In 73 CE, the Roman governor of Judea, Flavius Silva, laid siege to Masada with Legion X Fretensis. When the walls were broken down by a battering ram, the Romans found the fortress' defenders had set fire to all the structures and preferred mass suicide to captivity or defeat. Masada has since become part of Jewish mythology, as has the name Silva, who Josephus Flavius mentions in his writings. It is therefore no great surprise that Hungarian archaeologist Dr. Tibor Grull, studying in Israel three years ago, was excited to discover a stone tablet during a visit to the Temple Mount with a Latin inscription of the name of Masada's destroyer.
Grull asked officials of the Waqf, the Muslim trust for the Temple Mount, where the tablet came from, and they explained it had been found in the large hole dug in the mount in 1999 when the entrance to Solomon's Stables was opened. The Hungarian archaeologist received rare permission to photograph and document the finding. In October 2005, Grull published the discovery in the journal of the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research.
Particularly interested in the find was Bar Ilan's Dr. Gabi Barkai, who has been sifting through Temple Mount dirt for the past two years. The dirt, in which many finds dating as far back as the First Temple period have been discovered, was dug from the same hole by Waqf personnel and taken from the same area - the south-east side - from which the inscription fragment was taken. Barkai contacted Grull and included Grull's work - which had not received exposure - in a comprehensive article on the sifting project at the Temple Mount, slated for publication in the next edition of the periodical Ariel.
Grull's photographs of the stone tablet are first being published in Haaretz. The five-line monumental inscription is 97 centimeters by 75 centimeters. The text itself is damaged. Barkai, relying on Grull, says the inscription is undoubtedly the dedication carved into a victory arch, and it includes the Latin word for "arch."
"This is the only evidence we have of a victory or memorial arch the Romans built on the Temple Mount after the destruction of the city and the Temple," Barkai notes. "This is the first evidence of reconstruction, carried out by the Roman army, immediately after Jerusalem's destruction, about fifty years before Aelia Capitolina was founded."
Barkai says the inscription memorializes Flavius Silva, the conqueror of Masada and governor of Judea from 73 to 80 CE. The missing section of the inscription apparently mentioned Roman military commanders Aspasianus and Titus. The inscription also mentions a previously unknown person named Atnagorus.
The Waqf, which is opposed to archaeological digging on the Temple Mount, apparently has the tablet itself. Due to Waqf opposition, only areas surrounding the Mount itself, the City of David and the southern Western Wall, south of the Wall Plaza, and the western area of the wall north of the plaza - the Wall Tunnel - have been excavated until now.
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