Colonia Aelia Capitolina
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Following the Second Jewish Revolt (CE 132-135), led by Simon bar-Kochba, the Roman emperor Hadrian (emperor 117-138) designated the site of Jerusalem a Roman polis called Aelia Capitolina and banished Jews from the city. According to Michael Avi-Yonah the decree read: 

It is forbidden for all circumcised persons to enter or stay within the territory of Aelia Capitolina; any person contravening this prohibition shall be put to death. (Avi-Yonah 1976:50–51.)

Roman enforcement of this prohibition continued through the fourth century. The city was without walls, protected by a light garrison of the Tenth Legion, during the Late Roman Period (132–324) (Geva 1997: 45, 72). The detachment at Jerusalem, which apparently encamped all over the city’s western hill, was responsible to keep Jews from returning to the city.

MADAD.jpg (121569 bytes)The urban plan of Aelia Capitolina was that of a typical Roman town wherein main thoroughfares crisscrossed the urban grid lengthwise and widthwise. The Madaba Map depiction of sixth-century Jerusalem, pictured above, has the Cardo Maximus, the town’s main street, beginning at the northern gate, today's Damascus Gate, and traversing the city in a straight line from north to south to Nea Church.

The original thoroughfare, flanked by rows of columns and shops, was about 73 feet wide (roughly the equivalent of a present-day six lane highway). The Hadrianic Cardo Maximus of Aelia terminated somewhere in the area of the present David Street. 

In the mid-sixth century, the Byzantine emperor Justinian built the Nea Church on the southern side of Mt. Sion. Part of that effort included extending, in a distinctive Byzantine style, the Cardo Maximus south to reach Nea Church (Geva 1997:43, 46).

Almost nothing is known about Christianity, whether Judeo-Christian or orthodox Gentile, in Aelia Capitolina from CE 70 until the third century. Nearly all of what is known is through the orthodox eyes of Eusebius of Caesarea. Third-century Aelia was home to pagans, Gentile Christians, and Judeo-Christians, with Jews still forbidden to enter Jerusalem. 

The Jews, according to Karen Armstrong, began to renew their contact with the city early in the third century under a Roman relaxation of rules enforcement. She held that by the middle of the third century Jews had Roman permission to go to the Mount of Olives to mourn the Temple from afar. Later they secured leave to mourn on the 9th of Ab, the anniversary date of the Temple’s destruction, upon the Temple Mount itself (Armstrong 1996:169-170 cf. Avi-Yonah 1976:80-81, Wilkin 1993:106).

Eusebius attributed the founding of the library of Aelia, an institution of the city rather than purely an ecclesiastical library, to orthodox Jerusalem bishop Alexander (bishop, 212-251) although Aelia’s pagan population was in the majority. Eusebius used the library and Julius Africanus may have done so as well (Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 6.20.1; Williamson 1965:198; Veillefond 1970:288-91; Murphy-O’Connor 1994:300-301).

Eusebius recorded that he used the library, with its extensive archives, to write his The Ecclesiastical History He said: "Now there flourished at that time many learned churchmen, and the letters which they penned to one another are still extant and easily accessible. They have been preserved to our day in the library at Aelia, equipped by Alexander, then ruling the church there; from which also we have been able ourselves to gather together the material for our present work" (Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 6.20.1; Oulton 1986:65; Boyle 1955:241). "The ability of the diocese of Aelia to fund a library," contended Murphy-O’Connor, "and its interest in so doing, betray the strength of the church in the colony" at that time (Murphy-O’Connor 1994:301 cf., Vincent and Abel 1922:896–902).

Page last edited: 02/02/06 06:05 PM


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