Binyane Ha'uma Ceramics Workshop
In 1992, remains of a ceramics workshop of the Tenth
Roman Legion were uncovered at Binyane Ha'uma (Jerusalem Convention
Center) in western Jerusalem;
evidence of its existence had first been noted in excavations carried
out between 1949 and 1967.
Located on a hill some 2 km. west of the Old
City, the site overlooks the ancient route from the coastal plain
via Nahal Sorek to Jerusalem. The remains revealed three distinct periods
of occupation: in the Second
Temple period (1st century BCE to 1st century CE), there was a
small settlement with a pottery workshop; in the 2nd and 3rd centuries,
there was a workshop of the Tenth Roman Legion; in the Byzantine period
(5th - 6th centuries) a monastery stood on the site. Mentioned in contemporary
sources, it was identified as the Monastery of St. George Outside the
The Tenth Roman Legion Workshop
The Roman workshop covered a considerable area. In
the course of its existence, various ceramic objects were produced,
in particular a variety of construction materials. Several production
areas with distinct functions were noted:
- An area of large, compacted, flat surfaces on which the clay was
prepared. The raw material for the clay was Moza Marl, a light brown
soil found in exposures in the Jerusalem area. In the workshop the
raw material was sieved and soaked in water. A cistern provided
the water required for the production process.
- The building in which the potters worked consisted of several
rooms. A small stone potter's wheel was found, and depressions in
the floor indicated that a row of such wheels had stood there.
- A large, open area at the sides of the workshop building, which
served for drying the clay products before firing.
Kilns. The most important finds in the workshop
were several pottery kilns, in which the clay products were fired. At
first, a row of five kilns had been constructed at the workshop and
some time later several new kilns, to replace old ones, were added.
The openings in the kilns faced eastward, where the ground was slightly
lower, thus facilitating access. The average size of the kilns was 3.5
x 3 m., consisting of a combustion chamber at the bottom and a firing
chamber above it. The stone foundations, covered with mud brick, were
constructed by cutting in the bedrock that served as the floor of the
kilns; these were covered with a vault made of bricks. The ceiling of
the combustion chamber, supported by a row of small brick arches, served
as the floor of the firing chamber above it. Heat passed upward through
this floor via holes. The dried vessels were placed in the firing chamber
in several layers, resting on each other. Wood or charcoal was used
to heat the combustion chamber and the fire was fanned by the wind or
Vessels and construction materials. A considerable
number of pottery sherds which had broken in the production process,
were found scattered over the site. A great variety of vessels for everyday
use, some of them decorated, were mould-made in imitation of those widely
in use in the Roman Europe at that time. But the main items produced
were construction materials, including pipes, large roof tiles (ca.
50 cm. long), square and round bricks for flooring, small pillars for
bathhouses and trapezoidal bricks used in the constructed of vaults.
These items were made in moulds and stamped with the insignia of the
Tenth Legion before firing. Two types of stamps were in use: one was
round, with the image of a wild boar and a galley (a type of warship)
on either side of the legion's name, abbreviated as L.X.F (Legio X Fretensis);
more common was a rectangular stamp with only the name of the legion
in a variety of abbreviated forms, such as LEG X FRE. Unusual finds
were two clay seals, one with an abbreviation of the Tenth Legion's
name, which were used on the clay products.
The Tenth Roman Legion, which operated the workshop
at Binyane Ha'uma, participated, with other legions, in the conquest
of Jerusalem in 70 CE. After the suppression of the First
Jewish Rebellion, its units were stationed in Jerusalem and its
camp was in the western part of the city, on the remains of the Upper
City of the Second Temple period (today the southern part of the Old
City and Mt. Zion). It was in this period that the workshop was established
at Binyane Ha'uma, west of the city. Its location was dictated by the
availability of the required raw materials, the elevation (for wind
necessary for the efficient operation of the kilns) and its proximity
to the main road to Jerusalem for transporting the finished products.
Demand for products of the Legion's workshop undoubtedly
increased during the building of Aelia Capitolina, which was founded
by the emperor Hadrian in 135 CE, on the ruins of Jewish Jerusalem of
the Second Temple period. Building materials produced at the Binyane
Ha'uma workshop were used in constructing public buildings in the city
and excavations in Jerusalem and its environs indeed yielded a large
number of products from the Tenth Legion's workshop. The workshop at
Binyane Ha'uma was operative during the 2nd and 3rd centuries. It was
abandoned when the Tenth Legion was withdrawn from Jerusalem at the
end of the 3rd century.
This is the only workshop discovered to date in the
eastern part of the Roman Empire; similar workshops of Roman military
units are known in Europe, in the western part of the Roman Empire.
Some of the kilns of the workshop have been restored
and are today displayed in the basement of Binyane Ha'uma, the Jerusalem
The site was excavated by H. Goldfus and B. Arubas
on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Hillel Geva studied archeology
at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, participated in excavations in
the Jewish Quarter and the Citadel in Jerusalem, and is author of the
entry "Jerusalem" in the New Encyclopedia of Archeological
Excavations in the Holy Land and editor of Ancient Jerusalem Revealed.
*1) Arubas, B., Goldfus, H. 1995: 'The
Kilnworks of the Tenth legion Fretensis',The Roman and Byzantine Near
East: Some Recent Archaeological Research (=Journal of Roman Archaeology
Suppl .# 14) Ann Arbor, MI. Pp. 95-107, 273.
2)Goldfus, H., Arubas, B. 2002:'The Kilnworks of the Tenth Legion at
the Jerusalem Convention Center', Qadmoniot 122/2, 111-119 (Hebrew).