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 Walls.
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 by bellows.
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 Convention Center.
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).
Sources: Israeli Foreign Ministry