A monumental discovery was unearthed in the archaeological excavations at the City of David, located just south of Jerusalem's Old City at the much older heart of the ancient Biblical city.

The discovery puts to rest one of the largest archaeological riddles concerning Jeruaslem - namely, the location of the Greek Seleucid imperial fortress that Antiochus Epiphanes (215-164 BCE) is known to have built to rule the city and oversee Jewish activities on the Temple Mount. The fortress was eventually destroyed by the Hasmonean Maccabees as they overthrew the Greek occupation.

Excavations at the Givati Parking Lot dig site, located in the City of David national park, have been ongoing for a decade. The Elad Foundation manages the national park and funds the digs, which have revealed numerous finds that are on display to the public at the site.

But regarding the location of Antiochus's fortress, which is mentioned in the Book of the Maccabees and the writings of Josephus, despite numerous proposals raised in the last 100 years of archaeological research it has remained elusive.

However, according to researchers, in recent months decisive evidence locating the fortress has been found in the form of a section of ancient wall that is estimated to be the base of a tower four meters (13 feet) wide and 20 meters (65 feet) long, replete with a glacis artificial slope.

The glacis, built adjacent to the wall, is a defensive element made out of layers of dust, stone and pitch, and meant to keep away attackers. This slope reached as far as the Tyropoeon Valley that crossed the ancient city of Jerusalem, and served as an additional defense.

Re-picturing the uprising

Ballista rocks, bronze arrow heads and led slingstones were found at the site with the sign of the trident on them, the symbol of Antiochus Epiphanes's rule, bearing testimony to the battles in which the Hasmoneans triumphed and routed the Greeks.

Historical records indicate the fortress was manned by salaried Greek soldiers as well as Jewish Hellenists who betrayed their people, and further detail how the forces in the fortress caused great suffering to the Jewish residents of Jerusalem.

However, in 141 BCE after a long siege to starve out the Greeks, Shimon the Hasmonean was able to conquer the fortress and force the Greeks into surrender.

According to archaeologists Dr. Doron Ben-Ami, Yana Tchekhanovets and Salome Cohen, who are directing the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), the new discovery gives a new understanding of the history.

"This sensational discovery allows us for the first time to reconstruct the layout of the settlement in the city, on the eve of the Maccabean uprising in 167 BCE," said the researchers. "The new archaeological finds indicate the establishment of a well-fortified stronghold that was constructed on the high bedrock cliff overlooking the steep slopes of the City of David hill."

"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 (Antiochus Epiphanes) 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."

Assaf Peretz and Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority