Emperor Hadrian inscription uncovered in Jerusalem

The Israel Antiquities Authority announced Tuesday the discovery earlier this month of a partial inscription bearing the name and titles of the Roman Emperor Hadrian (A.D. 117-135). The English translation of the Latin inscription reads,

(1st hand) To the Imperator Caesar Traianus Hadrianus Augustus, son of the deified Traianus Parthicus, grandson of the deified Nerva, high priest, invested with tribunician power for the 14th time, consul for the third time, father of the country (dedicated by) the 10th legion Fretensis (2nd hand) Antoniniana.

Inscription bearing name and titles of Hadrian is displayed in front of the Rockefeller Museum, headquarters of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Jerusalem. Photo by Yoli Shwartz, courtesy IAA.

Inscription bearing name and titles of Hadrian is displayed in front of the Rockefeller Museum, headquarters of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Jerusalem. Photo by Yoli Shwartz, courtesy IAA.

The discovery was made north of Damascus Gate during a salvage operation. Dr. Rina Avner and Roie Greenwald were the excavation directors. IAA experts discovered that this inscription was part of an inscription already known from a discovery by French archaeologist Charles Clermont-Ganneau (1846-1923) in the late 19th century. That inscription is displayed in the courtyard of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum Museum.

Part of the Hadrian inscription discovered in the late 19th century by Clermont Ganneau, now located in Studium Biblicum Franciscanum Museum. Photo by Garo Nalbandian, courtesy of the Museum.

Part of the Hadrianic inscription discovered in the late 19th century by Clermont-Ganneau, now located in Studium Biblicum Franciscanum Museum. Photo by Garo Nalbandian, courtesy of the Museum.

The IAA Press Release says,

The events of the Bar Kokhba revolt are ascribed to the reign of the emperor Hadrian. He is remembered in Jewish history for having issued dictates imposing the persecution and forced conversions of Jews, which the sources referred to as the ‘Hadrianic decrees’.

The history of the Bar Kokhba revolt is known from, among other things, the works of the contemporary Roman historian Cassius Dio, who also mentions Hadrian’s visit to Jerusalem in the year 129/130 CE, within the framework of the emperor’s travels in the eastern empire. These travels are also documented on coins issued in honor of the occasion and in inscriptions specifically engraved prior to his arrival in different cities. This is apparently exactly what happened in Jerusalem.

The completion of the two parts of the text reveals an especially large inscription that is quite impressive. According to Dr. Abner, “The inscription itself might have set in the top of a free-standing triumphal arch on the city’s northern boundary such the Arch of Titus in Rome.”

The fate of Jerusalem following the destruction of the Second Temple (70 CE) and prior to the Bar Kokhba revolt (132-136 AD) is one of the major issues in the history of the city and in terms of the Jewish people’s connection to it.

We know from ancient writers and the inscriptions on coins that the new city, which Hadrian established, was granted the status of ‘colonia’ (that is, a city whose citizens and gods are Roman) and its name was changed to Aelia Capitolina (COLONIA AELIA CAPITOLINA in Latin). That name incorporates within it the emperor’s name that is in the inscription, whose full name is Publius Aelius Hadrianus, and Rome’s main family of dieties [sic, deities].

The complete English Press Release is available here.

I read this first in the The Times of Israel, but soon found that it was discussed widely on several blogs. Todd Bolen has included several additional links at Bible Places Blog here.

We have written about other Hadrianic arches in Athens, Antalya (Attalia), and Jerash. A recent series on the Tenth Roman Legion is available here.

6 responses to “Emperor Hadrian inscription uncovered in Jerusalem

  1. Pingback: Index of articles – the Romans and the ministry of Jesus | Ferrell's Travel Blog

  2. In response to a query from me, one of my Dominican friends at the Ecole Biblique writes:

    “Yes, there have been massive works on our street, Nablus Road. Apparently the lower part between The Garden Tomb and Suleiman the Magnificent Str. is already finished. There were some deep ditches with some visible remains of building and constructions. I do not know anything about any results of these excavations.

    “As for a “shopping centre”, they may be thinking about a number of small stands/booths that are supposed to appear on the lower Nablus Road when the works are finished. At least this is what I can guess from the poor visualisations on the construction project boards set up on the street.”

  3. I will try asking someone at the Ecole — a few years ago there was a redevelopment project on the drawing board for that stretch of lower Nablus Road. Also, I checked Clermont-Ganneau’s Archaeological Researches but find no mention of the partial inscription.

  4. Tom, I wondered the same thing. The news release did not specific the location, but did say work was being done to build a shopping center. I wondered if it could be across the street from the Ecole Biblique. Let me add that this is just a guess. Thanks for the tips about the monumental Roman structure.

  5. Very interesting — thanks for sharing this!

    Does anyone have more precise information on where this find was made, what the other “areas north of Damascus Gate” are where IAA salvage excavations have taken place, or where the matching fragment was found by Clermont-Ganneau?

    There are actually several pieces of evidence that point to a monumental Roman structure north of Damascus Gate, including: several huge column fragments (and one base) — way too big for any church — that lie within the St. Stephen’s/Ecole Biblique compound; a matching column base next door at the Garden Tomb; and another massive column fragment found just a few years ago (again, next door) on the grounds of the Schmidt School.

    TOM POWERS / Waynesville, NC

  6. Fascinating discovery. Thanks for sharing.
    – Nick C.

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