Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist Tehila Lieberman at the newly discovered Roman theater [Photo Source: The Temple Institute

1,700 Year-Old Roman Theater Discovered

Israeli archaeologists working in Jerusalem’s Old City on Monday announced a newly unearthed section of the Western Wall and the first Roman public structure ever discovered in the city, The Times of Israel reported. The archaeologists had been searching for the structure that they had presumed to be located near the Western Wall in Jerusalem for two years until they successfully exposed a massive eight-meter deep section of Jerusalem’s Western Wall, unseen for 1,700 years. This newly discovered section included an unexpected discovery – a small Roman theater.

The archaeologists dated the layers of their excavations via pottery typification and coin dating, as well as new high-tech carbon-14 techniques. The final results of the C14 tests will only be known in another few months, but, said Uziel, the theater “dates pretty solidly to the late Roman period.”

Archaeologist Joe Uziel said he and his colleagues knew the wall section was there and had expected to find a Roman street at its base.”But as we excavated and excavated we realized we weren’t getting to the street. Instead we have this circular building,” he told reporters at the underground site.

At a subterranean press conference Monday in the Western Wall tunnel complex, archaeologists Dr. Joe Uziel, Tehillah Lieberman and Dr. Avi Solomon spoke to reporters about the discovery of the Roman theater directly below Wilson’s Arch, near the Western Wall. Uziel discussed what he thought Roman influenced life in Jeruslaem must have looked like.

“The discovery of the theater-like structure is a real drama,” said Uziel.

“Now we saw there was leisure, entertainment under Wilson’s Arch,” said Lieberman, calling it an “unbelievable” discovery.

She said at this point it is unclear whether the structure served as an odeon (a small acoustic roofed theater) or a bouleuterion (a city council), or even perhaps both. As the stadium seating abuts the Western Wall, Lieberman noted that the backs of the audience would face the Temple Mount, perhaps hinting at the unimportance of the site to the Roman audience.

Work at the site is set to continue for another six months, and the expectation is that First Temple-era findings will be uncovered. When the work is completed, the site will be opened to the public.

First Excavations

In the 1860s, British surveyor and archaeologist Charles William Wilson was the first to seek such a theater in the vicinity of the Western Wall. The small 200- to 300-seat theater, whose existence is noted by Josephus Flavius and other ancient sources but which has eluded Jerusalem excavations for some 150 years, is the first rediscovered example of a Roman public building in Jerusalem, archaeologists said.

In 70 CE, the Second Temple was razed along with most of the Jewish settlement of Jerusalem. In its place, the Roman colony Aelia Capitolina was established and named after the Roman god Jupiter and the emperor Hadrian (also known as Aelius), who began reconstructing the city in 130 CE. Following the bloody Bar Kochba Revolt of circa 132–136 CE, Jews were banned from the capital aside from on Tisha B’Av, a day of mourning commemorating the destruction of the Temple.

Sought for 150 years, this remarkable discovery of the small Roman theater changes archaeologists’ perceptions of Roman-conquered Jerusalem after the fall of the Second Temple.

Organizations such as UNESCO try to distort the history about Israel and sever the Jewish ties to our homeland. Thankfully Israel’s supporters, such as the US and other nations stand with Israel and support her in her endeavors to preserve and to discover more of Israel’s rich history.