A 1,800-year-old Roman bathing pool was recently uncovered in archaeological
excavations in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem ahead of the construction of a
ritual bath for men (miqve).
The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), who
conducted the excavations at the initiative of the Jerusalem Municipality and
the Moriah Company for the Development of Jerusalem, say that the bathing pool
was probably part of a bathhouse used by the Tenth Legion – the very same Roman
soldiers who destroyed the Second Temple.
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The discovery sheds light on
the scope of Aelia Capitolina, the city that was founded on the Second Temple
period ruins of Jerusalem, that defined the character of ancient Jerusalem as we
know it today.
“We were surprised to discover an ancient bathhouse
structure right below the spot where a miqve is to be built,” said Dr. Ofer
Sion, excavation director on behalf of the IAA.
“The bathhouse tiles, which are
stamped with the symbols of the Tenth Legion “Fretensis” – LEG X FR, were found
in situ and it seems that they were used to cover a rock-hewn water channel
located at the bottom of the pool. The hundreds of terra cotta roof tiles that
were found on the floors of the pool indicate it was a covered structure,” he
“It seems that the bathhouse was used by [soldiers of the Tenth
Legion] who were garrisoned there after suppressing the Bar Kokhba uprising in
135 CE, when the pagan city Aelia Capitolina was established,” Sion continued.
“We know that the Tenth Legion’s camp was situated within the limits of what is
today the Old City, probably in the region of the Armenian Quarter. This
assumption is reinforced by the discovery of the bathhouse in the nearby Jewish
Quarter which shows that the multitude of soldiers was spread out and that they
were also active outside the camp, in other parts of the Old City.”
unusual imprint on one of the roof tiles caught the attention of the
“Another interesting discovery that caused excitement
during the excavation is the paw print of a dog that probably belonged to one of
the soldiers,” Sion said. “The paw print was impressed on the symbol of the
legion on one of the roof tiles and it could have happened accidentally or have
been intended as a joke.”
Dr. Yuval Baruch, the Jerusalem District
archaeologist for the IAA, noted the importance of the discovery, which sheds
light on the study of post-destruction Jerusalem.
“Despite the very
extensive archaeological excavations that were carried out in the Jewish
Quarter, so far not even one building has been discovered there that belonged to
the Roman legion,” he said.
“The absence of such a find led to the conclusion
that Aelia Capitolina, the Roman city which was established after the
destruction of Jerusalem, was small and limited in area.”
“The new find,
together with other discoveries of recent years, shows that the city was
considerably larger than what we previously estimated. Information about Aelia
Capitolina is extremely valuable and can contribute greatly to research on
Jerusalem because it was that city that determined the character and general
appearance of ancient Jerusalem and as we know it today. The shape of the city
has determined the outline of its walls and the location of the gates to this
very day,” Baruch added.
The IAA will integrate the remains of the
ancient Roman bathhouse into the planned Jewish Quarter miqve.