The tragedy of Calvary: or the minute details of Christ's life from Palm Sunday morning till the resurrection and ascension taken prophecy, history, revelations and ancient writings
by Meagher, Jas. L. (James Luke), 1848-1920
"Now as to the tower of Antonia, it was situated at the corner of the cloisters of the court of the Temple, of that on the west and that on the north. It was erected on a rock fifty cubits high, and was on a great precipice. It was the work of king Herod, wherein he demonstrated his magnanimity. In the first place the rock was covered with smooth pieces of stone from its foundation, both for ornament and lest any one who would either try to get up or to go down it, might not be able to hold his feet on it. Next to this, and before you come to the edifice of the tower itself, there was a wall three cubits high, but within that wall all the space of the tower of Antonia itself was built upon to the height of forty cubits. The inner parts had the largeness and the form of a palace, it being parted into all kinds of rooms and other conveniences, such as courts, and places for bathing, and broad spaces for camps, insomuch that by having all conveniences that cities wanted, it might seem to be composed of several cities, but by its magnificence it seemed a palace.
" And as the entire structure resembled a tower, it contained also four other distinct towers at its four corners, whereof the others were but fifty cubits high, whereas that one which lay on the southeast corner was seventy cubits high, that from thence the whole Temple might be viewed. But on the corner where it joined to the two cloisters of the Temple, it had passages down to them both, through which the guard, for there always lay in this tower a Roman legion, went several ways among the cloisters, with their arms, on the Jewish festivals, in order to watch the people, that they might not there attempt to make innovations.
"For the Temple was a fortress, which guarded the city, as was the tower of Antonia a guard to the Temple, and in that tower were the guards of those three. There was also a peculiar fortress belonging to the upper city, which was Herod's palace, But for the hill Bezetha, it was divided from the tower of Antonia, as we have already told you. And as that hill on which Antonia stood was the highest of these three, so did it adjoin to the new city, and was the only place that hindered the sight of the Temple on the north." 1
On this rock at the northwest corner of the Temple area, but adjoining it, Simon Machabeus had built his palace, making it like a fort to defend the Temple. There lived the high priests down to the time of the Roman conquest. One of them named Josue, changed his name to Jason, attempted to Grecianize the Jews, and built a Gymnasium for heathen games in the Tyropoeon valley to the south west of the Temple. As the palace-fortress dominated the Temple and the city, the rulers of Judea lived in it. Herod, with his mania for improvements, greatly enlarged the building, forming it into a vast palace, and called it Antonia after Antony, his patron in Rome. 2
The building Herod erected was very large, the inner walls rising to the height of more than seventy-five feet. But being on a high rock itself rising more than seventy-five feet high, the great castle-palace was one hundred and fifty feet high and dominated the whole city. The building was of the whitish yellow marble underlying the whole of Palestine around Jerusalem, a stone of a fine grain and easy to cut, and becoming very hard on exposure to the atmosphere.
When Palestine became a Roman province, the governors always took up their abode there, when they came up to the great Jewish feasts. When Pilate removed his headquarters from Caesarea to Jerusalem, he made this palace his residence. Here took place the trial and condemnation of Jesus Christ. For the custom of the Romans was to occupy the palaces of the princes they supplanted, and the vast extent, the lofty galleries, the immense courts, the three hundred rooms, as well as the strong commanding position, gave accommodations to the Roman legion, and enabled him to quickly put down any rebellion.
We can imagine the extent of Pilate's palace. For Josephus tells us that a legion, that is 6,000 infantry with cavalry and their officers, took up their abode there. The site covered a number of acres, as we see by what they have excavated and the present position of the Turkish Barracks. In the western part of the Citadel was an open space the Romans called the Forum. The eastern side was inclosed by the massive walls of Antonia, while the other two sides of the square were inclosed by buildings, and from them you could look over the city below and the Temple area to the south.
Near the center of the eastern side was a half circle with twelve columns upholding an ornamental marble carved loggia. In the center was a raised place, the Bema, highly ornamented with a raised dais over it, and a red damask canopy hanging down with the letters S. P. Q. R. " The Senate and the Roman People." Under this was the seat of the procurator, who sat there when holding court. At each side of him were seats for his twelve councilors. These seats, with the whole half circles were raised up about six feet above the court or Forum, and the prisoner stood on this pavement while his case was being heard, and sentence pronounced. At Pilate's right, as he sat on his seat of judgment, rose a building having a large porch, with its roof upheld by four columns about twenty feet high, with doors and windows opening into the palace, the latter filling all the space to the east of the Forum. These parts of the palace were called Lithostrotos "a stone pavement," in Hebrew, Gabbatha, "high place," as St. John says. (John xix, 13.) All the Forum was open to the sky, and it was customary for the Roman soldiers and officers to lounge around and take exercise there when court was not sitting.
Behind the Loggia and the Bema rose the vast buildings of the palace proper with a large hall or room directly back called the Pretorium, into which Pilate called Christ when he questioned him privately, and out of which he stepped when he came forth and said to the Jews," I find no fault in him." (Luke xxiii, 14) It was from the top of the staircase of the building with- the four pillars to the right of the Bema, that Pilate showed Christ after the scourging, saying: " Behold the man." (John xix, 5.) The Jewish nation, with the high priest, the priests and leaders of the people filled the whole space of the paved court, the Lithostrotos or Gabbatha.
1 Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book v., Chap, v., No. 8.
2 Josephus, Wars, B. vi. C. i., n, 7.