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  • Ward Sanford

Herod’s Roman Fingerprints on the Temple Mount


The arch dedicated to the Emperor Septimus Severus circa 200 CE, preserved at Leptis Magna, a World Heritage Site on the coast of modern-day Libya.




Corinthian style capitals in the Romans ruins at Leptis Magna in Libya


In 2005 I was fortunate to be able to visit Libya on an assignment with the U. S. State Department. We were there to discuss with then leader Qaddafi’s ministers how to convert nuclear scientists into hydrologists. Libya has great needs in terms of water resources. While there they took us to see the World Heritage Site called Leptis Magna. It is one of the best-preserved sites with Roman ruins anywhere in the world. It was inhabited first by the Carthaginians in the fifth century BCE, but later was conquered by the Romans and expanded into a major regional port and capital city. The most elaborate building was during and following the reign of Emperor Septimus Severus circa 200 CE. This week I discovered I had saved all my photos on a back up hard drive. Among the dozens of photos, I discovered two photos of capitals of the Corinthian style. This was a classic signature of Roman architecture (borrowed from the Greeks). Rome has many such examples at ancient building sites. These photos reminded me of another capital I saw two years ago.


While visiting Israel in May of 2019 I was able to visit the Temple Mount—that is, go up on the Mount itself to take pictures. Below is one of the pictures I took. I was impressed with the size of this capital and its intricate design.


A capital on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. Many debate the era of its origin.


One of the Muslims on the Mount (who was wanting to be hired as a tour guide) told me they dated from the Crusader period. But looking them up online I find many people disagreeing as to its origin. And there are more than one like this. But after seeing the Corinthian capital photos from Leptis Magna I recognized the leaf design in the carvings. The leaves are classic Corinthian style used by the Romans at the time of Herod. King Herod the Great of Judea grew up in Rome, was a good friend of Mark Antony, and was a lover of all things Roman as well as a grand builder. He would have had just such capitals carved for the tops of the 162 columns that Josephus wrote lined the Royal Stoa—the two-story, triple-aisle colonnade along the south side of the Temple courtyard. Josephus also wrote that these columns were about 3 feet or so in diameter—just the width of this capital. Such columns were about 10 times taller than wide suggesting the columns in the Stoa were about 30 feet tall. Although churches and mosques have built at the site in the many centuries since Herod, nothing to the scale that Herod produced. The Churches were relatively small (not cathedrals) and would not likely have had such large capitals. Muslim buildings rarely have this type of capital, and certainly not this style borrowed from Romans. All this seems strong evidence that this capital was one part of Herod’s grand Temple complex. It is amazing to be able to see pieces of the original Temple complex still in existence. So much rebuilding there has erased nearly all other remnants of this glorious site.

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