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Aelia Capitolina Roman Jerusalem (70 CE-325 CE)

This map is part of a series of 12 animated maps showing the history of Jerusalem: The History of a Global City.

The two decisive events in the Jewish-Roman War, which put an end to the first Jewish uprising against the Empire, were the siege and capture of Jerusalem by Titus’ legions in 70 CE. 

This episode was described in great detail by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, who was present during these events.

To avoid the natural obstacles formed by the deep valleys to the west, south and east, the Roman army launched their attack against the northern wall of the city.

On 24 July 70 CE, the fortress of Antonia fell.

On 10 August, the Romans destroyed the north-west porticos linking the fortress to the Temple. 

On 30 August, the sanctuary was burned down and the whole city was razed to the ground; the walls were also destroyed, with the exception of the three towers constructed by Herod.

For the following half-century, Jerusalem was not repopulated. The city was placed under surveillance by the Roman Army’s Legio X Fretensis, which set up camp on Mount Zion and perhaps also south of Temple Mount. Built out of wood, this camp left no archaeological traces; however, numerous tiles and bricks stamped with the legion’s emblems attest to its long-time presence at this site.

In 129 CE, Emperor Hadrian decided to rebuild Jerusalem and therein establish a Roman colony named Aelia Capitolina. This decision led to the last major revolt by the Jews against Rome, also known as the Bar Kohba Revolt which took place between 132 and 135. Following this revolt, the Emperor definitively banished the Jewish population from the city.

Aelia Capitolina was built using the classic octagonal plan for Roman cities. It is still possible to see traces of the two north-south cardos in the Old City: the Cardo maximus ran from the North Gate, known as the Gate of the Column, and the second cardo corresponds to the current Al-Wad Street.

The decamanus maximus ran from east to west, along what is now King David Street, and established the boundary between the military and civil sections of the city.

Roman roads criss-crossed a much-reduced urban area, compared with the city’s layout under Herod, and the city walls were not rebuilt surely due to the presence of the Xth Legion.

During the period of the Roman colony, Judaism was replaced by pagan beliefs. A temple dedicated to Jupiter Capitolium was built either on the North side of the Forum, possibly on the site of today’s Muristan, or on Temple Mount, according to testimony indicating that two giant imperial statues were once erected there.

Another hypothesis suggests that the acropolis of Temple Mount was abandoned. In any event, we know that the ruins of Herod’s temple were used as a quarry for the construction of other buildings and that at least part of the former esplanade was ploughed and used as farmland.

According to the only known reference to monuments in the Roman Aelia, found in a Byzantine chronicle, the city contained all the classical elements of Roman cities: baths, a circus, markets, commercial arcades, and even a theatre, though their exact position remains unknown. In 2017, a small semi-circular odeon was found during subterranean excavations west of the Wailing Wall, and appears to date from this period.

The Arch known as Ecce Homo, located north of the esplanade, is one of the rare monuments from this period still standing today. However, we do not know whether it was truly an entrance gate on the edge of the city, or rather a symbolic gate in a city without walls.

In any event, Aelia Capitolina was indeed a Roman city which would not be called Jerusalem again until the 4th century when the city was Christianised for the first time, following the conversion of Emperor Constantine.