In the latter part of the 19th century sections of an ancient wall were exposed in the north and west beneath the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, around the south of Mount Zion, and along the eastern part of the Ophel. The course of the wall suggests that this is the city wall that surrounded Jerusalem as depicted on the Madaba Map from the Byzantine period. The remarkable similarity of the construction method and the time when the various sections of the city wall were built substantiates the proposal put forth in the past which identifies them as parts of a single large perimeter city wall that was actually built at one time around Jerusalem and Mount Zion during the Byzantine period. According to this proposal, the Roman Aelia Capitolina was never fortified, whereas a wall was first built along an extensive perimeter around parts of the city in the Byzantine period. The construction of the city wall was connected therefore to the significant rise in the status, importance and size of the city after it became Christian and in my opinion occurred around the year 400 CE, between the end of the 4th century and the middle of the 5th century, after the Christianization of the city was completed.
On the other hand, until now scholars believed there are two main construction phases to Jerusalem’s Byzantine city walls: the first phase in which a wall was built around the Roman city along a line similar to that of the current Old City. According to that opinion the construction of the city wall was started circa 300 CE and came in lieu of the removal of the city’s protection following the departure of the Tenth Legion. Afterwards, the city wall was extended toward the south for the purpose of including Mount Zion, probably by the Empress Eudocia in the 5th century. The main drawback with this proposal is the line of the southern wall of the Aelia Capitolina, lying along the line of the southern city wall of today’s Old City where no archaeological evidence of it was discovered.
In the lecture, I will review the sections of the Roman-Byzantine wall around the city, going counterclockwise, from the northeastern corner. Afterwards, I will discuss the period when the wall was presumed to have been built and the uses of the wall as derived from the archaeological data and the historical sources. Additional aspects will be discussed such as the wide perimeter of the wall, its meticulous construction style, the extensive and selective secondary use made of ancient building materials from the Second Temple period, possible financial sources for its construction and a comparison with the fortifications of other cities, which allows us to examine the city wall from the historical context of the 4th and 5th centuries. Based on all of this I suggest defining the city wall as a monumental urban structure that was built between the latter part of the 4th century, at the very earliest, and the middle of the 5th century, and in addition to its defensive function it was intended to impress those that arrived at its gates and flaunt the municipal prosperity of Jerusalem at the time of its construction.