Evidence found of 2,000-year-old siege of Jerusalem

Cistern found near Robinson's Arch contained an unprecedented discovery - three intact cooking pots and a small ceramic oil lamp.

June 27, 2013 17:12
2 minute read.
Intact cooking pots, oil lamp that were hidden by starving Jews under siege by the Romans.

2000 year old cooking pots, an oil lamp 370. (photo credit: Courtesy of Vladimir Niihin)


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The Antiquities Authority on Thursday unearthed for the first time a small 2,000-yearold cistern near the Western Wall that connects an archeological find with the famine that occurred during the Roman siege of Jerusalem during that era.

The cistern – found near Robinson’s Arch in a drainage channel from the Shiloah Pool in the City of David – contained three intact cooking pots and a small ceramic oil lamp.

According to Eli Shukron, the excavations director for the Antiquities Authority, the discovery is unprecedented.

“The complete cooking pots and ceramic oil lamp indicate that the people went down into the cistern where they secretly ate the food that was contained in the pots, without anyone seeing them,” he said. “This is consistent with the account provided by Josephus.”

In his book The Jewish War that describes the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE, the Jewish scholar Josephus detailed the resulting hunger that ensued.

In his account, Josephus, also known as Yosef ben Matityahu, wrote of Jewish rebels who sought food in the homes of other starving Jews confined to the city. Fearing these rebels would steal their food, many Jews used cisterns to conceal their meager provisions, and later ate in hidden places within their homes.

“As the famine grew worse, the frenzy of the partisans increased with it,” Josephus wrote.

“For as nowhere was there corn to be seen, men broke into the houses and ransacked them,” he continued.

“If they found some, they maltreated the occupants for saying there was none; if they did not, they suspected them of having hidden it more carefully and tortured them.”

Josephus recounted that many Jews suffering from starvation would barter their possessions for small quantities of food in order to stay alive.

“Many secretly exchanged their possessions for one measure of corn-wheat if they happened to be rich; barley if they were poor,” he wrote.

“They shut themselves up in the darkest corners of their houses, where some, through extreme hunger, ate their grain as it was; others made bread, necessity and fear being their only guides. Nowhere was a table laid.”

The artifacts will be on display during a July 4 conference on the City of David, organized by the Megalim Institute.

Earlier in the week, the Antiquities Authority uncovered in Beit Hanina a well-preserved section of an 1,800- year-old road leading from Jerusalem to Jaffa during a routine excavation prior to the installation of a drainage pipe in the northern Jerusalem neighborhood.

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