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View series: Jerusalem: The History of a Global City

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Hasmonean Jerusalem (164 – 63 BCE)

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

After the conquests of Alexander the Great, Jerusalem came under Greek rule. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus described how Alexander came to Jerusalem and offered beautiful gifts to the temple, but the story is a mere legend.

Following the division of Alexander’s empire between his generals, Jerusalem first became part of the Ptolemaic kingdom, ruled by the Lagids, the Greek kings of Egypt. Later on, around 200 BCE, it came under the rule of the Seleucids, whose empire spread from the Levant to Iran.

At that time, many inhabitants of Jerusalem became Hellenized, a cultural trend reflected in the graves of the Kidron Valley which were built in an openly Hellenistic style.

Under the reign of the Seleucid king Antiochos IV, at the request of some Hellenized Judean elites, a Greek polis (a city with civic institutions) was founded under the name “Antiocheia of Jerusalem”. Greek institutions were established, in particular a gymnasium and an ephebeion, where young citizens were trained.

In order to keep the city under their control, the Seleucids erected a fortress, known as the Akra, close to the Temple. Its precise location remains under debate: it may have stood south of the Temple esplanade, in the upper part of the City of David, where vestiges were unearthed in 2015 when the Givati parking lot was excavated. This citadel quickly became the focal point for growing tension between the Macedonian or Syrian soldiers on the one hand, and the non-Hellenized Jewish population of the city, on the other. 

In 168 BCE, unrest in Jerusalem made Antiochus IV think that the Judeans were rebelling. He therefore took punitive measures and declared that the traditional Jewish customs were illegal. This decision led to the Maccabean revolt, led by Judas Maccabaeus and his brothers, who succeeded in taking control of the Temple and the city. In 141 BCE, one of Judas’ brothers managed to seize the Akra. According to Josephus, the citadel was destroyed, but this destruction probably took place only at the beginning of the first century BCE.

The Maccabees, later known as the Hasmonean dynasty, repaired the outer walls of Jerusalem and rebuilt the western fortifications, thus allowing the population to settle again in the western part of the city. As a consequence the population grew to roughly 25,000 inhabitants.

At the end of the second century BCE, Jerusalem had become the capital of a relatively independent kingdom, the territory of which grew even further at the beginning of the first century due to new conquests on the coast, towards the north, the south and on the eastern shore of the River Jordan.

The Hasmoneans constructed a palace in Jerusalem which was probably located between the Temple esplanade and the present Jaffa gate. The old fortress of the Persian governor, known as the “Baris,” was rebuilt at the level of the north-western corner of the esplanade. It was a rectangular structure flanked by several towers. According to Josephus, this fortress was connected to the Temple esplanade by an underground passage.

During the Hasmonean period, unlike the biblical period, the Temple Mount was entirely dedicated to religious activities, whereas the palaces were located in the western part of the city.