Why was it built?
Fort Antonia provided an imposing military building that reminded the Jews of the power and dominion of the Romans. The impressive structure (fig. 1), which Josephus claims measured “six furlongs” (about ¾ of a mile) and consisted of “a tower with other towers at each of the four corners”, provided an imposition onto all forms of Jewish life, especially religious. However, there is some debate about the true size of the building. Pierre Benoit, for example, argues that there is absolutely no archaeological support for the theory that there were four towers. Instead, he argues that it was a much smaller structure, consisting of only one tower. Moreover, it is now considered to have been around 500ft x 350ft, as opposed to the ¾ of a mile that Josephus suggested.
Initially, it was thought that Antonia Fortress might have been the sight of Pilate’s praetorium, in which he would have come face to face with Christ. However, that theory is now usually rejected in light of recent archaeological discoveries; were we to follow Josephus’ exact measurements and suggestions, everyone in the temple would have to be walking on water, as he stated that the Struthion Pool was adjacent to the fortress, yet it can still be seen today beneath the Convent of the Sisters of Zion, approximately 600m away. Now, it is considered that it was primarily used as a barracks, and was particularly busy with soldiers during festivals such as Passover, due to the greater potential for riots.
Although it was rebuilt and enlarged by Herod, there is no doubt that the fortress existed beforehand. Its precise location was chosen so that Herod could utilize the Hasmonean structure of Fort Baris, which had been the palace (or fortress – Birah) of John Hyrcanus. Although the location is largely accepted, there is still debate about what is contained within its temple walls. For example, George Wesley Buchanan argues that the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque are both contained within these walls. However, other scholars argue that this is flawed due to the positioning of the positioning and direction of the Southern Steps. They argue that Crusaders mistook it for the Temple Mount, and people have continued to accept that despite archaeological discoveries (although these discoveries are quite minor, and thus leave some room for debate).
George Wesley Buchanan, The Strange Little City of Ancient Zion, Gilgamesh, 2014.