A fortified structure in Jerusalem, serving as soldiers’ quarters. According to Josephus, it had apartments, baths, barracks, and courtyards.—PICTURE, Vol. 2, p. 535.
The Tower of Antonia was situated at the NW corner of the temple court and evidently occupied the site where Nehemiah earlier had constructed the Castle (or fortress) mentioned at Nehemiah 2:8. Herod the Great did extensive and costly repair work on it and increased its fortifications. Previously known as the Baris, Herod named it Antonia in honor of Mark Antony. As the Jewish high priest and ruler John Hyrcanus had done before him, Herod had the priestly garments kept there, apparently as a means of maintaining a certain check or control on the high priest.
According to Josephus, the fortress was built on a rocky eminence 50 cubits (c. 22 m; 73 ft) high. Above the rock, it had stone walls 40 cubits (c. 18 m; 58 ft) high and four corner towers, three of them 50 cubits (c. 22 m; 73 ft) high and the other, at the southeast corner overlooking the whole temple area, 70 cubits (c. 31 m; 102 ft) high. (The Jewish War, V, 238-247 [v, 8]) Prior to Herod’s time the fortress served primarily against incursions from the N, but thereafter it mainly served as a point of control over the Jews and a means of policing the activities in the temple area, to which there was direct access from the fortress.
The square layout of the fortress would indicate that it had a central court. Some believe that it was in such a central court within this tower that Jesus appeared before Pilate for judgment. (Joh 19:13) They suggest that a stone pavement found in this area was the one referred to as “Gabbatha.” Others, however, believe that Jesus’ judgment by Pilate took place before Herod’s palace.—See STONE PAVEMENT.
A more certain reference to the Tower of Antonia is that recorded in the account at Acts 21:30-40 and 22:24. Paul appears to have delivered his defense and witness to a religious mob from the steps of the fortress and thereafter was taken into the soldiers’ quarters for examining. Probably Paul was returned to this place after his stormy session with the Sanhedrin and was here when his nephew came to warn him of the conspiracy against his life.—Ac 23:10, 16.
The Tower of Antonia came to final ruin when it was destroyed along with the temple and city by Roman General Titus in 70 C.E.