Is This Really the Akra?

Has the Akra been discovered? On Monday the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) circulated a press invitation to “A Solution to One of the Greatest Questions in the History of Jerusalem.” The location of the Hasmonean fortress of the Akra has long eluded archaeologists, but recent work in the Givati parking lot in the Central Valley below Dung Gate has uncovered a massive structure from this period.

The identification of this structure as the Akra fortress appears to be based on three items:

  • A “tower” that is 4 meters wide and 20 meters long
  • Artifacts which date to the mid-2nd century BC
  • Evidence of battle, including lead sling shots, bronze arrowheads, and ballista stones

Is this alone sufficient to identify this structure as the Akra? I think there’s an automatic suspicion because of the tendency of archaeologists to want to find something great, something that will get their name in the press, lead to invitations to speak, and bring in financial support. I think the burden of proof necessarily increases for any discovery that claims to solve a long-standing question. One might recall as well that it was in this very spot that this very same archaeologist claimed to have found the palace of Queen Helene of Adiabene. It’s not impossible that a palace was built on top of the remains of a fortress, but significant evidence is necessary to convince skeptics like me that the archaeologist isn’t simply tagging every big wall he finds with the most impressive label from the time period.

Is there another way to explain the arrowheads and ballista stones? It would seem that any fortification structure would be the target of attack. As far as the period goes, the Akra was standing in the 2nd century BC, but so were other fortifications. The Hasmoneans fought with the Seleucids for more than twenty years, but finding evidence of such warfare doesn’t mean that the excavated
structure must be the famous Akra.

There is yet another problem. Historical sources tell us that the Akra was built to protect the Temple Mount. The excavated building, however, is 120 meters south of Herod’s Temple Mount and down the slope at that. If they found the Akra, it is in the wrong place. Leen Ritmeyer explains this point in detail.

The archaeologists have found important remains that will fill in significant details in Jerusalem’s history. For that they are to be commended. But they must know that they will not be able to get away in making sensational claims that are not supported by the evidence.

You can read more about this discovery in the IAA press release as well as stories by the Times of Israel and the Jerusalem Post. Arutz-7 has a 2.5-minute interview with the archaeologist, Doron Ben-Ami. A scholarly published article in Hebrew is available at academia.edu. High-resolution photos and a video are temporarily available here.

HT: Joseph Lauer

Location of excavation compared to the Temple Mount

7 thoughts on “Is This Really the Akra?

  1. Todd – an additional point in their argument (I think) they also link these fortifications to Hellenistic fortifications in Area G – it seems that they don't have the northern or southern end of these fortifications to confirm that it was actually a rectangular or square-shaped fort, which would have blocked the southern part of the Lower City/Eastern Hill/City of David from the temple mount.

  2. if you look at the academic hebrew article, what they are claiming is that they have found one tower of the Akra, two sections of which were already discovered by Crowfoot/Fitzgerald and Macalister, so to argue for the great distance of their present dig with the temple is misplaced.

  3. Evidence found in the Septuagint (II Samuel 5:9): "And David dwelt in the hold, and it was called the city of David, and he built the city itself round about from the citadel (Gk. akpau Akra)." The writers of the Septuagint were totally familiar with Jerusalem in general and the hated Akra in particular. I Maccabees 1.33 states, "Then builded they the City of David with a great and strong wall, and with mighty towers, and made it a stronghold (Gk. akpau – Akra) for them." The Akra is also associated with the City of David in I Maccabees XIV. 36,37: "For in his time things prospered in his hands, so that the heathen were taken out of their country, and they also that were in the city of David in Jerusalem, who had made themselves a tower (Gk. akpau – Akra). The multitude of coins and stamped Rhodian handles of the Hellenstic period found in Shiloh's Areas D-G testify to the presence of the Seleucids in the City of David. The recent archaeological information beautifully parallels the written record, and to now deny that the Akra Stronghold was located in the City of David, to me, demonstrates a type of blindness.

  4. The best evidence for the Akra Fortress' presence in the City of David is the "Glacis." Yigal Shiloh described a glacis in Qedem 19: "In order to secure the base of the fortification in Area G, a thick glacis of earth and gravel was laid down. This glacis seems to have entirely sealed the base of the fortifications and covered up most of the stepped structure, which still stood to a considerable height." (1984, Yigal Shiloh, Qedem 19, Excavations in the City of David, p. 30).
    A glacis is described as part of the recent finds in the Givati parking lot excavations: "The glacis, which was next to the wall, is a defensive sloping embankment composed of layers of soil, stone and plaster, designed to keep attackers away from the base of the wall." (The City of David News).
    A glacis would not have been constructed within the Akra fortress, therefore, these discoveries define both the northern and eastern borders of the Akra fortress.

  5. Hello Todd,

    There are a couple of points I would like to highlight. The Septuagint is said to be written during the reign of Ptoleomy ll (283 to 246 BCE). It was written in Koine Greek for the Jews of Alexandria who did not speak Hebrew. Philo of Alexandria, (25 BCE – c. 50 CE), claimed that six scholars were selected from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, which would have been a great trick, because the 10 tribes of the Kingdom of Israel were deported by the Neo-Assyrian empire circa 722 BCE & replaced with peoples from other parts of the empire, who then promptly converted to Judaism, becoming the Samaritans after Samaria.

    The Acra was built by Antiochus lV Epiphanes, ruler of the Seleucid Empire, following his sack of Jerusalem in 168 BCE, so the 72 translators would not have been alive to be familiar with that particular fortress. In addition, King David's citadel or tower near the Jaffa Gate would be Hasmonean at the earliest date.

    So that leaves a problem. However tall the Acra was built, it would not have been taller than the summit of Mount Moriah even if that summit had been at a lower height, before Herod the Great started his building programmes. However, the Acra would have been tall enough to overlook the walls of the City of David. If you apply military logic, then it makes sense to defend your greatest treasures by locating them within a stronghold. That is what was done with churches in Britain & Europe.

    To my mind, the Israelites would built all their important edifices, including their two Temples on the Ophel, not on Mount Moriah where their enemies who surrounded them, could have seized the treasures with comparative ease. Thus, the position & height of the Acra were such that it would have enabled its Macedonian troops to threaten the inhabitants of the City of David very effectively. IMO, it was satisfactory for its intended purpose, because there was nothing of interest on Mount Moriah at that time.

    Here is a idea to consider. Herod built a fortress to house some 8500 Romans soldiers, auxiliaries & their servants. The Romans needed much more space for their garrison than the site presently identified as the "Antonia" would have provided. Where else to build such a facility, but on a scarcely unused, elevated piece of real estate, that could be levelled & surrounded with walls?

    Jerusalem did not expand much beyond the City of David for centuries. Situated between Egypt & Mesopotamia, the Israelites were just collateral damage whenever the armies of the greater powers marched through Palestine. The Romans razed the the City of David to the ground in 70 BCE. Hadrian founded a colony away from the Eastern Ridge as Aelia Capitolina in 130 BCE: so it remained until 638 BCE, when it was conquered by the Arabs.

    I have not posted these comments in order to offend. I only offer alternative explanations for debate. Sometimes it is simpler to knock the axle out of a wheel, than knock the wheel off the axle.

    With sincere regards,


  6. "It is important to make a distinction between the Lower City that was built like a fortress (akra) and the separate citadel or fortress itself that was called the Akra" (Leen Ritmeyer). "…This is made abundantly clear in the Book of Maccabees, where it is recorded that Jonathan 'decided …to erect a high barrier (wall) between the Akra and the city, to separate it from the city and isolate it' (1 Macc 12:36)."
    The "high barrier" was erected between the Upper City and the Lower City. It separated the "sinful nation and wicked men" from the Jewish population. Jonathan did not separate the "Lower City that was built like a fortress (akra)" from the "fortress itself that was called the Akra." There was only one Akra, and it extended from the Fountain Gate in the south, to the area of the Temple Mount in the north.

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