The Antonia Fortress (Aramaic:קצטרא דאנטוניה)[a] was a citadel first built by the Hasmoneans, and later refurbished and renamed by Herod the Great c. 37–35 BC for Herod's patron Mark Antony, whose chief function was to protect the Second Temple. It was built in Jerusalem over the site of the Hasmonean Baris at the eastern end of the great wall of the city (the second wall), on the northeastern side of the city, near the Temple Mount and the Pool of Bethesda.
Over the site of the Hasmonean Baris and perhaps also the Ptolemaic Baris, Herod built the fortress c. 37–35 BC to protect the Second Temple. He named it for his patron Mark Antony. The fortress housed some part of the Roman garrison of Jerusalem. The Romans also stored the high priest's vestments within the fortress.
Traditionally, it has been thought that the vicinity of the Antonia Fortress was the site of Pontius Pilate' praetorium, where Jesus was tried for blasphemy. This was based on the assumption that an area of Roman flagstones discovered beneath the Church of the Condemnation and the Convent of the Sisters of Zion was 'the pavement' which John 19:13 describes as the location of Jesus' trial. Archaeological investigation indicates that this site was that of the eastern of two forums built by Hadrian in the second century as part of the Aelia Capitolina, but it is possible that following the Antonia Fortress's destruction its pavement tiles were brought to Hadrian's plaza. The eastern forum of the Aelia Capitolina was built over the Struthion Pool, which was mentioned by first-century historian Josephus as being adjacent to the fortress.
Like Philo, Josephus testifies that the Roman governors stayed in Herod's Palace while they were in Jerusalem, and carried out their judgements on the pavement immediately outside it; Josephus indicates that Herod's Palace is on the Western Hill and in 2001 it was rediscovered under a corner of the Tower of David. Archaeologists therefore conclude that in the first century, the praetorium—the residence of the praefectus (governor)—was on the Western Hill, rather than at the Antonia Fortress, on the opposite side of the city. As a result of its association with Jesus' trial, the site of the fortress serves as the starting point of the Via Dolorosa commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus.
The fortress was the last stronghold of the Jews in the Siege of Jerusalem (70 CE), when the Second Temple was destroyed. Supposedly the Jewish rebels demolished the Tower of Antonia. Josephus is adamant the Jews had no chance of destroying a huge Roman fort with 60-foot walls, defended by thousands of Roman troops. It is the destruction of the two 183-metre aerial bridges that is meant. Roman soldiers then hastened to construct siege banks against the Temple's north wall. Battle lasted until they seized the sanctuary.
Although modern reconstructions often depict the fortress as having a tower at each of four corners, Josephus repeatedly refers to it as "the tower Antonia", and states that it had been built by John Hyrcanus and later by King Herod, and used for a vestry, in which were reposited the vestments of the high priest. Josephus states:
The general appearance of the whole was that of a tower with other towers at each of the four corners; three of these turrets were fifty cubits high, while that at the south-east angle rose to seventy cubits and so commanded a view of the whole area of the temple.
Some archaeologists are also of the opinion that the fortress was only a single tower, located at the south-east corner of the site. For example, Pierre Benoit, former professor of New Testament studies at the École Biblique, having carried out extensive archaeological studies of the site, states that there is absolutely no (archaeological) support for there having been four towers.
Josephus attests to the importance of the Antonia: "For if the Temple lay as a fortress over the city, Antonia dominated the Temple & the occupants of that post were the guards of all three." Josephus placed the Antonia at the northwest corner of the colonnades surrounding the Temple. Modern depictions often show the Antonia as being located along the north side of the temple enclosure. However, Josephus' description of the siege of Jerusalem suggests that it was separated from the temple enclosure itself and probably connected by two colonnades with a narrow space between them. Josephus' measurements suggest about 183 metres (600 ft) of separation between the two complexes.
The two 183-metre aerial bridges were mentioned in two 19th-century books written by scholars Lewin, Sanday & Waterhouse, who probably read Josephus in the original Greek, whilst others, later relied on William Whiston, an 18th-century translator. We cannot know if Whiston was influenced by traditional thinking but he probably decided that Josephus had erred when he gave the length of the aerial roadways as a furlong (Stadion), so Whiston used the words "no long space of ground".
Based upon Jerusalem's topography and the impossibility of placing Fort Antonia 183 metres further north of the Temple Mount, Whiston's translation obscured their existence, although there are ten references by Josephus to these bridges.
- Based on Josephus' use of the word 'citadel' or 'fortress' when referring to the Antonia Fortress
- Jerusalem, Israel, Petra & Sinai. DK. 2016 . p. 48. ISBN 978-1-4654-4131-7.
- Benoit, Pierre, The Archaeological Reconstruction of the Antonia Fortress, in Jerusalem Revealed (edited by Yigael Yadin), (1976)
- "Ecce Homo Arch Video". Jerusalem Experience. 2012.
- Josephus, Jewish War 5:11:4
- Pierre Benoit, The Archaeological Reconstruction of the Antonia Fortress, p. 87, in Jerusalem Revealed (edited by Yigael Yadin), (1976)
- Josephus, Jewish Wars, 2:14:8
- Josephus, Jewish Wars, 5:2
- Jacqueline Schaalje, "Israeli Archaeologists Discover Herod's Palace", The Jewish Magazine (October 2001).
- Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 18:4:3; 15.403
- B.J. v. 238
- Pierre Benoit, "The Archaeological Reconstruction of the Antonia Fortress", p. 89, in Jerusalem Revealed (edited by Yigael Yadin), (1976)
- War VI, 2, 144
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Lieut.-Col. Claude R. Conder (1901–1906). "Antonia". In Singer, Isidore; et al. (eds.). The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.