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Acra (fortress)

The Acra or Akra (Hebrew: ‫ חקרא‬or ‫חקרה‬, Ancient Greek: Ἄκρα) was a fortified
The Acra
compound in Jerusalem built by Antiochus Epiphanes, ruler of the Seleucid Empire,
following his sack of the city in 168 BCE. The fortress played a significant role in
the events surrounding the Maccabean Revolt and the formation of the Hasmonean
Kingdom. It was destroyed by Simon Maccabeus during this struggle.

The exact location of the Acra, critical to understanding Hellenistic Jerusalem, had
been a matter of lengthy discussions. Historians and archaeologists had proposed
various sites around Jerusalem, relying mainly on conclusions drawn from literary
evidence. This approach began to change in the light of excavations which
commenced in the late 1960s. New discoveries had prompted reassessments of the The Givati parking lot dig and
ancient literary sources, Jerusalem's geography and previously discovered artifacts. proposed remnants of the Acra.
Yoram Tsafrir had interpreted a masonry joint in the southeastern corner of the Alternate name Aκρα or ‫חקרא‬
Temple Mount platform as a clue to the Acra's possible position. During Benjamin
Location Jerusalem
Mazar's 1968 and 1978 excavations adjacent to the south wall of the Mount, features
were uncovered which may have been connected with the Acra, including barrack- Coordinates 31°46′28.37″N
like rooms and a huge cistern. In November 2015 the Israel Antiquities Authority 35°14′6.94″E
announced the likely discovery of the Acra in a different location, south-west of the Type Fortress
Temple Mount and north-west of theCity of David. History

The Ancient Greek term acra was used to describe other fortified structures during Builder Antiochus
the Hellenistic period. The Acra is often called the Seleucid Acra to distinguish it Epiphanes
from references to the Ptolemaic Baris as an acra and from the later quarter in Material Stone
Jerusalem which inherited the name Acra. Founded 2nd century
BCE
Abandoned 2nd century
BCE
Contents
Periods Hellenistic
History
Background
Site notes
Construction Excavation dates 1960s, 70s,
Destruction 2010s
Location Archaeologists Benjamin Mazar
Western hill
(for Ophel
North of the Temple
location).
A fortified compound in the City of David
Doron Ben-Ami,
A citadel nevertheless
Yana
2015 discovery
Tchekhanovets,
Bibliography
Salome Cohen
Footnotes
(for Givati
References
parking lot
location)
Condition Ruined
History
Public access Yes
Background
Following Alexander the Great's death in 323 BCE, Judea was contested between the Ptolemaic Kingdom in Egypt, and the Seleucid
Empire based in Syria and Mesopotamia. Seleucid emperor Antiochus III's victory over Egypt in the Battle of Panium brought Judea
under Seleucid control. The Jewish population of Jerusalem had aided Antiochus during his siege of the Baris, the fortified base of
Jerusalem's Egyptian garrison.[1] Their support was rewarded with a charter affirming Jewish religious autonomy, including barring
foreigners and impure animals from theTemple's precincts, and an allocation of official funds for the maintenance of certain religious
rituals in the Temple.[2] Despite being allowed religious freedom, many Jews were enticed by and adopted elements of the prestigious
and influential Greek lifestyle. The imperial culture offered a route to political and material advancement, and this led to the
formation of Hellenistic elites among the Jewish population. Hellenization produced tensions between observant Jews and their
brethren who had assimilated Greek culture.[3]

Antiochus IV Epiphanes ascended the Seleucid throne in 175 BCE. Shortly afterward,
Epiphanes was petitioned by Jason for appointment to the position of High Priest of Israel—
an office occupied by his brother Onias III. Jason, himself thoroughly Hellenized, furthermore
promised to increase the tribute paid by the city and to establish within it the infrastructure of
a Greek Polis, including a gymnasium and an ephebion.[4] Jason's petition was granted, yet
after a 42-month rule he was ousted by Antiochus and forced to flee to Ammon.[5][6] In the
meantime, Antiochus IV had launched two invasions of Egypt, in 170 BCE and again in
169 BCE, and routed the Ptolemaic armies.[7][8][9] Antiochus' victories were short-lived. His
intent to unify the Seleucid and Ptolemaic kingdoms alarmed the rapidly expanding Roman
[9][10] With Antiochus engaged
state, which demanded that he withdraw his forces from Egypt.
in Egypt, a false rumor spread in Jerusalem that he had been killed. In the ensuing uncertainty,
Jason gathered a force of 1,000 followers and attempted to take Jerusalem by storm. Although
the attack was repulsed, when word of the fighting reached Antiochus in Egypt, he suspected
his Judean subjects of exploiting his setback as an opportunity to revolt. In 168 BCE,
Antiochus IV Epiphanes marched on and sacked Jerusalem, looting the temple treasury and
killing thousands of its residents.[11][12][13] Reversing his father's policy, Antiochus IV issued Antonio Ciseri's Martyrdom
of the Maccabees (1863),
decrees outlawing traditional Jewish rites and persecuting observant Jews. emple
T rituals were
depicting an episode from
discontinued, Jewish observance ofSabbath prohibited, and circumcision outlawed.[14][15]
Antiochus IV's (seated)
persecution of the Jews.

Construction
To consolidate his hold on the city, monitor events on the Temple Mount and safeguard the Hellenized faction in Jerusalem,
[16][17]
Antiochus stationed a Seleucid garrison in the city:

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: and they
stored up armour, and victuals, and gathered together the spoils of Jerusalem; And laid them up there: and they
became a great snare. And this was a place to lie in wait against the sanctuary
, and an evil devil in Israel.

— 1 Maccabees 1:35–38.[18]

The name Acra derived from the Greek acropolis and signified a lofty fortified place overlooking a town. In Jerusalem, the word
came to symbolize anti-Jewish paganism: a fortress of the "impious and wicked".[17] Dominating both the city and the surrounding
[19]
countryside, it was occupied not only by a Greek garrison but by their Jewish confederates as well.

The Seleucid suppression of Jewish religious life met with considerable resistance among the native population. While Antiochus
was occupied in the east during 167 BCE, a rural priest, Mattathias of Modiin, raised a rebellion against the empire.[20] Both the
Seleucid administration and the local Hellenized faction failed to grasp the magnitude of the revolt. In 164 BCE Judas Maccabaeus
liberated Jerusalem and reconsecrated the Temple. Although the surrounding city had fallen, the Acra and its inhabitants held out.
Maccabaeus besieged the fortress, whose inhabitants sent an appeal to the Seleucid king (now Antiochus V) for assistance. A
Seleucid army was dispatched to put down the revolt. When it laid siege to Beth-Zur, Maccabaeus was forced to abandon his siege of
the Acra and face Antiochus in battle. In the subsequent Battle of Beth-Zechariah, the Seleucids won their first victory over the
Maccabees, and Maccabaeus was forced to withdraw.[21] Spared from capitulation, the Acra persisted as a Seleucid stronghold for 20
more years during which it weathered severalHasmonean attempts to oust the Greek garrison.[17][22]

Destruction
Judas was killed in 160 BCE and succeeded by his brother Jonathan, who attempted
to build a barrier to cut off the Acra's supply line.[23] Jonathan had already
assembled the manpower required for the task when he was forced to confront the
invading army of Seleucid general Diodotus Tryphon at Beth Shan
(Scythopolis).[24][25] Having invited Jonathan to a friendly conference, Tryphon had
him seized and murdered.[26] Jonathan was succeeded by another brother, Simon,
[27]
who besieged and finally captured the Acra in 141 BCE.

Two sources provide information about the ultimate fate of the Acra, although their Judas besieging the Acra (Alba
accounts are contradictory in places. According to Josephus, Simon razed the Acra Bible, 1430)
after ousting its inhabitants, and then quarried the hill on which it had stood to
render it lower than the temple, purge the city of its evil memory and deny it to any
future occupier of Jerusalem.[28] The account appearing in1 Maccabees paints a different picture:

And Simon decreed that every year they should celebrate this day with rejoicing. He strengthened the fortifications of
the temple hill alongside the citadel [Greek:Acra], and he and his men dwelt there.

— 1 Maccabees 13:52.[29]

Thus in this version, Simon did not immediately demolish the Acra, but instead had it occupied and may even have resided within it
himself. 1 Maccabees does not mention its ultimate fate. The fortress had been built as an internal checkpoint to monitor and control
Jerusalem and its population. If situated in the City of David as most scholars agree, its location would have added very little to
Jerusalem's defenses against external threats. It may have fallen out of use and been dismantled around the end of the 2nd century
.[23]
BCE following the construction of theHasmonean Baris and Hasmonean Palace in Jerusalem's upper city

Bezalel Bar-Kochva offers a different theory: The Acra was still standing in 139 BCE when Antiochus VII Sidetes demanded it back
from Simon, along with Jaffa and Gezer, two Hellenized cities Simon had captured.[30][31] Simon was willing to discuss the two
cities but made no mention of the Acra.[32] It was at this point that he must have sealed its fate, as a way to deny the Seleucids any
future claim or hold on Jerusalem. Thus, when Antiochus VII subdued the city during Hyrcanus I's reign, each and every one of his
demands were met—except the one demanding the stationing of a Seleucid garrison in the city.[33] Hyrcanus may have been able to
reject, and Antiochus to drop, this demand because there was nowhere to billet the garrison, as the Acra would no longer have been
[34][35]
standing. This explanation places the razing of the Acra somewhere in the 130s BCE.

Location
The location of the Acra is important for understanding how events unfolded in Jerusalem during the struggle between Maccabean
and Seleucid forces.[16][23] This has been the subject of debate among modern scholars.[36] The most detailed ancient description of
the nature and location of the Acra is found in Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews, where it is described as residing in the Lower City,
upon a hill overlooking the Temple enclosure:

...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.
However, in that citadel dwelt the impious and wicked part of the
multitude, from whom it proved that the citizens suffered many and
sore calamities.

— Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews


12:252–253[37]

The location of the "lower part of the city", elsewhere referred to as the "Lower
City", at the time of Josephus (1st century CE) is accepted to be Jerusalem's south-
eastern hill, the original urban center traditionally known as theCity of David. Lying
to the south of the Temple Mount, however, the area exposed today is significantly
lower than the Mount itself. The top of the Mount is approximately 30 metres (98 ft)
above the ground level at the southern retaining wall of the later Herodian-era
expansion of the Temple enclosure. The elevation decreases to the south of this
point.[17] Josephus, a native of Jerusalem,[38] would have been well aware of this
discrepancy, yet is nevertheless able to explain it away by describing how Simon had
1903 map of Jerusalem, identifying
razed both the Acra and the hill on which it had stood. Archaeological research
the Acra with the entire south eastern
south of the Temple Mount, however, has failed to locate any evidence for such large hill.
scale quarrying.[17] On the contrary, excavations in the region have uncovered
substantial evidence of habitation from the beginning of the first millennium BCE
down to Roman times,[39] casting doubt on the suggestion that during Hellenistic times the area was significantly higher than it was
at the time of Josephus or that a large hill had been cleared away.[34] This had led many researchers to disregard Josephus' account
and his placing of the Acra, and suggest several alternate locations.[19] Since 1841, when Edward Robinson proposed the area near
the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as the site of the Acra, at least nine different locations in and around the Old City of Jerusalem
have been put forward.[40][41]

Western hill
Several researchers have attempted to place the Acra in the Upper City on Jerusalem's western hill, within the area currently occupied
by the Old City's Jewish Quarter.[34][40][42] These propositions seek to locate the Acra within Antiochia, the Hellenistic polis
established in Jerusalem according to 2 Maccabees. This conjectural new city would have been hippodamic in plan and therefore
would have required a flat expanse of land which only the western hill could have provided.[40] Furthermore, the eastern edge of the
leucid citadel.[42]
hill is adjacent to the Temple Mount and higher in altitude—two characteristics attributed to the Se

Opponents of this proposed location point out that there is very little archaeological or historical evidence supporting the
establishment of a Hellenistic polis within Jerusalem, let alone sited on the western hill which appears to have been only sparsely
populated during the Hellenistic period. Excavations in today's Jewish Quarter display evidence of habitation from the First Temple
Period, as well as renewed Hasmonean and Herodian settlement, but scant evidence of Hellenistic occupation.[16][40] Research into
the dispersal of stamped Rhodian amphorae handles has revealed that over 95% of these handles found in Jerusalem were excavated
from the City of David, indicating the city had not yet expanded to the western hill during Seleucid rule.[43] Furthermore, the western
hill is separated from the Temple Mount and the City of David by the steep Tyropoeon Valley—a distinct tactical disadvantage for
any force that may have been required to intervene in events within the temple precincts or heavily populated eastern sectors of
Jerusalem.[42]

North of the Temple


The Acra was not the first Hellenistic stronghold in Jerusalem. Sources indicate that an earlier citadel, the Ptolemaic Baris, had also
occupied a location overlooking the Temple's precincts. Although the exact location of the Baris is still debated, it is generally
accepted to have stood north of the Temple Mount on the site later occupied by the Antonia Fortress.[17] The Baris fell to
Antiochus III at the turn of the 2nd century BCE and is absent from all accounts of the Maccabean Revolt.[34] Despite the narratives
which have the Acra constructed within a very short time-span, it was nevertheless formidable enough to weather long periods of
siege. These factors, coupled with references in which the Baris was itself called an acra,[1] have led some to suggest that the Baris
and the Acra were in fact the same structure. Although both 1 Maccabees and Josephus seem to describe the Acra as a new
construction, this may not have been the case. Antiquities of the Jews 12:253 may be translated to give the sense that the "impious or
wicked" had "remained" rather than "dwelt" in the citadel, which could be taken to mean that the Acra had been standing before the
.[41][44]
revolt and that only the Macedonian garrison was new

Koen Decoster proposes that Josephus wrote of "a citadel in the lower part of the city" to an audience that would have been familiar
with the Jerusalem of the 1st century CE—a city that did feature two citadels: the Antonia Fortress and the Herodian palace. As
Josephus' Roman Jerusalem had already expanded to the higher western hill, "a citadel in the lower city" could have referred to
anything located east of the Tyropoeon Valley, including the Antonia which stood north of the Temple and did indeed rise above and
[45]
dominate it. In his view, this is the place Josephus must have had in mind when he wrote of the Acra.

Opponents of a northern location counter that this site is not supported by the historical sources, and that this would place the Acra
away from Jerusalem's population center. Unlike its predecessor and successor citadels, it was not meant as a defence against external
threat, but rather to oversee the inhabited Jewish parts of the city [34]
, a role incompatible with a proposed northern location.

A fortified compound in the City of David


The available sources do indicate the Acra stood south of the temple, and because 1 Maccabees is a contemporaneous account of the
Maccabean revolt, its account of the Acra (1:35–38) is considered the most reliable.[17] Josephus provides an unlikely account of the
razing of a hill on which the Acra had stood, yet his description of the end of the Great Revolt (70 CE) provides additional evidence
for it being located south of the Temple Mount:

...but on the next day they set fire to the repository of the archives, to Acra, to the council-house, and to the place
called Ophlas; at which time the fire proceeded as far as the palace of queen Helena, which was in the middle of
Acra;

— Flavius Josephus, The Wars of the Jews 6:354[46]

As the other buildings mentioned in the account all stood to the south in the Lower City, this also places the Acra there. This account
attests to the persistence of the name "Acra" in this part of Jerusalem many years after Hellenistic rule ended and its citadels had been
overthrown, and it can also be seen as referring not to a distinct building but rather to an entire region of the city. Indeed, several
[47]
clauses in 1 Maccabees may be read as making a similar point:

About five hundred men of the army ofNicanor fell, and the rest fled into the city of David.

— 1 Maccabees 7:32.[48]

And in his days things prospered in his hands, so that the Gentiles were put out of the country
, as were also the men in
the city of David in Jerusalem, who had built themselves a citadel [Greek: Acra] from which they used to sally forth
and defile the environs of the sanctuary and do great damage to its purity
.

— 1 Maccabees 14:36.[49]

These suggest that, after the sacking of Jerusalem by Antiochus IV in 168 BCE, at least part of the City of David to the south of the
Temple Mount was rebuilt as a fortified Hellenistic quarter of Jerusalem.[17] More than a citadel, it was a Macedonian colony where
Jewish renegades and supporters of the new regime lived.[23] This is also supported by archaeological evidence, including Rhodian
amphorae handles and 18 box graves found on the eastern slope of the City of David. The latter are dated to the early 2nd century
CE, and are uncharacteristic of Second Temple era Jewish burial practices, yet similar to other known Hellenistic graveyards such as
the one in Acre (Ptolemais).[41][50][51]

A citadel nevertheless
Even if the name "Acra" were applied to an entire Hellenistic quarter rather than to just a fortress, it is likely that a citadel would have
stood within that compound to billet the Macedonian garrison which occupied it.[34] It was normal for a Hellenistic city to have a
fortified stronghold at or near the highest point of its walled area.[19] Thus, whether a part of a larger enclave or independent of its
surroundings, a citadel probably did stand at the northern tip of the City of David just south of the Temple Mount. Archaeologists
have tried to use finds from excavations conducted in the area to pinpoint this citadel's precise location.

Yoram Tsafrir has attempted to place the Acra underneath the southeastern corner of the Temple Mount enclosure.[40][41][52] Tsafrir
points to a straight vertical seam in the enclosure's eastern masonry wall as evidence of different periods of construction. North of the
seam is an early section of the wall built of large ashlar blocks. These blocks have faces with drafted margins[16] around a prominent
boss and are laid in homogeneous header and stretcher courses, one above the other.[53] This style of construction is Hellenistic and
distinct from the Herodian construction apparent south of the seam. Although the exact dating of this construction in uncertain,
Tsafrir believes it is a remnant of the Acra's foundations which were later incorporated into
Herod the Great's extension of the Temple
platform.[23][40][53] As further proof, Tzafrir also points to significant similarity between construction methods evident north of the
seam, including the use of trapezoid-shaped stones, with the methods employed in the Seleucid city of Perga in Asia Minor. 1
Macabees 1:30 attributes construction of the Acra to Apollonius, Antiochus III's "chief collector" (Hebrew: ‫המיסים‬-‫שר‬, Sar
Hamissim), which appears to be an ancient mistranslation or his original title as chief (Hebrew: ‫שר‬, Sar) of the Mysians, a people of
Asia Minor.[40][53]

Meir Ben-Dov believed that the Acra stood just south of the Huldah Gates of the southern wall of the Herodian Temple Mount
platform. Benjamin Mazar's excavations of the Ophel, the area adjoining the southern portion of the platform, have unearthed the
foundations of a massive structure and a large cistern, both possibly dating to the Hellenistic period. These have been tentatively
identified as remnants of the Acra, with the structure, featuring rows of small interconnected rooms, believed to be the remains of a
barracks. These had been demolished and built over during the Hasmonean period, matching the descriptions in Josephus. The
Hasmonean constructions were, in turn, flattened to create a public square fronting the main gates to the Temple platform during the
Herodian renovations.[54][55]

Several cisterns under the Temple Mount itself have also been proposed as possible remnants of the Seleucid citadel. These include a
700,000 imperial gallons (3,200,000 l; 840,000 US gal) cistern shaped like an E, the northern edge of which is adjacent to the
proposed southern line of the Temple Mount precinct before its Herodian expansion.[56] This has been identified as the "be'er haqar"
or "bor heqer" mentioned in the Mishnah, Erubin Tract 10.14,[57] and commonly translated, perhaps incorrectly, as the "cold
well".[58]

Additional evidence for the existence of the Acra may come from the chance discovery, published by Shimon Appelbaum, of a
fragmentary Greek inscription in the Old City of Jerusalem. The inscription is a fragment from the top of a sandstone stele and
contains what may be an oath taken by soldiers stationed in the Acra, although the reading of the name "Acra" in the text has been
contested.[16][59]

2015 discovery
In November 2015 the Israel Antiquities Authority announced the probable discovery of the Acra. According to archaeologists Doron
Ben-Ami, Yana Tchekhanovets and Salome Cohen, excavating the Givati parking lot adjacent to the City of David, they had
unearthed a complex of rooms and fortified walls they identified as the Acra. This places it slightly south of previous suggested
locations on the Ophel. Finds include fortification walls, a watchtower measuring 4 by 20 meters, and a glacis. Bronze arrowheads,
lead sling-stones and ballista stones were unearthed at the site, stamped with a trident, the emblem of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. These
are indicative of the military nature of the site and the efforts to take it. The
excavation also yielded coins from the reigns of Antiochus IV through
Antiochus VII, as well as a multitude of stamped Rhodian amphora
handles.[60][61]

The Givati location has been questioned due to its being too low on the hill to
overlook the Temple Mount, as described in literary sources.[62]

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Seam along eastern wall ofTemple Mount
Footnotes separating Hellenistic (right) from
Herodian (left) construction
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38. Feldman (1992), pp. 597–610.
39. Mazar (2002), pp. 3–73.
40. Tsafrir (1980), pp. 17–40.
41. Mazar (1975), p. 216.
42. Shotwell (1964), pp. 10–19.
43. Finkielsztejn (1999)
44. Loria (1981), pp. 31–40.
45. Decoster (1989), pp. 70–84.
46. Josephus, The Wars of the Jews 6:351 (http://www.perseus.tufts.e
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47. Levine (2002), pp. 318, 335.
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50. De-Groot (2004)
51. Ben-Dov (1985), pp. 69–70.
52. Dequeker (1985), p. 194.
53. Laperrousaz (1979), pp. 99–144.
54. Ben-Dov (1981), pp. 22–35.
55. Ben-Dov (1985), pp. 65–71.
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