In Jewish history the emperor Hadrian plays a major role. Born in Italy in 76 AD, Publius Aelius Hadrianus was a relative of the Emperor Trajan, and as a Roman noble, he received a good education, entering the army as an officer. Besides his successful military campaign, he had a great passion for Greek culture. In 111 CE he was appointed as archon (head) of Athens, and he successfully managed to combine business and pleasure.
With the death of Trajan at the Parthian frontier, Hadrian was proclaimed emperor by his troops. He initiated a major change in Roman foreign policy. The Roman militant imperialistic approach of perpetual expansion was replaced with a cultural expansion. Hadrian ordered the construction of various public buildings, religious and secular alike.
Hadrian also traveled throughout his empire, taking a personal interest in the development of the provinces. He visited Britain (where he ordered the construction of “Hadrian’s Wall”), Gaul, Spain, Mauritania, the Balkans, Syria, Sicily, and north Africa.
During his visit to Judea and Egypt he announced the building of a pagan temple on the ruins of the Temple Mount, and forbad Jews to practice their religion. This declaration provoked the Jews to rebel against the Romans. Led by Shimon Bar-Kokhba, the resulting war is known as the “Bar-Kokhba rebellion”. Although Bar-Kokhba won in some battles, the revolt ended with violent suppression by the Roman troops, ending Jewish independence in the land of Israel until modern times.
Recently new evidence has been found in connection with Hadrian’s imperial tour of this land.
In the 1970’s a beautiful bronze head of Hadrian was found by chance at a site called “Tel Shalem” in the Beth-Shean valley. Hadrian passed through this valley on his way from Gerasa (now known as Jerash) to Beth-Shean. The statue was probably carried by the army legions and placed in the centre of their camp. A photo of this statue is the cover of this issue of Diggings.
New evidence, found at Hezir, a site between Tel Shalem and Beth Shean, adds further information about Hadrian’s imperial tour in this region. While digging a Byzantine tomb at Hezir, Hebrew University professor G. Foerster noticed that some of the slabs covering the burials were engraved with Latin letters. Attempting to reassemble all the written slabs, Foerster managed to reconstruct only about 20% of the inscription, but since Roman Imperial inscriptions are usually written in formulas, a reasonable reconstruction is possible. The opening line: .IMP.CAES.DIVI.TRAIANI. clearly shows that it is another building initiation of Hadrian.
The original location of the slabs remains a mystery. Perhaps they were embedded in a triumphal arch that marked the southern entrance to Beth-Shean. Hadrian built such a triumphal arch at the southern entrance to Gerasa, and it can be seen to this day.
DESTRUCTION AT THE TEMPLE MOUNT CONTINUES
In my last report I protested against the destructive renovation that the religious Muslim party (Waqf) is doing at the Temple Mount of Jerusalem. Despite reports, photos and protests from the archaeological community, the destruction continues. Recent aerial pictures of the eastern part of the Temple Mount shows clearly that huge new underground vaults have being exposed by the Waqf. Reports of trucks loaded with debris leaving the Temple Mount further testify to the amount of debris cleared from that area. This “debris” may have been floor levels of ancient structures, or artifacts connected to the nature of the site in antiquity. The Temple Mountwas the location of a major crusader order (the Templars), early Muslim structures, a Roman temple, and two Jewish temples. All of this potential information is now lost because no archaeological documentation is done during the Waqf’s renovations. Again I call for people of all religions and nationalities to protest against destruction of one of the most important historical sites. If you care, you may add your name to the protest list at https://www.har-habayt.org