Ancient Greek Fortress Acra Discovered Outside Jerusalem, Solving One of the Biggest Archaeological Mysteries

Acra-IAA-620x464After 10 years of excavations, archaeologists think they’ve finally unearthed the ancient Greek fortress of Acra beneath a parking lot in Jerusalem. (Is everything underneath a car park now?)

The Greek stronghold payed a pivotal role in the struggle for control of the city and holy temple during the Jewish Maccabean revolt. The fortress was described in the book of 1 Maccabees, but until now, archaeologists could not discover its exact location.

The fortress was built in 168 B.C. by the Greek Seleucid Empire ruler Antiochus Epiphanes.

Archaeologist unearthed a “massive wall,” which is actually the base of a 13-foot by 66-foot tower, and a defensive embankment. This “glacis” was “composed of layers of soil, stone and plaster, designed to keep attackers away from the base of the wall,” the Antiquities Authority says. It “constituted an additional obstacle in the citadel’s defenses.”

Also discovered at the site were lead slingshots, ballista stones, and bronze arrowheads—all stamped with a trident, the symbol of Antiochus Epiphanes.

Acra-Weapons-IAA-620x464

The Acra was built to control and terrorize the Jewish inhabitants of the City of David, outside Jerusalem. Inside the mighty fortress lives mercenaries and Hellenized Jews, while outside the citadel, the inhabitants of the city suffered.

In 141 B.C., after a prolonged siege and the starvation of the Greek garrison within Acra, Simon Maccabeus finally forced the citadel to surrender.

The story is told in 1 Maccabees.

“And they built the city of David with a great and strong wall, and with strong towers, and made it a fortress [Acra] for them: And they placed there a sinful nation, wicked men, and they fortified themselves therein.”

Excavation directors Dr. Doron Ben-Ami, Yana Tchekhanovets and Salome Cohen released a joint statement elucidating the importance of the site’s excavation and contribution to history:

This stronghold controlled all means of approach to the Temple atop the Temple Mount, and cut the Temple off from the southern parts of the city.

The numerous coins ranging in date from the reign of Antiochus IV to that of Antiochus VII and the large number of wine jars (amphorae) that were imported from the Aegean region to Jerusalem, which were discovered at the site, provide evidence of the citadel’s chronology, as well as the non-Jewish identity of its inhabitants.

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Lisa Lo Paro
Lisa is a freelance writer and bibliophile living on the outskirts of New York City. She likes 2 a.m. with a good book, takes cream in her coffee and heavily filters her photos. Check out her blog The Most Happy, her Instagram, and Twitter.