Ancient Roman Bathhouse and Winery Found Under Former Army Base in Jerusalem

Schneller Base was already known to have housed a Second Temple-era Jewish settlement. Now it seems the 10th Roman Legion moved in too.

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Schneller base
Glass and pottery remains found at the site of the former Schneller IDF Base.Credit: Israel Antiquities Authority
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

An ancient Roman bathhouse and a large wine factory, which is either Roman too or Byzantine, have been uncovered in the process of converting an army base in Jerusalem into housing for ultra-Orthodox Jews, the Israel Antiquities Authority said Wednesday.

The site, known as Schneller, had housed an orphanage built by German missionaries from 1860 until World War II, when the British built a military base on the spot instead. When the British Mandate ended in 1948, Israeli forces took over Schneller and continued to use it as a base until 2008. Then it lay abandoned for some years. In 2013, the site was sold to a housing developer.

Like all construction projects anywhere in Israel, before the builders can break ground, archaeologists inspect the site for possible precious antiquities. And lo, several have been found at Schneller.

Enter the 10th Roman Legion

During the late Second Temple period the site had housed a Jewish settlement, remains of which the IAA found at Schneller half a year ago. Later, after the Romans destroyed the Temple in the year 70 CE, they converted Jerusalem into the Roman city they called Aelia Capitolina, which was peopled, among other things, by soldiers retiring from service in the 10th Roman Legion.

The bathhouse found at Schneller is definitely associated with the 10th Legion, one of four Roman legions that Emperor Titus sent to crush the rebels in Jewish Jerusalem once and for all. Roman soldiers would remain garrisoned in the city for over 200 years, until around 300 CE.

Earlier, a large pottery and brick production center from the Roman era has been found just 800 meters away from Schneller, near the Jerusalem International Convention Center (Binyanei Ha’Uma). The IAA archaeologists think what they found at Schneller is the remains of a large manor house that was auxiliary to the main settlement found at Binyanei Ha’uma.

Naturally, in the Roman world, a manor house would have a private bathhouse. Some of the terra cotta pipes and bricks that had been used to heat the bathhouse found at Schneller bore the stamp of the 10th Roman Legion, says the IAA.

A wine industry

Also found was a large-scale ancient winery, at the center of which is a pit containing a press screw, to squeeze the most possible from the grapes. Around the pressing surface, eight cells are arranged, which may have been used to store the grapes, says the IAA.

Theoretically, these cells could have been used to mix other substances into the wine, creating different flavors. It is known that the ancients of the region, from the Canaanites onward, liked wine with spice.

Yet another discovery is what may have been an ancient Jewish mikveh (ritual bath) that was turned into a garbage pit for the Roman tile factory. Certainly the pit was found to contain tiles that evidently became damaged during production.

“Since the Roman legions left Jerusalem at the end of the third century BCE, we postulate that this place was built beforehand,” says Alexander Wiegmann, director of the excavation for the IAA. “Apparently it was a Roman manor that continued to function in the Byzantine era.”

The fate of the discoveries remains to be seen.

Elsewhere in Israel, government authorities and the builders decided in January to incorporate a 3,400-year-old Canaanite fort discovered in the heart of the modern Israeli city of Nahariya into a residential high-rise to be built at the spot. The Bronze-Age remains will be displayed in a basement exhibit that will be open to the general public. In the case of Schneller, the IAA is considering incorporating the wine press into a park, also intended for the general public.

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