The Antonia Fortress (Aramaic:קצטרא דאנטוניה)[a] was a citadel built by Herod the Great and named for Herod's patron Mark Antony, as a fortress whose chief function was to protect the Second Temple. It was built in Jerusalem at the eastern end of the so-called Second Wall, at the north-western corner of the Temple Mount.
Herod (r. 37 – c. 4 BCE) built the fortress to protect the Temple. He named it for his patron Mark Antony (83–30 BCE). The fortress housed some part of the Roman garrison of Jerusalem. The Romans also stored the high priest's vestments within the fortress.
The construction date is controversial because the name suggests that Herod built Antonia before the defeat of Mark Antony by Octavian in 31-30 BCE and Mark Antony's suicide in 30 BCE. Herod is famous for being an apt diplomat and pragmatist, who always aligned himself with the winning side and the "man in charge" of Rome. It is somewhat difficult to bring this date in accordance with the presumed date for the construction of the Herodian Temple.
Traditionally, Christians have believed for centuries that the vicinity of the Antonia Fortress was the site of Pontius Pilate' praetorium, where Jesus was tried for high treason. This was based on the assumption that an area of Roman flagstones discovered beneath the Church of the Condemnation and the Convent of the Sisters of Zion was 'the pavement' which describes as the location of Jesus' trial.
Pierre Benoit, former professor of New Testament studies at the École Biblique, reexamined the results of all previous surveys of the north-western escarpment of the Haram, of the archaeological studies of the sites owned by the Catholics in the area (Convent of the Sisters of Zion, Flagellation Monastery and St Anne Convent of the White Fathers), as well as the digs north of the Struthion Pool area, and published in 1971 his conclusions: Archaeological investigation indicates that about a century after the presumed time of Jesus' death, this area was rebuilt as the eastern of two forums belonging to the new city initiated by Hadrian in around 130 CE, the Aelia Capitolina, and it is conceivable that following the destruction of the Antonia Fortress during the siege of 70 CE, its pavement tiles were reused at Hadrian's forum. However, he also considers the possibility that the pavement is from Hadrian's time altogether. The eastern forum of the Aelia Capitolina was built over the Struthion Pool, which was mentioned by first-century historian Josephus as being adjacent to the fortress (Josephus, Jewish War 5:11:4).
There are textual and archaeological arguments against the trial of Jesus being carried out at the Antonia Fortress. Like Philo, Josephus testifies that the Roman governors stayed in Herod's Palace while they were in Jerusalem, and carried out their trials on the pavement immediately outside it (Josephus, Jewish Wars, 2:14:8). Josephus indicates that Herod's Palace is on the Western Hill (Jewish Wars, 5:2) and in 2001 some of its vestiges were rediscovered under a corner of the Tower of David. Archaeologists therefore conclude that in the first century, the praetorium—the residence of the praefectus (governor)—was in the former royal palace on the Western Hill, rather than at the Antonia Fortress, on the opposite side of the city. However, as the tradition retained its power in associating the fortress with Jesus' trial, the place where it once stood serves as the starting point of the Via Dolorosa commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus.
Although modern reconstructions often depict the fortress as having a tower at each of four corners, Josephus repeatedly refers to it as "the tower Antonia", and states that it had been built by John Hyrcanus and later by King Herod, and used for a vestry, in which were reposited the vestments of the high priest. Josephus states:
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 also of the opinion that the fortress consisted only of a single tower, located at the south-east corner of the site.[dubious ] For example, Pierre Benoit writes that there is absolutely no archaeological support for there having been four towers.[dubious ]
Josephus attests to the importance of the Antonia: "For if the Temple lay as a fortress over the city, Antonia dominated the Temple & the occupants of that post were the guards of all three." Josephus placed the Antonia 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.