Discovery and Archaeology
What is now known to be The Antonia Fortress was excavated during the 1970s. One of the most prominent scholars working on the archaeological excavation was Pierre Benoit who was also a theologian.
Whilst there are problems with excavation and dating due to the site being rebuilt several times, the general consensus has now settled that the Antonia Fortress was built on the site of the Hasmonean Baris. The Hasmonean Baris was built around the Temple around 35BC, for protection. However, after this was destroyed, and in the late 2nd Century, the Antonia Fortress was built by Herod the Great and named after his comrade Mark Anthony.
The buildings here were constantly being destroyed and rebuilt and their functions changed. The Antonia Fortress was later thought to have changed functions to become Pilate’s Praetorium. The archaeological evidence for this is two flagstones, dated to the 2nd Century, which are described in the Bible as the place where Pilate judged Jesus.
Because of the archeological problems of excavating areas where buildings have been rebuilt over older buildings, there is much disagreement amongst archeologists as to which archaeological evidence belongs to the Antonia Fortress and what this means when trying to reconstruct it. For example, there is much debate over how many towers the Antonia Fortress originally had and potential aerial bridges which have not physically been discovered but are mentioned in the writing of Josephus.
The difference of opinion between scholars can be seen through these two very different reconstructions of the Antonia Fortress:
It should be stated that when trying to reconstruct the Antonia Fortress, scholars rely just as much on historical documents and writing as much as they do on archaeological evidence. For example, the writing of Josephus is very important in accounting for the original dimensions of the Antonia Fortress. From his writing, for example, we know that the entire compound, including the Antonia Fortress, was 6 furlongs in length. In his writing he describes four towers; three small and one larger, which is corroborated by archaeological evidence.
Another limitation on further discovery is the Islamic wakf (land donated to the Islamic authorities as a religious obligation) which protects some of the area where further excavation could be carried out.