Antonia Fortress

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Antonia Fortress was a military barracks built over the Hasmonean Baris (Acra) by Herod the Great. Named for his patron Mark Antony, a pre 31 BCE date is certain for the Fort as Mark Anthony was defeated by Octavius (later Augustus Caesar) at the sea battle of Actium in 31 BCE. Built in Jerusalem on the site of earlier Ptolemaic and Hasmonean strongholds, the fortress was built at the eastern end of the great wall of the city (the second wall), on the northeastern side of the city, near the Temple Mount and the Pool of Bethesda.


Although modern reconstructions (including Holyland Model) often depict the fortress as having a tower at each of four corners, the historian Josephus repeatedly refers to it as the "tower Antonia", and stated that it had been built by John Hyrcanus for storing the vestments used in the Temple. The model of Antonia Fortress with Tadi Gate (small gate with triangular top) in the Holyland Model of second temple era Jerusalem.

The general appearance of the whole was that of a tower with other towers at each of the four corners; three of these turrets were fifty cubits high, while that at the south-east angle rose to seventy cubits and so commanded a view of the whole area of the temple.

Some archaeologists are of the opinion that the fortress was only a single tower, located at the south-east corner of the site; for example, Pierre Benoit, former professor of New Testament studies at the École Biblique, having carried out extensive archaeological studies of the site, concurs and adds that there is absolutely no [archaeological] support for there having been four towers. Prior to the First Jewish–Roman War, the Antonia housed some part of the Roman garrison of Jerusalem. The Romans also stored the high priest's vestments within the Fortress.

Possible Locations

circa 10 CE

Umariya Elementary School
The Umariya School is located on the north-western corner of the Temple Mount, at the site which is traditionally identified as the site of Antonia Fortress. Courtyard of the Umariya Elementary School, located at the start of the Via Dolorosa, and is adjacent to the Convent of the Sisters of Zion. Underneath the buildings of the school are remains of the Antonia Fortress.

circa 130 CE

Ecce Homo Convent
Panoramic view of the service chapel in the Roman pavement area, thought by some to be that of fortress Antonia where Pilate presented Jesus to the crowd, below the Ecce Homo Convent, now covered with an arched roof.

Though traditionally held to be the location of Antonia where the "Ecco Homo!" episode is said to have happened, the modern scholarship argues that Pilate presented Jesus to the crowd in Herod's Palace. A painting by James Tissot, circa 1890 CE, depicts an artistic impression of the biblical description of the site. The plaza is made of large flagstones that were specially etched to prevent horses from slipping.

Antonia According to Josephus

circa 130 CE

The Fortress of Antonia according to Josephus was located at the northwest corner of the colonnades surrounding the Temple. Modern depictions often show the Antonia as being located along the north side of the temple enclosure. However, Josephus' description of the siege of Jerusalem suggests that it was separated from the temple enclosure itself and probably connected by two colonnades (illustration) with a narrow space between them. Josephus' measurements suggest about a 600-foot separation between the two complexes (illustration).

Modern Scholarship

circa 130 CE

Leen Ritmeyer
According to Ritmeyer [see N1] is of the view that the Antonia Fortress stood at the northwest corner of the present-day Temple Mount. He notes, mostly relying on the works of Jewish historian Josephus and his archaeological expeditions, that there are still some remnants of Herodian era structure of the Roman fortress. He mostly agrees with the description of the Antonia provided by Josephus Flavius in his well known work; Wars.

As noted by Josephus "a Roman cohort was permanently quartered there"; Ritmeyer explains; As a cohort usually consists of 500 soldiers and their horses, it would be a mistake to limit the boundaries of the Antonia to the rocky plateau only. The Strouthion Pool, for example, provided water for the Roman soldiers encamped here. At a distance of about 60m to the north is a rock scarp that enclosed a large area that was later occupied by the eastern Roman Forum. It is reasonable to suggest that the common soldiers were quartered here, while the officers and commanders stayed in the more luxurious accommodation on top of the Antonia rock scarp.

This forms the backdrop to the scene portrayed in Acts 21 and 22. Climbing up this stairway, Paul would have reached the top of the north portico from where he addressed the people.

Identification with Muazzamiyya Madrasa

circa 10 CE

Old Jerusalem, The tower of Antonia 1887 CE: Breen, A. E. - A diary of my life in the Holy Land, J. P. Smith printing company Rochester, N.Y., (1906). In the late nineteenth century some writers erroneously identified the minaret of the Madrasa Muazzamiyya with the Tower of Antonia. Burgoyne (in his book Mamluk Jerusalem) notes that there's a lot of confusion when it comes to Antonia fortress. He also noted that there might be some remains of the Herodian-Roman fortress further south of this minaret.

Depiction in the Second Temple Period Model of Jerusalem

circa 10 CE

The depiction of the Antonia Fortress in the Holyland Model is solely based on the accounts of Josephus Flavius who calls it the "Tower Antonia". In the latter part of the Second Temple Period, a Roman military garrison occupied this fortress. This small fortified outpost played a crucial role in monitoring and governing the city of Jerusalem during antiquity. It is mentioned in the biblical narrative of rescuing Paul from an enraged mob that intended to stone him to death. Paul was subsequently confined within this fortress until his relocation to Caesarea Maritima (referenced in Acts 21:7–23:31).



See Also


Let's bring some history to your inbox

Signup for our monthly newsletter / online magazine.
No spam, we promise.

Privacy Policy