Islamic Museum of the Haram ash-Sharif (now lost?)
Fragment of a limestone slab, perhaps from an honorific (triumphal?) archway.
Letters: 11.5 cm
CIIP I.2 Jerusalem, no. 720
Grüll, Tibor, “A Fragment of a Monumental Roman Inscription at the Islamic Museum of the Haram ash-Sharif, Jerusalem,” Israel Exploration Journal 56.2 (2006) p. 183-200.
A fragment of a monumental inscription was discovered in the courtyard in front of the Islamic Museum in the south-eastern part of the Haram ash-Sharif in Jerusalem, although its current whereabouts are unknown, and detailed knowledge of the circumstances in which it was found are also unclear. The museum was built in 1970/71 and it has been proposed that the inscription was first identified during the process of construction; it may come from a monument that was located on the Haram itself, owing to its large size and weight it is unlikely to have been moved there in recent history (Grüll, “A Fragment,” p. 183).
Five lines of Latin inscription are visible, although they are extremely fragmentary. Neither their place in the complete text nor the full length can be determined from the lines preserved here, although there may be a reference to the kind of monument that it once adorned. Line 3 makes reference to an arcum, or arch, which has led to the supposition that the inscription once formed part of a commemorative or triumphal arch that was situated on this site. However, the text’s fragmented state and the seeming erasure of line 2 makes it impossible to be certain who dedicated the suggested monument or who it was for. Lines 4 and 5 of the inscription may contain two names, ‘Athenag[oras]’ (line 4) and ‘Maximus’ (line 5), yet these too are problematic; only one individual with the name Athenagoras has yet been identified in Jerusalem in the four centuries of Roman administration of the province (CIIP I, Jerusalem, no. 456), and Maximus is conversely too common a name to be identified with a specific individual (Grüll, “A Fragment,” p. 185).
Tibor Grüll offered a first reconstruction of the fragment’s text that reads as follows:
[-- ob Iudaeos devict]os e[t Hierosolymam deletam? --]
In it he suggests that the erased line 2 should be reconstructed with the name of Lucius Flavius Silva, the military general and later governor of Judea who was involved in the conquest of Masada in 74 CE (Grüll, “A Fragment,” p. 187). Grüll reasoned that the letters L FLAVI are clearly visible in the erased line, and that as no other legatus under Vespasian and Titus is known to have borne the praenomen ‘Lucius’ and the nomen ‘Flavius’, the remainder of the line may have included the cognomen ‘Silva Nonius Bassus’, with his filiation as son of Aelius (Auli fili) and voting tribe (Velina) completing his identity in the text (Grüll, “A Fragment,” p. 187). Tibor Grüll proposed this reconstruction based on the discovery of two milestones that were excavated from the Temple Mount in the early 1970s, both of which had also suffered erasures in line 5 of their texts, and which could be reconstructed with Lucius Flavius Silva’s name (Grüll, “A Fragment,” p. 185-186; about the discovery of these milestones, see Mazar, “Excavations,” p. 74-90). Although Ronald Syme and Werneck Eck offered different readings for these erasures, Tibor Grüll maintains that the milestones and fragment found on Temple Mount were all inscribed with Flavius Silva’s nomenclature, and that all suffered damnatio memoriae at a later date, possibly during Domitian’s reign when many high-ranking statesmen were found guilty of high treason (Grüll, “A Fragment,” p. 191; vs Syme, “L. Antoninus Saturninus,” p. 1070-1084; Eck, “Sextus Lucilius Bassus,” p. 123-124). Athenagoras is interpreted by Grüll as a “high ranking civil magistrate of the province” rather than as a member of the Roman army because of his Greek name; he attributes the euergetic action of constructing the arch in part to him, reconstructing line 4 with an ablative absolute as curante...-io Athenagora, or “with …-ius Athenagoras undertaking (the construction of the arch)” (Grüll, “A Fragment,” p. 197). The final line of the text, line 5, is ventured as a reference to Laberius Maximus, the procurator of Judea during Flavius Silva’s governorship, who is also mentioned by Josephus (Jewish War VII.6.6; Grüll, “A Fragment,” p. 197). Tibor Grüll therefore proposed that the fragment preserved here was part of a longer text appearing on an honorific arch, set up by Athenagoras and Laberius Maximus following the orders of Lucius Flavius Silva, in commemoration of the fall of Masada (Grüll, “A Fragment,” p. 192-197). The arch and inscription are argued to be evidence for the ‘Romanisation’ of Jerusalem in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Masada; their construction was indicative of how the military and civilian populations of the city initiated the formation of a “genuinely Roman Jerusalem” long before the creation of the colony of Aelia Capitolina, which instead represented the “zenith” of a process that began half a century earlier (Grüll, “A Fragment,” p. 197).
Werner Eck, however, found the above reconstruction problematic and in the Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palestinae (vol. I.2, Jerusalem, no. 720) suggested an alternative interpretation of the text, which preferred a later date for the dedication of the arch that coincided with Hadrian’s foundation of the colony of Aelia Capitolina on the site of Jerusalem (Eck, Judäa, p. 68). His examination of the inscription’s text resulted in a less confident assertion of the circumstances of the dedication, recognising only that it appeared to record the dedication of an arch, which involved a number of people, some of whose names were partially inscribed on this fragment (Eck, Judäa, p. 69). However, Eck noted that no inscriptions survive to us that state that a monument had been erected following the ‘order’ of an individual, as the suggestion of iussu in line 1 of Grüll’s reconstruction appears to indicate (Eck, Judäa, p. 70). If an arch honouring the emperor was indeed dedicated here, then we should perhaps expect that the inscription recorded that it was dedicated by the Senate and People of Rome – as other triumphal arches do - rather than by one individual (Eck, Judäa, p. 71). He also states that those inscriptions which record an action being taken following an order (iussu) do so with only the nomen and cognomen of the person concerned, and never with the full filiation and tribal association as Grüll suggested (see the examples Eck cites in Judäa, p. 71). With regards to Athenagoras and Maximus in lines 4 and 5 of the inscription, Werner Eck agrees that it is likely that both were individuals involved in the construction of the arch; Athenagoras could indeed have been the magistrate of the colony who may have initiated its construction. However, as Athenagoras is a name that we might expect from a municipal context rather than an imperial one, he argued that the involvement of these two men was more likely to have occurred later once a colony had been established there (i.e. after 130 CE and the foundation of Aelia Capitolina) and not in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Masada, when there was only a legionary camp in the city (Eck, CIIP I.2, Jerusalem, p. 22; Judäa, p. 72). Further to this, Tibor Grüll’s suggestion that the arch was built de foro (‘from the forum’) is problematic, as there was no Roman forum in Jerusalem following the destruction of the city by Titus in 70 CE (Eck, Judäa, p. 72). Overall, Werner Eck prefers to date the fragment to the period after the establishment of the Roman colony of Aelia Capitolina, and believes that it cannot be used as evidence for Lucius Flavius Silva and the conquest of Masada (Eck, Judäa, p. 72). Although his career and achievements are known from two building inscriptions in the amphitheatre of the town of Urbs Salvia, there is no material evidence for his presence in either Jerusalem or the province of Judea as a whole (Eck, Judäa, p. 72-73; for the inscriptions in Urbs Salvia, see Eck, “Die Eroberung”, p. 282-289).
These conflicting interpretations of the inscription should not override its potential significance, however. Whether the text refers to Lucius Flavius Silva or not, the fragment appears to suggest the presence of a monumental arch in Jerusalem; if this was the case, a legitimate argument can be made as to where exactly the arch stood, and what it was in intended to commemorate. If it was indeed a triumphal monument celebrating the fall of Masada, then it would represent the earliest example of imperial propaganda for the province and demonstrate the particular magnification of Roman victory. As a commemorative device for the foundation of Aelia Capitolina the arch would be no less significant; the violent suppression of the revolt under Hadrian and the subsequent renaming of the province was a definitive sign of their subjugation to Roman rule, and the construction of a monument – an arch – that was so clearly connected with Roman notions of victory was a blatant act of self-assertion on the part of Rome. Although it is not possible to make either of these statements with certainty, it is clear that this fragment of inscription introduces a number of interesting questions about the Roman presence in Jerusalem and when their victory there first found architectural and epigraphic expression.