A 1,800 year old bathing pool that was probably part of a bathhouse used by the Tenth Legion – the Roman soldiers who destroyed the Temple – has been exposed in excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) in Jerusalem. The discovery sheds light on the scope of Aelia Capitolina, the city that was founded on the Second Temple period ruins of Jerusalem and that defined the character of ancient Jerusalem as we know it today.
According to IAA excavation director Dr. Ofer Sion: “We were surprised to discover an ancient bathhouse structure right below the spot where a ritual bath is about to be built. During the excavation we uncovered a number of plastered bathtubs in the side of the pool. Incorporated in the side of the pool is a pipe used to fill it with water and on the floor of the pool is a white industrial mosaic pavement. 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.
The mark of the soldiers of the Tenth Legion, in the form of the stamped impressions on the roof tiles and the in situ mud bricks, bears witness to the fact that they were the builders of the structure. It seems that the bathhouse was used by these soldiers who were garrisoned there after suppressing the Bar Kokhba uprising in 135 CE, when the pagan city Aelia Capitolina was established. 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”.
Dr. Sion adds, “Another interesting discovery is the paw print of a dog that probably belonged to one of the soldiers. 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”.
According to IAA Jerusalem District archaeologist Dr. Yuval Baruch: “What we have here is a discovery that is important for the study of 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. 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”.
The remains of the ancient Roman bathhouse which were uncovered will be integrated in the new ritual bath that is slated to be built in the Jewish Quarter.