A rare fragment of a stone engraved with an official Latin inscription dedicated to the Roman Emperor Hadrian, discovered in the capital in July by the Antiquities Authority, was unveiled at Rockefeller Museum in east Jerusalem Tuesday morning.
According to Dr. Rina Avner, who led the Antiquities Authority’s excavation north of Damascus Gate, the relic from the Roman period is among the most important Latin inscriptions ever discovered in Jerusalem.
“This is very rare,” said Avner, standing a few meters from the fragment, which was displayed on a grass enclosure at the museum’s entrance. “We found the inscription incorporated in secondary use around the opening of a deep cistern.”
The archeologist noted that the large limestone rock containing the inscription was subsequently recycled to create a floor.
“In antiquity, as today, it was customary to recycle building materials, and the official inscription was evidently removed from its original location and integrated in a floor for the practical purpose of building the cistern. Furthermore, in order to fit it with the capstone, the bottom part of the inscription was sawed round.”
Upon finding the inscription, Avner said it was immediately clear to the excavators that they had uncovered an especially significant discovery, as indicated by the size and clarity of the letters.
The inscription, consisting of six lines of Latin text, was read and translated by Avner Ecker and Hannah Cotton of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The English translation of the inscription is as follows: “To the Imperator Caesar Traianus Hadrianus Augustus, son of the deified Traianus Parthicus, grandson of the deified Nerva, high priest, invested with tribunician power for the 14th time, consul for the third time, father of the country (dedicated by) the 10th legion Fretensis Antoniniana.”
Ecker, a PhD candidate, said the inscription was dedicated by Legio X Fretensis to the Emperor Hadrian in the year 129/130 CE.
“The fragment of the inscription revealed by the IAA archeologists is none other than the right half of a complete inscription, the other part of which was discovered nearby in the late 19th century, and was published by the preeminent French archeologist Charles Clermont-Ganneau,” he said.
The second stone is currently on display in the courtyard of Studium Biblicum Franciscanum Museum near the Lions’ Gate in the Old City.
“Only a small number of ancient official Latin inscriptions have been discovered in archeological excavations throughout the country, and in Jerusalem in particular, and there is no doubt that this is one of the most important of them,” he added.
According to Avner, the significance of the inscription stems from the fact that it specifically mentions the name and titles of Hadrian, who was an extremely prominent emperor, as well as a clear date.
“The [date] is a significant and tangible confirmation of the historical account regarding the presence of the 10th Legion in Jerusalem during the period between the two revolts, and possibly even the location of the legion’s military camp in the city, and of one of the reasons for the outbreak of the Bar-Kochba revolt several years later and the establishment of Aelia Capitolina,” she said.
The events of the Bar-Kochba revolt are ascribed to the reign of the Emperor Hadrian, who is remembered in Jewish history for having issued dictates imposing the persecution and forced conversions of Jews, which the sources referred to as the “Hadrianic decrees.”
The history of the Bar-Kochba revolt is known from, among other events, the works of the contemporary Roman historian Cassius Dio, who also mentions Hadrian’s visit to Jerusalem in the year 129/130 CE, within the framework of the emperor’s travels in the eastern empire.
Avner said these travels are also documented on coins issued in honor of the occasion and in inscriptions specifically engraved prior to his arrival in different cities.
“This is apparently exactly what happened in Jerusalem,” said Avner. “The completion of the two parts of the text reveals an especially large inscription that is quite impressive. The inscription itself might have set in the top of a free-standing triumphal arch on the city’s northern boundary such the Arch of Titus in Rome.”
The fate of Jerusalem following the destruction of the Second Temple (70 CE), and prior to the Bar-Kochba revolt (132-136 CE), is one of the major issues in the history of the city and in terms of the Jewish people’s connection to it, she noted.
“We know from ancient writers and the inscriptions on coins that the new city, which Hadrian established, was granted the status of ‘colonia,’ that is a city whose citizens and gods are Roman, and its name was changed to Aelia Capitolina, or COLONIA AELIA CAPITOLINA in Latin,” Avner said.
“There is no doubt that the discovery of this inscription will contribute greatly to the long-standing question about the reasons that led to the outbreak of the Bar-Kochba revolt: Were the reasons for the rebellion the construction of Aelia Capitolina and the establishment of the pagan temple on the site of the Jewish Temple Mount; or conversely perhaps, these were the results of the revolt – that is, punitive action taken by Hadrian against those who rebelled against Roman rule?” All of the information regarding the inscription will be presented in a conference open to the public entitled “Innovations in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and its Surroundings,” to be held Thursday on the Mount Scopus campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.