Head: Hippos-Sussita Project,
Head: Zinman Institute of Archaeology
University of Haifa
Hippos is located some 2 km east of the Sea of Galilee (Genezaret or Lake of
Tiberias), in the vicinity of Kibbutz Ein-Gev. The site is situated on
the top of a flat diamond-shaped mountain 350 m. above the Sea of
Galilee entirely surrounded by a wall.
During the Hellenistic and Roman Periods Hippos belonged to the
Decapolis group of cities, centers of Greek culture in an area
predominantly populated by Semitic peoples such as Jews, Arameans and
Hippos is one of two cities of the Decapolis, which are located in
Israel, Beth-Shean (Scythopolis) being the second one. All the others
were established east of Jordan River in what is today Jordan and Syria.
Contrary to the other Decapolis cities, Hippos remained almost untouched
by archaeologists’ spade. However, from aerial photographs of the site
a marvelously and carefully planed Roman city, characterized by a
network of streets, public buildings, a forum and perhaps also a
theatre, can be observed.
In the Byzantine period, at least three churches were constructed on the
site, one of which was built on the remains of an earlier Roman temple.
Since all the public buildings were constructed of basalt, the ruins of
Hippos are perfectly preserved. A few remnants of the main colonnaded
street are clearly visible. The same can be said about the Nymphaeum,
the main public plaza, possibly the city’s Forum and two of the city
Hippos was probably established during the Ptolemaic or Seleucid periods
(at end of the third or beginning of the second centuries B.C.E.). The
city, known by its Greek name Hippos, which means "horse",
continued to exist until the Arab conquest (seventh cent. C.E). In the
Aramaic language it was known as Sussita.
Hippos is mentioned in many historical sources as Josephus Flavius and
Pliny the Elder, as well as in Jewish Halakhic literature. It is from
these latter sources that we can learn a great deal about the
relationship between the Greek population of the Decapolis cities such
as Hippos and the Jewish population, which was dispersed in the townlets
and villages along the shores of the Sea of Galilee and on nearby Golan
In July 2000, the Classical Division of the Department of Archaeology
and the Zinman Institute at the University of Haifa carried out the
first season of excavations at Hippos. Following a detailed urban
survey, which was conducted in the summer of 1999, two main areas were
chosen for excavations: the north west church and the Roman monumental
North West Church
The church is located in the north west sector of Hippos, parallel to
the main colonnaded streets (Decumanus Maximus). The church has a nave
ending at its east side with three apses. The eastern part of a nave and
the northern apse, as well as the western segment of the atrium were
uncovered. One doorway led from the nave to the atrium.
The walls of the church were built partly of limestone and partly of
basalt ashlars. Many architectural fragments, such as unfluted column
drums, capitals and bases were found among the debris. Few marble
scattered segments of an altar table and its legs were exposed on the
mosaic floor of the northern apse. A small reliquarium made of white
marble has been found there as well.
Roman Monumental Structure (Nymphaeum)
This impressive rectangular structure is located to the west of the
large, paved flat area in the center of the city, which served as
Its east main front is facing the forum while the north front is facing
the Decumanus Maximus.
This solid, monumentally built structure is well preserved and still
stands about three meters high. It is built of carefully dressed basalt
ashlars. In the center of its east front is a semicircular niche (diam.
6 m.). During the first season of excavations only the east and the
north fronts of the building were fully exposed, while the south and the
west fronts are still covered with debris. The granite columns and some
other fragments of the architectural decorations that had probably
embellished the building façade were found scattered around. Since no
water-supply installations were found in the building or in its
immediate vicinity, it may have been a Kalybe Temple, i.e. a building
devoted to the cult of the Emperors, similar to the Kalybe Temples
discovered in Hauran and Trachon regions, in the cities of Philippopolis
(Shuhba), Bosra and Kanawat.
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