WASHINGTON -- Construction of the great Roman stadium known as the Colosseum may have been paid for partly with booty that Roman soldiers took from the Temple in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago.
Roman legions destroyed the Temple, successor to a structure built by King Solomon in the 10th century B.C., in quelling a Jewish revolt in A.D. 70. Based partly on what is said to be a fragmentary inscription from the Colosseum floor, classics professor Louis Feldman from New York's Yeshiva University writes that booty from the destruction financed part of the arena that became one of the great showplaces of all time.
It's not an impossible idea. Writing about the Temple, a former priest said: "Being covered on all sides with massive plates of gold, the sun was no sooner up than it radiated so fiery a flash that persons straining to look at it were compelled to avert their eyes."
The priest later became the historian Josephus. Feldman cited the quotation in marshaling evidence to reinforce his argument in the Biblical Archaeology Review.
Expanding Solomon's original building, King Herod built the Temple on Temple Mount, an area of eastern Jerusalem now sacred to both Jews and Muslims. Little is left of the structure except the Western Wall, the "Wailing Wall."
Feldman was impressed by evidence from an inscribed stone in the Colosseum that records repairs made long after construction ended in the late first century.
His account quotes Geza Alfoeldy, a professor in Germany who has deciphered other "ghost inscriptions" from the position of such pegs. In this one, Alfoeldy detected the Latin words "ex manubiis" (from the booty).