The Lithostrotos (Gabbatha)
Touch the Stones of the Via Dolorosa
Location – The Via Dolorosa
Map Coordinates - 31.780320, 35.233424
Merged Gospels, Story 277
All of our Octagon Tour guests will have the opportunity to stand on the Via Dolorosa, at the same level that Jesus did. The highlight of this tour is that you can see the road on which Jesus carried the cross, as it was 100 years after He walked on it. The word Lithostrotos means stone pavement.
The Catapult Bullets.
As you cross the bridge and enter the first room, you can see that it is very primitive, probably from the first century. The round, spherical rocks on the ground are Roman bullets. In 67 AD, when the Jews living in Israel revolted against the occupation and taxation of the Romans, the empire responded by sending an army of over 70 thousand soldiers to the land of Israel, under the command of General Titus. One of the weapons of war that the Romans used against the Jews in Jerusalem was the catapult. Initially, Romans couldn’t get into the city because of the walls. These catapults were used to toss these boulders over the walls of Jerusalem, and when they landed, they destroyed everything on which they fell.
A Roman Catapult.
At the top of the stairs there is another Roman bullet. In the first century the historian Flavius Josephus wrote about the Great Revolt of the Jews, which lasted five years. The Romans aimed their catapults at the Jewish Temple, while the priests were performing their sacrifices. Josephus writes
“For the missiles from the engines flew over with such force that they reached the altar and the sanctuary, hitting priests and sacrificers, who themselves fell before their sacrifices, and sprinkled there the offering with their own blood. The dead bodies of natives and aliens, of priests and laity, were mingled in a mass, and the blood of all manner of corpses formed pools in the courts of God. Most wretched city, what misery could equal that which you have suffered at the hands of the Romans.” Josephus, The Jewish War, Book 5.
After this Great Revolt, there were two more revolts by the Jews - a small one in 115 AD, and a large one that started in 132 AD. This last one was called the Bar Kochba revolt, and, like before, the Romans were successful in defeating the Jewish rebels.
After the Bar Kochba revolt the Roman emperor Hadrian had had enough, and he decided to construct a new city over Jerusalem, called Aelia Capitolina, complete with pagan shrines and pagan statues.
The Main Forum.
The Lithostrotos today.
As you stand in the main room of the Lithostrotos, know that in Jesus’ day this area was a large open-air forum. In 135 AD Hadrian maintained this forum’s appearance by adding the flagstones that you’re walking on. John 19:13 calls this open-air forum Gabbatha, or the Pavement, and the place where Jesus took up His cross is believed to be a little farther east of this spot, just beyond the wall to the east.
The Nine Man’s Morris game.
Take a look at the lit-up game boards etched into the floor of this forum. Sometime probably in the second century, soldiers carved these lines and squares in this pavement stone.
Regarding the square game board, I know that it is common for amateur commentators to refer to this as the King’s Game, but in the Roman days this very popular game is found in etchings all over the Roman empire. It was a strategy game called Nine Man’s Morris, where two players each had nine game pieces. We even know the rules for this game, and we could play it today. Other examples of this same game can be found etched into the floor at the synagogue in the Galilean city of Capernaum, and in the Church of the Condemnation and Imposition of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa.
Regarding the round game board, this was another popular Roman era game called Rota, and, once again, it was a strategy game played with game pieces. Examples of this game are also inscribed in stone in various parts of the Roman empire.
For anyone interested, there are two websites that explain in further detail what I just covered.
The judgement of Jesus at Gabbatha.
The Striated Stones.
On the far southern end of the forum is an area partitioned by a railing. Take a look at these stones here, and compare them to the stones on the other side of the railing. The stones beyond the railing have grooves on them, whereas the stones on the other side of the railing do not have grooves. These are called striated stones, and these groves were probably carved to increase traction.
Here’s the reason. This was the Via Dolorosa. This is the road down which Jesus carried the cross. These are not the original stones, but it’s the same street.
On the east wall opposite the Via Dolorosa you can see a mosaic of Jesus carrying His cross, illustrating what happened here 2000 years ago.