarter. The menorah engraving is 20 cm. high
and 12.5 cm. wide. It has seven high branches, with a flame on top of
each branch; it stands on a tripod base and is decorated with circles
separated by pairs of lines. This decoration corresponds to the
biblical description of the menorah:
On one branch there shall
be three cups shaped like almond blossoms, each with calyx and
petals, and on the next branch there shall be three cups shaped like
almond blossoms, each with calyx and petals.
Make its seven lamps -
the lamps shall be so mounted as to give the light on its front side.
This appears to be the earliest detailed drawing of
the menorah that stood in the Temple of Jerusalem and was taken as
booty by the Romans when they conquered the city.