Ingestible identity: pigs in pagan ritual in Aelia Capitolina (Roman Jerusalem) between the Second Temple period and early Christianity

Lee Perry-Gal, Tehillah Lieberman, Joe Uziel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Faunal remains recovered during excavations beneath Wilson’s Arch in Jerusalem reveal the dietary and ritual uses of animals in the Late Roman colony of Aelia Capitolina. This colony was erected on the ruins of Jerusalem following the First Jewish War and occupied by the Legio X Fretensis. We show that over the course of the third and fourth centuries CE, pigs turn into a dominant source of food at the site, an assessment supported by excavations elsewhere in Late Roman Jerusalem. Significant variations of the domestic pigs from Jerusalem indicate that the animals may have been provisioned from multiple rural sites of primary production, and possibly represent different local breeds. More surprisingly, the pig remains from Wilson’s Arch are dominated by prime-aged (12–24 months) male jaws from two stratified deposits. The focus on mature males, particularly in Stratum V, is atypical of pig husbandry systems in general, and in Roman-period contexts in particular. Due to the rapidity with which the bones were deposited and the unusual demographic, alongside the disproportionate representation of mandibles, we interpret the remains as the end-product of rituals involving pigs. We suggest that the significance of pigs as an anti-Jewish cultural element provided soldiers and colonists a means of asserting their identity within an imperial context.

Original languageEnglish
Article number35
JournalArchaeological and Anthropological Sciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2024.


The excavation beneath Wilson’s Arch was carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority, on behalf of Western Wall Heritage Foundation. We express our gratitude to D. Ben-Ami and Y. Tchekhanovets for allowing us to reobserve the pig remains from their excavation in the Tyropoeon Valley on behalf of the IAA. Our observations and the complete faunal dataset are summarized/available in the forthcoming volume of the excavation. We also extend our thanks to O. Shalev and M. Balila for permitting us to refer to the faunal remains from their excavation at Bit Nattif on behalf of the IAA. Additionally, we acknowledge L. Weissbrod for his editorial contribution to this paper. Our gratitude goes to the anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments and efforts in enhancing our manuscript.

FundersFunder number
Israel Antiquities Authority
Western Wall Heritage Foundation
Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía


    • Jerusalem
    • Pig
    • Roman
    • Southern Levant
    • Zooarchaeology


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