The Fortress of Antonia:

Click to View

A model of the Fortress of Antonia as described by Josephus. (Wars 5.238-247)

Antonia's Fort was located south of a moat and on a rock 25 meters high. It was located exactly where the Dome of the Rock is today. The Temple would therefore be located 17 meters below the Al-Kas fountain.

  1. Joesphus describes Antonia's fortress as pictured above. Josephus' dimensions are 115 m from East to West, Western side 35 m and Eastern side 42 m, with four towers. The rock on which the fortress was built was 50 cubits high (22-31 m). The height of the fortress itself was 40 cubits (18-25 m.) and it had 4 towers, one in each corner. The height of three of the towers was 50 cubits and the fourth tower was 70 cubits: "Now, as to the tower of Antonia, it was situated at the corner of two cloisters of the court of the temple; of that on the west, and that on the north; it was erected upon a rock, of fifty cubits in height, and was on a great precipice; it was the work of king Herod, wherein he demonstrated his natural magnanimity. (239) In the first place, the rock itself was covered over with smooth pieces of stone, from its foundation, both for ornament, and that anyone who would either try to get up or to go down it, might not be able to hold his feet upon it. (240) Next to this, and before you come to the edifice of the tower itself, there was a wall three cubits high; but within that wall all the space of the tower of Antonia itself was built upon, to the height, of forty cubits. (241) The inward parts had the largeness and form of a palace, it being parted into all kinds of rooms and other conveniences, such as courts, and places for bathing, and broad spaces for camps; insomuch that, by having all conveniences that cities wanted, it might seem to be composed of several cities, but by its magnificence, it seemed a palace; (242) and as the entire structure resembled that of a tower, it contained also four other distinct towers at its four corners; whereof the others were but fifty cubits high; whereas that which lay upon the southeast corner was seventy cubits high, that from thence the whole temple might be viewed; (243) but on the corner where it joined to the two cloisters of the temple, it had passages down to them both, through which the guard (244) (for there always lay in this tower a Roman legion) went several ways among the cloisters, with their arms, on the Jewish festivals, in order to watch the people, that they might not there attempt to make any innovations; (245) for the temple was a fortress that guarded the city, as was the tower of Antonia a guard to the temple; and in that tower were the guards of those three. There was also a peculiar fortress belonging to the upper city, which was Herod's palace; (246) but for the hill Bezetha, it was divided from the tower of Antonia, as we have already told you; and as that hill on which the tower of Antonia stood, was the highest of these three, so did it adjoin to the new city, and was the only place that hindered the sight of the temple on the north. (247) And this shall suffice at present to have spoken about the city and the walls about it, because I have proposed to myself to make a more accurate description of it elsewhere." (Josephus, Wars 5.238-247)
  2. Titus gained access to the temple through the fortress of Antonia: "Now, when affairs within the city were in this posture, Titus went round the city, on the outside with some chosen horsemen, and looked about for a proper place where he might make an impression upon the walls: (259) but as he was in doubt where he could possibly make an attack on any side (for the place was no way accessible where the valleys were, and on the other side the first wall appeared too strong to be shaken by the engines), he thereupon thought it best to make his assault upon the monument of John the high priest, (260) for there it was that the first fortification was lower, and the second was not joined to it, the builders neglecting to build the wall strong where the new city was not much inhabited; here also was an easy passage to the third wall, through which he thought to take the upper city, and, through the tower of Antonia, the temple itself." (Josephus, Wars 5.257-260)
  3. Temple located 17 meters below the Al-Kas fountain: Josephus tells us that the Antonia fortress was built on a rock 25 meters above the temple mount floor platform. The Antonia fortress was located where the Dome of the Rock is and the Temple was located where the El-Kas fountain is. The very rock that the Dome of the Rock rests on nicely harmonizes with Joesphus, being about 25 meters high, on which the Fort of Antonia was built. So using the simple math calculations we must lower the temple platform at the El Kas fountain where Herod built the Jewish temple, by about 22 meters. This is because the El Kas fountain is about 5 meters below the dome of the Rock platform. Then we must add the height of the rock under the dome (about 2 meters) to get from the top of the rock. Josephus said the top o the rock, on which the Antonia Fort was built was 25 meters above the temple floor. 25 m - 2m = 23m means the current floor of the Dome of the Rock is 23 meters above the temple floor in Jesus' day. Then we must subtract the 5 meters of stairs from the Dome platform to reach the level of the Al-Kas fountain. 23 - 5 = 17 meters. So standing beside the Al-Kas fountain, we the floor of Herod's temple, according to Josephus, was 17 meters lower.
    Click to View
  4. Most wrongly locate Antonia's Fortress at modern El Omariah school and the Jewish Temple at the Dome of the Rock. A simple survey reveals that from "rock to rock" the height difference is only 7 meters. This creates a contradiction with Josephus who said the temple floor was 25 meters below the top of the rock on which the Fortress of Antonia was built. The rock on which the El Omariah school stands, is only 7 meters high. Since Josephus says the rock on which the Antonia fortress stood was 25 feet above the temple mount floor, (25-7 = 18 meters) doing the reverse math, we must lower the temple platform by 18 meters if it was located at the El Omariah school. But this is impossible, since the temple cannot be located 17 meters below the rock under the dome. However, we can dig down 17 meters below the Al-Kas fountain.

Strabo and Josephus describe the moat that was north of the Fortress. This clearly places fort Antonia where the Dome of the Rock is.

Strabo in 15 AD and Josephus in 100 AD describes in detail the moat or fosse that was filled during the attack by Pompey on the temple in 63 BC. Both describe a large moat that had been cut out of rock on the north side of the temple. The fosse was 250 feet wide, fifty feet wide and 60 feet deep. The Jews cut a suspended bridge that spanned this moat, and connected the temple with the city. Pompey fills in this fosse and attacks the temple on the Sabbath. Strangely, the Jews for fear of breaking the 4th commandment, would not work at protecting against the attack. Perhaps we understand their thinking when they accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath by healing a lame man. Then Josephus describes how Herod in 38 BC, attacked the temple from the north, in the same way as Pompey. Next, Josephus says that Titus attacked the Temple from the north by filling in the moat with dirt up to 12 miles away.

Click to View

Finally, we have Charles Wilson in 1886 AD, commenting on Josephus' description of this fosse (moat) and how it is within the north section of the temple mount based upon his own surveys of the geography.

  1. There were stairs that led from Antonia's Fort down to the temple with no indication of a moat between the fort and the temple, as commonly but incorrectly pictured: "but on the corner where it joined to the two cloisters of the temple, it had passages down to them both" (Josephus, Wars 5.243)
  2. Strabo's account of how Pompey attached the temple in 63 BC by first filling in the moat north of the Temple: "At any rate, when now Judaea was under the rule of tyrants, Alexander was first to declare himself king instead of priest; and both Hyrcanus and Aristobulus were sons of his; and when they were at variance about the empire, Pompey went over and overthrew them and rased their fortifications, and in particular took Jerusalem itself by force; for it was a rocky and well-watered fortress; and though well supplied with water inside, its outside territory was wholly without water; and it had a trench cut in rock, sixty feet in depth and two hundred and sixty feet in breadth; and, from the stone that had been hewn out, the wall of the temple was fenced with towers. Pompey seized the city, it is said, after watching for the day of fasting, when the Judaeans were abstaining from all work; he filled up the trench and threw ladders across it; moreover, he gave orders to rase all the walls and, so far as he could, destroyed the haunts of robbers and the treasure-holds of the tyrants. Two of these were situated on the passes leading to Hiericus, I mean Threx and Taurus, and others were Alexandrium and Hyrcanium and Machaerus and Lysias and those in the neighbourhood of Philadelphia and Scythopolis in the neighbourhood of Galilaea." (Strabo, Geography 16:2:40, 15 AD)
  3. Josephus' account of how Pompey attached the temple in 63 BC by first filling in the moat north of the Temple: "At this Pompey was very angry, and put Aristobulus into the prison, and came himself to the city, which was strong on every side, excepting the north, which was not so well fortified, for there was a broad and deep ditch, that encompassed the city, and included within it the temple, which was itself encompassed about with a very strong stone wall. (58) Now there was a sedition of the men that were within the city, who did not agree what was to be done in their present circumstances, while some thought it best to deliver up the city to Pompey; but Aristobulus's party exhorted them to shut the gates, because he was kept in prison. Now these prevented the others, and seized upon the temple, and cut off the bridge which reached from it to the city, and prepared themselves to abide a siege; (59) but the others admitted Pompey's army in, and delivered up both the city and the king's palace to him. So Pompey sent his lieutenant Piso with an army, and placed garrisons both in the city and in the palace, to secure them, and fortified the houses that joined to the temple, and all those which were more distant and without it. (60) And in the first place, he offered terms of accommodation to those that were within; but when they would not comply with what was desired, he encompassed all the places thereabout with a wall, wherein Hyrcanus did gladly assist him on all occasions; but Pompey pitched his camp within [the wall], on the north part of the temple, where it was most practicable; (61) but even on that side there were great towers, and a ditch had been dug, and a deep valley begirt it round about, for on the parts towards the city were precipices, and the bridge on which Pompey had gotten in was broken down. However, a bank was raised day by day, with a great deal of labor, while the Romans cut down materials for it from the places round about; (62) and when this bank was sufficiently raised, and the ditch filled up, though but poorly, by reason of its immense depth, he brought his mechanical engines, and battering-rams from Tyre, and placing them on the bank, he battered the temple with the stones that were thrown against it, and had it not been our practice, from the days of our forefathers, to rest on the seventh day, this bank could never have been perfected, by reason of the opposition the Jews would have made; for though our law gives us leave then to defend ourselves against those that begin to fight with us and assault us, yet does it not permit us to meddle with our enemies while they do anything else. (Josephus, Ant 14.57-63)
  4. Herod attacked the temple in 38 BC, from the north, just like Pompey: "When the rigor of winter was over, Herod removed his army, and came near to Jerusalem, and pitched his camp hard by the city. Now this was the third year since he had been made king at Rome; (466) and as he removed his camp, and came near that part of the wall where it could be most easily assaulted, he pitched that camp before the temple, intending to make his attacks in the same manner as did Pompey. So he encompassed the place with three bulwarks, and erected towers, and employed a great many hands about the work, and cut down the trees that were round about the city" (Josephus, Ant 14.464-466)
  5. Titus attached the temple in 70 AD, in exactly the same way as Pompey did in 63 BC by filling in the fosse with dirt from up to 12 miles away: "In the meantime, the rest of the Roman army had, in seven days' time, overthrown [some] foundations of the tower of Antonia, and had made a ready and broad way to the temple. (150) Then did the legions come near the first court, and began to raise their banks. The one bank was over against the northwest corner of the inner temple, another was at the northern edifice which was between the two gates; (151) and of the other two, one was at the western cloister of the outer court of the temple; the other against its northern cloister. However, these works were thus far advanced by the Romans, not without great pains and difficulty, and particularly by being obliged to bring their materials from the distance of a hundred furlongs [12 miles]. (Josephus, Wars 6.148-151)
  6. Finally, we have Charles Wilson in 1886 AD, commenting on Josephus' description of this fosse (moat) and how it is within the north section of the temple mount. It is marked as #16 in the 3D map below. Obviously then, the Fortress of Antonia was located at #12 on their map, even though they placed the temple at #12: "We see also that the northern side of the enclosure extends to the edge of the valley of Kedron, and that outside there is an immense fosse, now called the Pool of Bethesda, and also the ravine which has been described as being on the northern quarter of the Temple. It would seem, therefore, to be impossible to resist the conclusion, that the northern front of the Haram is identical in position with that of the northern front of the enclosure of the Temple, as it was built by Herod, for the description would apply to no other position for it." (Ordinance Survey of Jerusalem by Captain Charles W. Wilson, R. E., 1886 AD)
    Click to ViewClick to View


By Steve Rudd: Contact the author for comments, input or corrections.


Click to View