The Antonia Fortress in First Century Jerusalem
In 35 B.C. King Herod rebuilt the Baris, a strong fortress to protect the Temple Mount. It was located on the Northwest corner of the Temple Mount and called the Fortress of Antonia, named after Herod’s friend Marc Antony and another of Herod's landmarks. It stood 115 feet high and was partly surrounded by a deep ravine 165 feet wide. It functioned as headquarters for the Roman soldiers, a palace and a barracks. Herod constructed a secret passage from the fortress to the Temple.
While overlooking Jerusalem, the Antonia Fortress was garrisoned with 600 Roman soldiers, who watched over the Temple courts in order to preserve order. The Bible spoke about the Antonia Fortress as a barracks (Acts 21:37), and it was here that Paul gave an address to the people (22:1-21).
33 Then the commander came near and took him, and commanded him to be bound with two chains; and he asked who he was and what he had done.
34 And some among the multitude cried one thing and some another. So when he could not ascertain the truth because of the tumult, he commanded him to be taken into the barracks.
35 When he reached the stairs, he had to be carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the mob.
36 For the multitude of the people followed after, crying out," Away with him!"
It is believed that it was here at the Antonia Fortress where Pontius Pilate judged Jesus, but it there is also a possibility that Jesus was judged at the Herodian fortress on the opposite end of the city. Herod's palace was the official residence of the Roman procurator's when they came to Jerusalem during the major Jewish festivals.
The holy ceremonial robes of the High Priest were kept in one of the four guard towers of the Antonia Fortress and were worn only on Passover, Yom Kippur and other important religious feast days. The Romans had realized the tremendous power of the office of the High Priest and had taken custody of the garments as a precautionary measure. In the century before the Roman occupation in 63 BC, the king of Israel had also been the high priest and both offices had been hereditary. The Romans had abolished the kingship and had made the office of high priest appointive, always subject to their approval. Nonetheless, in Jesus' day the high priest remained the most powerful figure in the Jewish nation.
In 70 A.D. Titus destroyed the Antonia Fortress while sparing the Herodian Fortress.