Biblical Studies Aelia Capitolina
Jon Seligman, Shlomit Weksler-Bdolah
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 March 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 March 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0264


After the sacking of the Herodian Jerusalem in 70 CE, the city came under direct Roman rule. The Jewish residents were killed or exiled, the city destroyed, and a military camp of the Tenth Roman Legion Fretensis was established on a part of the ruins. Around 130 CE, Emperor Hadrian founded in place of the ruined Jewish city Jerusalem, a colony named Aelia Capitolina, in honor of his clan and the Capitoline Triad. After dismantling the remnants of the Herodian city and its magnificent Temple, the Romans rebuilt the city according to classical orthogonal design. The new city was smaller in size and different in shape relative to the former settlement. From the limited historical sources, we learn that Aelia Capitolina was divided into seven quarters, covering some one hundred hectares and comprised a number of major structures. The new city was characterized by parallel straight streets that cross each other on the cardinal axis, a layout that still forms the basis for the Old City today. The major streets were colonnaded and dotted with triumphal arches and monumental buildings. Though an issue of scholarly debate, it seems that the Tenth Legion’s camp was located in the southwestern part of the city, integrating the three extant Herodian three towers and a portion of the western city wall into its defenses. Furthermore, the Temple Mount enclosure, too large to be destroyed, was rebuilt by the Romans, and incorporated in the new city, as a civic or religious center. The expulsion of the Jewish inhabitants left Aelia Capitolina lightly populated, a situation only partially rectified by the encouragement of settlement by veterans and their families, together with Hellenic groups living in Provincia Palaestina.

General Overviews

To this day, a general summary of the history and archaeology of Aelia Capitolina has yet to be written. However, from the second half of the 19th century, the investigation of Jerusalem was accompanied by comprehensive publications, including the documentation of ancient structures and buildings that were discovered during construction and their discussion in light of historical sources. The first scholars suggested that the straight streets of the Old City preserved the layout of Roman urban planning and that its area more or less coincided with the general outline of the Roman city (Germer-Durand 1892). Researchers of the Palestine Exploration Fund, surveyed the surroundings of the Temple Mount (Warren and Conder 1884), investigated the perimeter of Mount Zion (Bliss and Dickie 1898), and in the early 20th century Vincent and Abel 1914–1926 documented several ancient remains that were revealed in the Old City and its environs. During the British and Jordanian rule, Hamilton, Johns, and Kenyon published comprehensive reports of their archaeological work in Jerusalem, with additional volumes published later. After 1967 large-scale archaeological excavations were conducted in the area of the Jewish Quarter (Avigad 1983), the Ophel (Ben-Dov 1982; Mazar 2011), the Western Wall Plaza and the Western Wall Tunnels (Weksler-Bdolah and Onn 2017; Bahat 2013), and the City of David (Reich 2011), as well as numerous excavations around the walls of the Old City. These excavations were published both in popular books and in preliminary or final scientific reports. A collection of articles devoted to various aspects related to the history, archeology, and population of Jerusalem during the Roman and Byzantine periods was published by Tsafrir and Safrai 1999. Important summaries of the archaeology of Aelia Capitolina until the 1990s were published by Tsafrir 1999 and Geva 1993. In 2017, a collection of additional articles was published devoted to research innovations on various topics related to the Roman city (Avni and Stiebel 2017). Considering the abundance of written, historical sources concerning most periods of Jerusalem’s history, their relative absence for the Roman city is striking. This requires us to rely greatly on archaeological finds in the research of Aelia Capitolina.

  • Avigad, N. Discovering Jerusalem. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983.

    This popular book describes the findsof large-scale archaeological excavations in the area of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City after 1967. The book is arranged in a chronological order. The discussion of the finds from the Roman period is limited (pp. 205–207).

  • Avni, G., and G. D. Stiebel, eds. Roman Jerusalem: A New Old City. JRA Supplementary Series 105. Portsmouth, RI: Journal of Roman Archaeology, 2017.

    The book includes thirteen chapters by leading scholars in the field. At the beginning of the book is a plan of Aelia Capitolina depicting the excavation sites where remains from the Roman period were discovered. The book is divided into four topics: the urban sphere, the ritual sphere, the military sphere, and the extramural sphere. The book ends with a composite bibliography.

  • Bahat. The Jerusalem Western Wall Tunnel. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 2013.

    The book summarizes the archaeological work that was carried out in the tunnels along the Western Wall of the Temple Mount in the 1980s and 1990s, under the supervision of archaeologist Dan Bahat, presenting data from different periods.

  • Ben-Dov, M. In the Shadow of the Temple: The Discovery of Ancient Jerusalem. New York: Harper & Row, 1982.

    This popular book summarizes and illustrates the findings from the extensive excavations conducted in the 1970s around the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount by Prof. Benjamin Mazar (pp. 185–205).

  • Bliss, F. J., and A. C. Dickie. Excavations in Jerusalem 1894–1897. London: Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund, 1898.

    A presentation of the excavations around the perimeter of Mount Zion. The researchers documented remains of towers and walls that were attributed to the Empress of Eudocia, who lived in Jerusalem in the mid-5th century.

  • Germer-Durand, J. “Aelia-Capitolina.” Revue Biblique 1 (1892): 369–387.

    An important article written at the end of the 19th century, proposing a reconstruction of Aelia Capitolina based on the street layout of the Old City compared with other Roman cities, historical sources, and archaeological finds, including Latin inscriptions and coins.

  • Geva, H. “Jerusalem, The Roman Period.” In New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land 2. Edited by E. Stern, 758–767. Jerusalem: Israel exploration Society/Carta, 1993.

    A good overview of the archaeological remains from the Roman period (from 70 CE to the beginning of the 4th century), known in Jerusalem up until the early 1990s.

  • Mazar, E. The Temple Mount Excavations in Jerusalem 1968–1978. Directed by Benjamin Mazar, Final Reports. Vol. 4, The Tenth Legion in Aelia Capitolina. Qedem 52. Jerusalem: Institute of Archaeology, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2011.

    A final report on the Roman remains (2nd and 3rd centuries CE), discovered in excavations in the 1970s, west of the Temple Mount in the Robinson Arch area. One volume of a series of monographs dedicated to the findings of the excavations.

  • Onn, A., and S. Weksler-Bdolah. “The Temple Mount at the time of Aelia Capitolina: New Evidence from the “Giant Viaduct.” In Roman Jerusalem: A New Old City. Edited by G. Avni and G. D. Stiebel, 83–96. Portsmouth, RI: Journal of Roman Archaeology, 2017.

    A description of the viaduct carrying the decumanus and the consequence for the function of the Temple Mount during the Roman period.

  • Reich, R. Excavating the City of David Where Jerusalem’s History Began. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 2011.

    The book reviews the history of archaeological research in the City of David from the end of the 19th century to the present and provides a brief overview of the history of the City of David. At the end of the book is a chronological table and a list of selected bibliography relevant to the City of David.

  • Tsafrir, Y. “The Topography and Archaeology of Aelia Capitolina.” In The History of Jerusalem, The Roman and Byzantine Periods (70–638 CE). Edited by Y. Tsafrir and S. Safrai, 115–166. Jerusalem: Carta, 1999.

    This comprehensive article reviews and discusses the history of Aelia Capitolina’s research, the archaeological remains and the layout of the Roman city, as known in the 1990s. Yoram Tsafrir maintains the traditional view that the Old City of Jerusalem preserves more or less the area of the Roman city and the army camp that was adjacent to it.

  • Tsafrir Y., and S. Safrai, eds. The History of Jerusalem, The Roman and Byzantine Periods (70–638 CE). Jerusalem: Carta, 1999.

    A seminal summary that includes important articles by leading scholars on various matters related to the history and archeology of Jerusalem during the Roman and Byzantine periods.

  • Vincent, L. H., and F. M. Abel. Jérusalem: Recherches de topographi, d’archeologie et d’histoire, II. Paris: Jérusalem nouvelle, 1914–1926.

    Detailed documentation of ancient monuments discovered while digging foundations for buildings in Jerusalem in the early 20th century. The book contains plans and drawings of the finds, as well as reconstructions, a comprehensive review of the literary sources and synthesis.

  • Warren, C., and C. R. Conder. 1884. The Survey of Western Palestine. Vol. 3, Jerusalem. London: Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund.

    The volume reviews, along with plans and illustrations, the various remains that were exposed and documented by the researchers of the Palestine Exploration Fund, throughout the Old City of Jerusalem in the late 19th century.

  • Weksler-Bdolah, S., and A. Onn. “Colonnaded Streets in Aelia Capitolina: New Evidence from the Eastern Cardo.” In Roman Jerusalem: A New Old City. Edited by G. Avni and G. D. Stiebel, 10–22. Portsmouth, RI: Journal of Roman Archaeology, 2017.

    A detailed summary of the excavation of the eastern Cardo.

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