Historic Jesus
Tower of Antonia

The Hasmonean rulers built a citadel next to the temple area in Jerusalem on a site that had been fortified for centuries. In the time of Jeremiah, it was called the Tower of Hananeel Jer. 31.38). The Hasmoneans called it "Baris." Herod the Great, as part of his extensive building program, enlarged and strengthened Baris to protect both the temple and the city. He named it "Antonia" in honor of his patron, Marc Antony.

The citadel stood on a massive rock that rose seventy-five feet above the surrounding area. This rock had been smoothed out by hand to eliminate any possible hand- or foot-holds. The main building was sixty feet high, with towers on all four corners. The highest tower, located on the southeast corner, rose over one hundred feet, giving an unobstructed view of the whole of the temple area and over much of the city.

Inside, the Tower of Antonia was palatial in its spaciousness and its appointments. There was a large courtyard to parade and exercise troops. A Roman cohort, composed of 300 to 600 men, was permanently stationed there. During festival seasons, the troops were especially watchful for possible insurgency or riot. Stairs led down directly from the tower to the porch along the north wall of the temple; troops could enter the temple courtyards in minutes should a sentry detect trouble. There was even a secret underground passage from the tower to the inner Court of the Priests, and troops could quickly infiltrate any disturbance.

The Roman governor normally lived along the Mediterranean coast at Caesarea. When he traveled to Jerusalem on state visits or to deal with trouble, he stayed at the Tower of Antonia. Although the tower is not named in the Gospels, it was there that Pilate tried Jesus and had him scourged by Roman troops just before his crucifixion. The religious leaders who accused Jesus did not enter the judgment hall in the tower because they did not want to defile themselves on the day before the Passover by entering the house of a Gentile.