Tower of Antonia

ANTONIA, TOWER OF. A castle connected with the temple at Jerusalem, rebuilt by Herod the Great and named by him in honor of Mark Antony, his patron. A Roman legion was stationed in the castle to guard against excesses on the part of the people. When Paul was seized in the temple by the Jews, he was carried to this castle, from the stairs of which he addressed the people (Acts.21.30ff.; see “the barrack” in Acts.21.34).


ANTONIA, TOWER OF ăn tō’ nĭ ə. The great fortress built by Herod the Great for the defense of the Temple area and located at its NW corner.

Introduction.

The tower or castle Antonia was named by Herod the Great in honor of his old army associate and patron, Mark Antony. The name Antonia is not used in the NT, but the castle is referred to as “the barracks” (Acts 21:34, etc.). Antonia was erected on the site of an earlier Maccabaean fortress which was built by John Hyrcanus and was destroyed by Pompey in 63 b.c.

That citadel had in turn been preceded by a fortress erected by Nehemiah when he rebuilt Jerusalem (Neh 2:8). Solomon had doubtless also built an earlier fortress at this site. At the NW corner of the Temple area was the only hill which towered above the Temple area. The castle’s W wall was built upon the cliff edge of the Tyropoeon Valley. The N wall was separated from the hill Bezetha by a deep moat. The S wall was on an escarpment which towered seventy-five ft. above the Temple area. The terrain to the E can only be conjectured.

Description of Antonia.

The fortress was roughly rectangular in form. The E-W length has been estimated at approximately 490 ft. and the N-S figure is c. 260 ft. Prominent high towers projected at each of the corners. They were said to be 75 ft. high, except for the SE one which overlooked the Temple. It was 100 ft. high.

Josephus is the authority for the castle’s interior. It seems to have served both as a palace and a barracks. Several stairs led down from the castle to the porticoes of the Temple at its N end. There was said to have been a subterranean passageway from the castle to the Court of Israel, but it was for emergency use only. Titus made his grand assault upon the Temple area from the Castle Antonia.

In the old city of Jerusalem today the street that begins at St. Stephen’s Gate passes directly above the remains of the Castle Antonia. The street is approximately equidistant between its N and S walls. The Convent of the Flagellation and the Church of the Sisters of Zion are built above much of the N half of Antonia. Under the latter building can be seen a large area of the original central courtyard of the castle, which seems to have been c. 165 ft. square. The massive original paving stones, c. one ft. thick, are still in place. The channels cut in the stone pavement were used to carry rain water into the cisterns, which are still in use today. One can also see where the soldiers scratched their game patterns into the pavement, indicating that the soldiers’ barracks were prob. nearby.

Bible history.

There are two theories concerning the place where Christ was tried before Pilate. Some scholars favor Herod’s palace which was at the NW corner of the city near the modern Jaffa Gate, but more scholars favor the Castle Antonia. Pilate and Christ could have stood on one of the balconies, with the mob in the courtyard described above. John 19:13 speaks of “The Pavement” as the site of the trial. The Via Dolorosa assumes that the Castle Antonia is the site of the trial of Christ before Pilate.

Paul was arrested in the Temple courtyard after the mob had tried to lynch him. He asked for, and was granted, permission to speak to the crowd from the steps leading up from the Court of the Gentiles into the barracks (Acts 21:31-22:29). When Paul appeared before the Council the next day, he again had to be rescued and was rushed up the stairs into the barracks (Acts 22:30-23:10). He was taken by night from the Castle Antonia under a military convoy to Caesarea (Acts 23:23-35).

Bibliography

Jos Antiq. XV. xi. 4; War V. v. 8; L. H. Vincent, Jérusalem de l’Ancien Testament (1956); Soeur Marie Aline de Sion, La Forteresse Antonia à Jérusalem et la Question du Prétoire (1955).