It doesn’t amount to much now – just a few large dressed limestone blocks embedded in the pavement in front of a gas station in East Jerusalem. But to the Judean rebels of 67 BCE – in the first flush of their successful strike against the Romans – it held out the hope for a Jerusalem free of foreign occupation. This is the “third wall” of Jerusalem, so described by Josephus in his monumental work, “The Jewish War”. The third wall was the most northerly boundary of the ancient city of Jerusalem; it enclosed a city which had expanded greatly during the period of Herod the Great and afterwards.
It was Herod the Great’s grandson, Agrippa I, who first started building the third wall while he was ruler of all of the Land of Israel in the year 40 CE. The much beloved (unlike his grandfather) Agrippa was a descendant of the Hasmoneans – his grandmother had been Herod’s wife Mariamne – a pious Jew, and childhood friend of the Roman Emperor Claudius. Agrippa was awarded the rule of all of his grandfather’s former realm by Claudius, in gratitude for his help in enabling Claudius’ accession to the imperial throne. However, during the construction of the third wall, the governor of the neighboring Roman province of Syria became suspicious of Agrippa’s motives. He alerted Claudius, who ordered the work stopped; shortly afterwards Agrippa died following a sudden illness. Josephus explains why the Syrian governor’s suspicions had been aroused:
If the wall had been finished… the city would never have been taken, for it was built of bonded stones 30 feet long and 15 broad…The wall itself was 15 feet thick, and its height would no doubt have been greater..
At the beginning of the great revolt of 67 CE, after the Jews had succeeded in repelling a Roman punitive force from Syria, work on the wall recommenced. The defenders of the city hastily set about raising the wall to a height of 30 feet, interspersed at regular intervals by massive towers. However, in the end it proved no match for the determination of the Roman General Titus, with his siege engines and battering rams. In the summer of the year 70 CE, the third wall fell to the Roman onslaught. At the end of the siege the whole of the city and the Temple itself lay in ruins. The third wall lay forgotten until its remains were unearthed in the 1930’s by archaeologists using Josephus’ description as their field guide