The Fall of Jerusalem:

Ancient Jerusalem Becomes the Roman Pagan City Aelia Capitolina

The fall of Jerusalem on the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av in the year 70 CE is commemorated to this day as one of the most tragic events in Jerusalem history. The Romans sacked ancient Jerusalem and burned it to the ground. The Temple was looted and its precious vessels taken to Rome, in a victory procession still appears, carved for posterity under the Arch of Titus.

The fall of Jerusalem had far reaching consequences for the Jews. Judaism has still not recovered from that trauma. But the Jews survived, while the Romans did everything they could to make sure that Jerusalem did not.

Arch of Titus

The vessels of the Temple being carried triumphantly into Rome, shown in a relief from the Arch of Titus. Photo by antmoose, under a Creative Commons License.

With Jerusalem desolate, the Romans moved in the Tenth Legion. Since there was no more military threat, the legion went into the business of brick making. The Roman brick-making kilns and workshops were discovered during the construction of Jerusalem’s International Convention Center (Binyanei Ha’uma).

You can get a unique sense of the layers of Jerusalem history here: international business conventions and music concerts take place at the very spot where legionnaires once toiled in Roman Jerusalem. You’ll find the kilns and remains of the workshops on the lower floor of Convention Center, where a section of the archaeological dig is preserved behind glass.

the Jerusalem International Convention Center Binyanei Ha'uma

The Jerusalem International Convention Center

The Emperor Hadrian came here in 129 CE and decided to use the fall of Jerusalem as an opportunity to wipe it off the map entirely and rebuild it as a pagan Roman city. To erase any connection to the Jews, he built a pagan temple on the Temple Mount, renamed the entire country Palestine, and made it a capital offense to study, teach or practice Judaism.

He also erased all trace of Christian worship and built another pagan temple on Golgotha to prevent Christians gathering at the site of the crucifixion.

map of Roman Jerusalem

Map of Roman Jerusalem showing the two main north-south roads (the Cardo Maximus and Cardo Minimus), and the two main east-west roads.

Aelia Capitolina was the only city in the entire Roman Empire built and populated for military troops on active service. It was built in a square, with a gate on each side. Parts of the Roman arch can still be seen in the Damascus gate of the Old City.

A commercial thoroughfare – or Cardo – stretched from the Damascus gate to Mount Zion. It was over 900 meters long and 22.5 meters wide. The Cardo was rediscovered after the Six Day war in 1967.

Ironically, the Romans are long gone, and although the Cardo they built in Aelia Capitolina is one of the few cardos in the world still in use, it exists today as a flourishing commercial center in the Jewish city of Jerusalem.

the cardo in jerusalem

In the context of ancient Jerusalem history, Aelia Capitolina did not last very long. In the year 289 CE, the Tenth Legion was transferred to Eilat, and the Jewish community reestablished itself in Jerusalem.

Romans notwithstanding, the sack of Jerusalem was simply a short chapter in an ongoing story.

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