Ancient Roman bathhouse discovered in Jerusalem

1,800-year-old Roman bathing pool uncovered in Jewish Quarter sheds light on Aelia Capitolina, city founded on Second Temple ruins.

Old bathouse discovered in Jerusalem (photo credit: Shlomi Amami, courtesy of the IAA)
Old bathouse discovered in Jerusalem
(photo credit: Shlomi Amami, courtesy of the IAA)
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 noted.
“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.”
An unusual imprint on one of the roof tiles caught the attention of the archaeologists.
“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.