Category Archives: Archaeology

Pharaoh in Canaan Exhibit

PCThe Israel Museum has put together a new exhibit (up until October 25th) about two lesser known stories: settlement of the Canaanites in the eastern part of the Egyptian Delta during the Middle Bronze Age (circa 1800–1550 BCE) and their development of the first consonantal alphabet from Egyptian hieroglyphics and consequently, Egyptian rule over Canaan for 350 years during the Late Bronze Age (circa 1500–1150 BCE). Canaanite, Semitic-speaking workers in Egypt modified hieroglyphics, where one symbol represents a word (this is similar to the Chinese writing system which has always intrigued me) into Proto-Sinaitic, also known as Proto-Canaanite as it spread from Sinai to Canaan. The text above is in this script and says פרעה בכנען/Pharaoh in Canaan (from right to left like the Hebrew, note the ר/resh is a drawing of a head/rosh, ע/ayin word for eye is an eye, נ/nun is a snake/nahash). This historical chapter overlaps with the familiar biblical narratives of Joseph, the children of Israel and Moses in Egypt.

The exhibit displays 680 artifacts mostly discovered in Israel, with some objects borrowed from other museums. Objects were found at Bet Shean, Jaffa, Timna and Hazor, popular sites to visit but not usually for Egyptology.

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Quartzite sphinx of Thustmose III, 1480-1425 BCE

King Amenhotep IV/Akhenaton, 1353–1336 BCE, Yellow stone

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Inscription in hieroglyphics from gate of Egyptain stronghold, Jaffa,
from time of Ramses II (considered by some the Pharaoh of the Exodus), 1279–1213 BCE

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Offering table from Egypt, limestone with hieroglyphics with name of Ramses II

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Ramses III, only life-size statue of a pharaoh made and found in Israel, in Bet Shean, 12th century BCE, Basalt

Photograph on left: Dan Kirzner, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

A 3300 year old anthropoid sarcophagus was exposed containing the personal belongings of a wealthy Canaanite (possibly an Egyptian Army official) at Tel Shadud, Jezreel valley, 13th century BCE

IMG_2662Lids of anthropoid sarcophagi, Deir al-Balah, Gaza, 13th century BCE

Hathor mask
Photo © Eretz Israel Museum Tel Aviv, by Leonid Padrul-Kwitkowski
Mask of Hathor, Solomon’s Pillars at Timna, 13-12 century BCE, Faience

A major temple to Hathor, the Egyptian patron goddess to miners, constructed by Seti I was found at the copper mines in Timna valley. Of all the deities in the Egyptian pantheon, Hathor made the greatest impression on the Canaanites.

Another temple with inscriptions was discovered in Serabit el-Khadim in Egypt, where turquoise was mined in antiquity, in an expedition led by British archaeologist and Egyptologist Sir Flinders Petrie. If you’re interested in visiting his grave, Petrie is buried in the Protestant cemetery on Mount Zion in Jerusalem.

For those who are unable to visit the Pharaoh in Canaan exhibit at the museum, there is an excellent audio-visual tour available at http://www.imj.org.il/en/audioguides/pharoah/. Enjoy!

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Emperor Hadrian returns to Jerusalem

The Roman emperor Publius Aelius Hadrianus returns to Jerusalem after almost 2000 years as the Israel Museum brings together for the first time the only three bronze images of Hadrian that have been found. These portraits are in the Rollockenfrisur style, popular in the Roman provinces and characterized by nine curls which evenly frame the face and are rolled to the left.

Hadrianx3 photo by Eli Posner

Hadrian in bronze, photo by Eli Posner

The head on the left is from the Louvre, provenance unknown. The second head on loan from the British museum was found in 1834 in the River Thames below a bridge. The third on the right is from the Israel museum collection, actually a head and torso found at Tel Shalem, the camp of the Sixth Roman legion in the Bet Shean valley. Also check out the 6 fragments of a three-line inscription in Latin  (11 meters wide) also found at Tel Shalem on display in the Archaeology wing, presumably part of a monumental triumphal arch commemorating the suppression of the Bar Kochba Revolt.

Hadrian Torso

Approximately 160 portraits of Hadrian have survived, mostly in marble and you can find images on the Internet or see a good selection of them (73) at the Following Hadrian site.

So having met Hadrian, what can we understand about the man?
According to some “with his abundant energy, keen intellect, and wide-ranging interests, Hadrian is considered one of the Roman Empire’s more enlightened rulers.” When Jewish sources mention Hadrian it is always with the epitaph “may his bones be crushed” (שחיק עצמות or שחיק טמיא, the Aramaic equivalent), an expression never used even about Vespasian or Titus who destroyed the Second Temple.

There is a difference of opinion among scholars about the cause of the Bar Kochba Revolt and the exhibit leaves the debate undecided. Hadrian visited Jerusalem in 130 CE and found the city in need of rebuilding from its destruction in the Roman Jewish War (66-73 CE). One narrative suggests that at first Hadrian was sympathetic to the Jews and set out to rebuild the city and even the Jewish Temple. It is not clear whether building a foreign, Roman city with a pagan temple to Jupiter on the Temple Mount, the holiest site to Judaism, was the cause of the Bar Kochba Revolt or whether the Revolt pushed Hadrian to obliterate Jerusalem, in place and name, and build Aelia Capitolina.

Hadrian built temples to various Roman gods, a temple to Venus at the traditional site of Jesus’ burial, the holiest site to Christianity. He built a temple to the Hellenistic god Zeus Hypsistos on Mount Gerizim, the site holy to the Samaritans.

Whatever your politics, the exhibit reverberated for me as a commentary on contemporary Israel and the Palestinians.

Hadrian’s built a wall to protect empire Israel built a security/separation wall
Keys of Jews who fled their homes to desert , never to return Keys taken by Arab refugees who fled their homes in 1948
Jews revolt against Roman authority Arab intifada against Israeli authority
Bar Kochba writes that Jews of Tekoa who don’t follow his directives will have their homes destroyed Destruction of homes of Arab terrorists
Although a military man Hadrian actually withdrew from territory for peace Israel should withdraw from territories for peace

So once you have met Hadrian at the museum, in the flesh so to speak, what sites are there associated with Hadrian? As your guide, I can take you to these sites and explain the connection:

  • Roman gate under Damascus gate, Bab el Amud
  • Roman square with column and statue of emperor
  • Cardo and secondary cardo from Aelia Capitolina
  • aesclepion expanded into a large temple to Asclepius and Serapis
  • Ecce Homo arch, actually Roman gate to forum
  • Two vaults over Struthion pool to lay street
  • Lithostratus, Roman street
  • Holy Sepulcher site, Roman temple to Venus built by Hadrian
  • LEGIO X FRETENSIS stone outside Jaffa gate
  • quarry in Ir David excavated by Weill that was used for stones to build Aelia Capitolina
  • Caesarea, city and port rebuilt by Hadrian; second aqueduct from Taninim spring
  • Temple on Mount Gerizim

The Enigma that is Herodium

Today I was at Herodium with clients. As we descended into the bowl of the upper fortress/palace I noticed a group of workers sitting eating lunch in front of the wooden doors to the excavations taking place in the staircase. I immediately recognized Roi Porat and Yakov Kalman who had been in charge of the excavations of the tomb area with Prof. Netzer when I volunteered at the site in summer of 2008. Yakov was kind enough to let us peek inside. Here he shares some of his views about excavating at Herodium.

You have to put aside what you read in the books and examine and evaluate what you see as you excavate in order to understand what is going on. Herodium is not a simple site. The staircase was filled in with earth in Herod’s time, it doesn’t appear that the stairs were completed or ever used. There are two levels of arches, the lower ones to support the stair bed, the upper ones to define the space in which to walk – but there is no stair bed. Along one side is a covered drainage channel that carried water from the courtyard to the cistern. There is a small entrance hall with plastered walls and frescoes; the walls of the stairwell are rough stones.

I thanked him and mentioned that my week working at the excavation was very important to my understanding of Herodium and one that I value very much as a guide. And then Yakov had to get back to work. I did manage to take a few photos on my cell phone.

Herodium staircase

Looking down the staircase, covered channel on the left resting on unfinished lower arches.

Herodium frescoes in staircase

Small entrance way, plastered walls with fresco.

Herodium enigma

Small area between the entrance way and staircase.

Tiberias from 1st Century to Ottoman Conquest

Map after HerodThe city of Tiberias is on the western side of the Sea of Galilee. it was Herod Antipas, one of the sons of Herod the Great, who inherited the areas of Galilee and Perea and ruled as tetrarch. The boys took after their father, Antipas built the city of Tiberias as his capital in 18 CE on an existing settlement, which he named after his patron the Roman emperor Tiberius and built an impressive palace there. His half-brother Philip built his capital at Banias In 3 BCE and made improvements in 14 CE after which Agrippa II also carried out urban improvements. During the First Jewish–Roman War, Vespasian rested his troops at Caesarea Philippi in July 67 CE before advancing on Tiberias to crush the Jewish resistance in Galilee. Today you can visit the archaeological site at Banias but although archaeologists have excavated Tiberias since 1934 (Makhouli, Guy and Rabani, Druks, Foerster, Berman, Hirschfeld, also with Gutfeld) only recently has it been possible to visit the site.

The site and its surroundings boast an array of archaeological finds from almost every period from its establishment during the first century to the Crusader period and you’ll need a knowledgeable guide to make sense of it.

Tiberias excavations

map by Leticia Barda of the Israel Antiquities Authority

At the southern edge of the city are the remains of a decorative gate built by Antipas, the entrance flanked by two cylindrical towers. This gate and the Cardo leading from it continued to be used through the Early Islamic period, more than 700 years. South of the gate is a drainage system channeling the water from the winter floods into the lake – a bridge enables access to the gate and the Cardo. During the Byzantine period, the gate was connected to a wall encompassing the city and the eastern slopes of Mt. Berenice.

City Gate, Tiberias

Foerster Area C

 

The other monumental structure uncovered is a Roman theater built by Antipas, with 7,000 seats, more than the theater at Caesarea built by Herod.

Roman Theater, Tiberias

Over the years, archaeological expeditions have uncovered, a large Late Roman-Byzantine bathhouse, a broad pillared building built over what has been identified as an unfinished Roman temple (Hadrianeum), and a basilical building to the east, lying between the Cardo and the Sea of Galilee.

Hirschfeld excavations Tiberias

Excavation Plans Tiberias (2005). (Dov Porotsky, courtesy of Hirschfeld Expedition team)

The following are excerpts from Israel Antiquities Authority article by Hirschfeld and Meir from 2006 at http://www.hadashot-esi.org.il/report_detail_eng.aspx?id=337&mag_id=111.

In excavating down to Stratum VII (first century CE), they reached the Herodian level on which the basilica was erected. Parts of a floor that consisted of divided marble slabs in opus sectile pattern and a long wall with traces of a red fresco below the basilica’s foundations were found. It is presumed that this was the remains of Herod Antipas’ magnificent palace, which Josephus Flavius described in his writings. Further exposed remains of this building included pieces of frescos painted in red, ochre, as well as blue and green, which were scattered in abundance throughout the excavation area.

At Stratum VI dated to the Roman period (second–third centuries CE) remains in Area A included the bathhouse and Area C consisted of the “covered marketplace”. Remains of the Hadrianeum––a temple dedicated to Hadrian whose construction was never completed––were discovered to the north of Area C. The Cardo was also paved during this period.

Hirschfeld excavated, among others, a large building from the late Roman period (Area B, stratum IV), which he identified as the Great Academy (Beth Midrash) of Tiberias.

Among the recovered coins from Stratum II (10th-11th Century) were 4–5 anonymous folles (‘Jesus coins’), dating to the middle of the eleventh century CE. The image of Jesus was depicted on one side of the coin and an inscription in Greek: “Jesus the messiah, king of the kings” was on the other side.

Cytryn-Silverman, who now heads the Tiberias excavation, claims that the “covered marketplace” is a mosque, in fact, it resembles the plan of the Great Mosque in Damascus, Syria.

A church that predates the mosque has also been uncovered at the site. Unlike at other sites, however, the mosque was built not over the church, but nearby.

The mosque, which symbolized the power of Muslim Tiberias, stood for 330 years, until an earthquake toppled it in 1068. In 1099, the Crusaders conquered Tiberias and used the mosque’s building stones for another structure. That, too, has been uncovered by the dig, and by the type of clay vessel found there, has been shown to be a sugar cane production plant, part of one of the country’s most important export industries at the time.

South of ancient Tiberias is a suburb by the name of Hammat Tiberias built around 17 hot springs. Within the small archaeological park are some of the remains of the ancient town of Hammat, including a synagogue from the Late Roman–Byzantine period, boasting a spectacular mosaic floor. In addition to the synagogue are the remains of an Ottoman Hammam (bathhouse complex) and the springs themselves. You can experience these hot springs at the modern spa across the road.

The remains of a Byzantine monastery and church were discovered on the summit of Mt. Berenice from which there is a spectacular view of the Galilee, the lake and across to the Golan Heights.

1st C Synagogue planIn the center of the present city of Tiberias a small, open-air archaeological park can be found. Within it are the remains of a synagogue dated to the Byzantine period, with a small section of mosaic floor with an inscription in Greek, Proclos son of Krispos framed by images of a palm branch and citron. In addition there is a display of architectural elements found in archaeological sites around Tiberias.

To the north of Tiberias the Umayyad caliphs built a winter palace at Khirbat al-Minya which can be visited.

Khirbat al-Minya

The eighth century was Tiberias’ golden age, as shown by both excavations and historical writings. A large Jewish community also flourished in the lakeside city, and that community produced the copy of the Bible that became known as the Aleppo Codex.

In 1187 Saladin’s force left Caesarea Philippi to engage the fighting force of the Knights Templar in which the Crusader force was destroyed. Saladin then besieged Tiberias which fell after six days. On July 4, 1187 Saladin defeated the Crusaders coming to relieve Tiberias at the Battle of Hattin, 10 kilometres (6 miles) outside the city making the Islamic forces the eminent military power in the Holy Land. During the Third Crusade, the Crusaders drove the Muslims out of the city and reoccupied it. In 1265 the Crusaders were driven from the city by the Mamluks, who ruled Tiberias until the Ottoman conquest in 1516.

 

Magdala on Sea of Galilee

Magdala Nunayya (Magdala of the fishes) was an important Jewish city on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee established during the Hasmonean period, centuries before neighboring Tiberias. In Christian tradition, it is the birthplace of Mary Magdalene and where Jesus went after he fed the five thousand (Mark 8:10).

Q: What do you get when you cross a hotel, a new spiritual center and an archaeological site at the historical location of Magdala/Tarichaea overlooking the Sea of Galilee?

A: The Magdala Center, a new tourist and pilgrim destination.

The original excavations at the site were done by the Franciscan Corbo in the 1970s. Paved streets and a large colonnaded square typical of a Roman city were found, along with buildings with mosaic floors. On the floor of one urban villa an image of a sailing ship, a type of Mediterranean vessel, modified for the lake was found in mosaic. Scholars think that boats like this were used to transport goods between Magdala and the Decapolis on the eastern shore of the lake. The shape of the hull and the additional cutwater (forward curve of the stem of a ship) resembles the features of the boat discovered in the mud near Ginnosar.

In excavations from 2007 carried out by De Luca large portions of the paved Cardo and the Decumanus were uncovered. Underneath these streets were drainage channels which fed numerous wells and fountains, part of the city’s sophisticated water system. In 2008 thermal pools were discovered. The water supply system serves primarily the large thermal complex east of the Cardo and the large Quadriporticus which served as palaestra (rectangular court surrounded by colonnades with adjoining rooms) for the visitors of the thermae. The newly discovered harbour of Magdala includes in situ: massive foundations of a tower with casemate, a Hasmonean wall built of ashlar stones with dressed margins, ramps for recovering ships, a staircase, a large L-shaped basin with breakwater and six mooring stones incorporated in the painted plastered wall – the largest and best preserved harbour on the Sea of Galilee discovered so far. Everywhere in the excavations De Luca encountered damage caused by the First Jewish Revolt in which Magdala played a major role (as recorded by Josephus). Plans are to re-open this site in the near future.

In the most recent excavations by archaeologists Avshalom-Gorni and Najar of the Israel Antiquities Authority as part of a salvage dig a building that covers about 120 square meters with simple mosaics covering the floor and frescoes of colored wall panels was found. The building has stone benches along the walls and columns that would have supported the roof and has been identified as a first century synagogue.

Synagogue 1st C at Magdala aerial

from IAA

from IAA

Perhaps the most interesting find is a nearly 3-foot-long limestone block found on the floor in the center of the synagogue elaborately carved on the sides and top. On one side is the first and only pre-70 Galilean depiction of a seven-branched menorah between 2 amphorae and fluted columns (another early menorah is the drawing in plaster found in a mansion in the Herodian quarter in Jerusalem). The precise function of the stone remains uncertain – it may have been used as a table on which Torah scrolls were rolled out and read. Perhaps less impressive but still very interesting is a series of mikva’ot (ritual baths) that have been uncovered that fill from underground springs.

Mikva at Magdala

The excavations have also found the fish market and some pools used for holding and sorting the fish brought in by the fishermen, attesting to the importance of fishing to the economy of Magdala.

In the plans, besides the hotel, a church or Spirituality Center is being built called “Duc in altum” based on the words from Luke 5:4 that Pope John Paul II chose, “Put out into the deep” to say, that with God’s help, anything and everything can be accomplished. The building is in the shape of an octagon which is usual for a martyrium as opposed to the traditional Byzantine basilica (rectangular, central nave with apse, and two or more aisles). Not only the shape is reminiscent of early Orthodox churches but the interior of the main chapel is decorated with paintings of holy figures like in an Orthodox church, in the spirit of ecumenism. The area of the altar has a replica of a wooden boat so that as you sit in the chapel, you face the boat with a view of the lake behind it.

Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, Jesus asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.  Luke 5:3

Duc in Altum sanctuary

There are 4 smaller chapels off the main hall, each decorated with beautiful mosaics by artist Maria Jesus Fernández depicting scenes from Jesus’ ministry: the resurrection of  Jairus’ daughter, Jesus calling the disciples, the exorcism of Mary Magdalene and Jesus calming the waters of the Sea of Galilee. Below is an ecumenical chapel where the floor paving stones are from Magdala’s first century market.

Silver shekel coins

The silver shekel and half shekel are significant coins for both Jews and Christians as they are mentioned in the Bible. The Hebrew word shekel refers to weight (a shekel is 11 grams or .35 troy ounces) or currency, in fact, it has the same root as the Hebrew to weigh, שקל. In practice, the weight fluctuated between 9 and 17 grams depending on the issuing government, location and time period.

Tyrian shekel

Obverse: Melkart/BaalHerakles. Reverse: Eagle on a ship’s rudder, Greek inscription “Tyre the Holy and Inviolable”

Although independent during the Hasmonean period (from 167 BCE), the Jews had no silver coins of their own and from circa 126 BCE – 66 CE relied on coins issued by the Phoenician city of Tyre. These coins, produced in large quantities, became the standard silver coinage in the areas of Phoenicia and Judaea, replacing the coins of Alexander the Great. The obverse features the representation of Melkart (Baal), the chief diety of the Phoenicians. The reverse shows an Egyptian-style eagle with its right claw resting on a ship’s rudder (referring to Tyre’s port), a club (Melkart is associated with Hercules), the Greek inscription “Tyre the Holy and Inviolable” and a date. The number on the coin is a Greek letter that is added to 126 BCE, Tyre’s independence from Syria, to give the date.

All  Judaean taxes were specified in shekels, for example, the annual Temple Tax for males over 20 was a half shekel. The Jewish leadership decided that the Tyrian coins were plentiful and of good silver quality, and so they prescribed that the various Judaean taxes would be accepted only in Tyrian coins even though the images on the coins went against the prohibitions of the Second Commandment: “You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image or any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or on earth below, or in the waters under the earth.

In the New Testament there is the story of how Jesus and Peter paid the Temple Tax (of a ½ shekel) using a shekel coin. “Go thou to the sea, and cast a hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money. That take, and give unto them for me and thee” (Matthew 17:27). When “Jesus went into the temple of God, and … overthrew the tables of the moneychangers” (Matthew 21:12), he was angry with those who exchanged the local currency for silver Tyrian shekels at exorbitant rates. When Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane to the soldiers “they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver” (Matthew 26:15).

The mint in Tyre produced Tyrian Shekels and half shekels, of 95% silver purity, between the years 127 BCE and 19 BCE when Rome closed the mint in Tyre (this according to scholar and numismatic expert Yaakov Meshorer). Rome began to import an inferior silver coinage from the Far East consisting of 80% pure silver – because of this the coins did not have enough silver to make them a half shekel (of weight) so they were not useable to fulfill the commandment.

The Rabbis appealed to the Emperor for permission to produce a ceremonial coin of sufficient purity to fulfil their religious obligations. They received special dispensation on condition that they continue with the motif of the Tyrian Shekel, so as not to arouse objections within the Roman Empire that the Jews were granted “autonomy” to mint their own coins. These coins were inscribed with the letters KP to the right of the eagle, are dated 18 BCE – 66 CE and were minted in Jerusalem.

Coin issued by Jewish rebels in 68 CE Obverse: Chalice “Shekel, Israel. Year 3”. Reverse: 3 pomegranates “Jerusalem the Holy”

With the beginning of the First Revolt against Rome in 66 CE, the Jews began to mint their own silver coins for the first time to demonstrate sovereignty over their own country. These coins had Jewish symbols, chalice that was the measure of the omer and three pomegranate buds (one of 7 species) and Paleo-Hebrew text, struck over the Tyrian shekels from the Temple. With the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE the minting of these coins was discontinued.

Coin issued by Jewish rebels in 135 CE, text in Paleo-Hebrew alphabet. Obverse: Star over facade of Temple showing Ark of Covenant “Shimon”. Reverse: Lulav/palm branch and etrog “For freedom of Jerusalem”

During the Bar Kokhba revolt against Rome (132-135 CE), the last Jewish coin series in antiquity was issued. On the obverse, the name Shimon in Paleo-Hebrew, the first name of Shimon Ben Kosiba, the leader of the revolt; the star above the image of the Temple refers to the name given to him by Rabbi Akiva, Bar Kochba, son of a star. The silver coins were overstruck on the Roman provincial tetradrachms (mainly from Antioch).

Since 1980, the shekel has been the currency of the modern state of Israel, first the Israeli shekel which due to high inflation in the 1980s was devalued at a ratio of 1000:1 to become in 1986 a New Israeli Shekel ($1=3.5₪) in use to this day.

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Roman Amphitheaters in Israel

An amphitheater is an open-air venue, oval or circular in shape, used for entertainment, performances, and sports (think sports stadium today, not to be confused with a Roman theater which is semicircular). The term derives from the ancient Greek ἀμφιθέατρον (amphitheatron), from ἀμφί (amphi), meaning “on both sides” or “around” and θέατρον (théātron), meaning “place for viewing”.

Originally built from the Imperial era 27 BCE on throughout the Roman Empire, the remains of at least 230 amphitheaters have been found. The largest amphitheater ever is the Colosseum or Coliseum, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater in Rome, just east of the Roman Forum and is considered one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and engineering. Construction of the Colosseum began under the rule of the Emperor Vespasian in around 70 CE and was completed in 80 CE under his son and heir Titus, funded by the treasures taken from the Jewish Temple when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. Like many Roman building projects, for example, aqueducts and bridges, it has stone masonry cladding on a concrete core. It is estimated that the Colosseum could seat more than 50,000 spectators. The 43.3 meter dome of the Pantheon was also formed of unreinforced concrete.

In Israel you can visit 3 amphitheaters left behind by the Romans.

  1. At Caesarea-Maritima Herod built a hippodrome for chariot races on the sea coast beside his Promontory Palace. In the 2nd century, the hippodrome was shortened to form an amphitheater. Built of kurkar stones I estimate that it held about 4000 spectators. Below is a view of the eastern side with the VIP seating area.Hippodrome VIP seats
  2. Fresco at amphitheaterOn the northwestern outskirts of Beit Guvrin, called Eleutheropolis, in the 2nd century the Romans built an amphitheater [31.6082°N 34.8939°E] for Roman troops stationed in the region after the suppression of the Bar Kochba revolt. It had a walled arena of packed earth, with subterranean galleries. The arena was decorated with frescoes and surrounded by a series of connected barrel vaults, which formed a long, circular corridor that supported the stone seats above it. Click on the image for a larger view.Amphi Pano BG
  3. South of the Roman civic center at Beit Shean, the Romans built an amphitheater [32.498508°N 35.501446°E] on the western part of an existing hippodrome of which very little is known. The structure was an oval, 102 x 67 meters, of limestone blocks on a foundation of basalt. There were 10-12 rows of seats that would have held 5000-7000 spectators. Below is a panorama of the amphitheater at Beit Shean. I took 3 photos standing inside the amphitheater and 3 outside on the edge  and stitched them together using Photoshop. Click on the images for a larger view.Amphitheater Panorama Beit SheanBeit Shean amphitheater

Gladiatorial munera began to disappear from public life during the 3rd century, due to economic pressure, philosophical disapproval and opposition by the increasingly predominant new religion of Christianity. Spectacles involving animals, venationes, became costlier and rarer until in the 6th century they ended. Today all that is left are the remains of the structures.