The Book of Maccabees addresses the location of the Acra, stating: “And they built the City of David with a great and strong wall, and with strong towers, and made it a fortress [Greek: Acra] for them: And they placed there a sinful nation, wicked men, and they fortified themselves therein.”
Additionally, the historian Josephus Flavius wrote of the Arca in “Antiquities of the Jews.”
“...and when he had overthrown the city walls, he built a citadel [Greek: Acra] in the lower part of the city, for the place was high, and overlooked the temple; on which account he fortified it with high walls and towers, and put into it a garrison of Macedonians,” Flavius wrote.
At a Tuesday morning press conference outside the Old City Wall’s at the City of David’s Givati parking lot, where excavations have been conducted for over a decade, researchers said they have finally exposed evidence of the Acra citadel on the City of David hill.
Indeed, IAA excavation directors Dr. Doron Ben-Ami, Yana Tchekhanovets and Salome Cohen, said the discovery has afforded them the unprecedented opportunity to reconstruct the layout of the settlement in the city, on the eve of the Maccabean uprising in 167 BCE.
“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,” the archaeologists said in a joint statement.
“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 researchers unearthed a section of a massive wall, which they said served as the base of a large watchtower that was four meters wide and 20 meters high. Additionally, a defensive sloping embankment composed of layers of soil, stone and plaster, designed to keep attackers away from the base of the wall, was located adjacent to the wall.
“This embankment extended as far down as the bottom of the Tyropoeon – the valley that bisected the city in antiquity, and constituted an additional obstacle in the citadel’s defenses,” the researchers said.
“Lead sling shot stones, bronze arrowheads and ballista stones that were discovered at the site and stamped with a trident, which symbolized the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes, are the silent remains of battles that were waged there at the time of the Hasmoneans in their attempt to conquer the citadel which was viewed as a ‘thorn in the flesh’ of the city.”
According to historical sources, the stronghold was occupied by mercenaries, and Hellenized Jews documented great suffering that Jerusalem’s residents were exposed to at the hands of the Acra’s inhabitants.
“The fortification’s mighty defenses withstood all attempts at conquering it, and it was only in 141 BCE, after a prolonged siege and the starvation of the Greek garrison within the Acra, that Simon Maccabeus was able to force its surrender,” the archaeologists said.
“The numerous coins, ranging in date from the reign of Antiochus IV to that of Antiochus VII, and the large number of wine jars 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.”
The Elad Foundation, which operates the national park, is funding the extensive excavations, which have uncovered numerous artifacts from more than 10 different ancient cultures from Jerusalem’s history.