Three intact cooking pots and a small ceramic oil lamp have provided Israeli archaeologists with the first evidence for the famine and terror that spread throughout Jerusalem during the Roman siege nearly 2,000 years ago.
The items belonged to Jewish residents who took shelter in the underground water channel. They were found in a cistern near the Western Wall, not far from Robinson’s Arch in the Jerusalem Archaeological Park.
According to Eli Shukron, excavation director at the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), people went down into the cistern to secretly eat the food that was contained in the pots, hiding from the Roman soldiers and the Jewish rebels who would have tried to take away the frugal meal.
“This is the first time we are able to connect archaeological finds with the famine that occurred during the siege of Jerusalem at the time of the Great Revolt,” Shukron said in a statement.
Beginning in 66 A.D., the Great Revolt was the first of several Jewish rebellions against the Roman rule.
Despite remarkable resistance, the Jewish people were ultimately crushed. In 70 A.D., the Romans under Titus sacked the city and destroyed the second Temple, which, according to Jewish tradition, was built by King Herod the Great on the site of King Solomon’s temple. This was razed by the Babylonians around 587 B.C.
The Romans plundered tons of gold, silver trumpets and gold candelabra from Herod’s magnificent white and gold temple. Then they paraded the treasure, which also helped finance the building of the Colosseum, through the streets of Rome in triumph.
The new finding, said Shukrun, matches the vivid account of the historian Titus Flavius Josephus (37 – about 100). He reported the dramatic events and widespread starvation in Jerusalem, claiming that 1,100,000 people, mainly Jewish, were killed during the siege.
In his dramatic description of the famine, the historian recounted that Jewish rebels sought food in the homes of their fellow Jews. They concealed and ate whatever they had in hidden places in their homes.
“For as nowhere was there corn to be seen, men broke into the houses and ransacked them,” Josephus wrote in his book “The Jewish War.”
“If they found some, they maltreated the occupants for saying there was none; if they did not, they suspected them of having hidden it more carefully and tortured them,” he added.
Josephus wrote that many starving Jews would barter their possessions for small quantities of food — “one measure of corn-wheat if they happened to be rich, barley if they were poor.”
“They shut themselves up in the darkest corners of their houses, where some, through extreme hunger, ate their grain as it was; others made bread, necessity and fear being their only guides. Nowhere was a table laid.”
The artifacts will go on display during a July 4 conference on the City of David, organized by the Megalim Institute.
Image: The cooking pots and the oil lamp found in the cistern. Credit: Vladimir Naykhin/IAA