In 2018 and 2019 excavations were conducted at Horbat Sussita (Hippos; License Nos. G-38/2018, G-16/2019; map ref. 261829–2421/742664–895) by the Hippos Excavation Project of the Zinman Institute of Archaeology, University of Haifa and directed by M. Eisenberg and A. Kowalewska. The research project included scientific excavations and two salvage excavations commissioned by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (NPA Permit Nos.א010-18, A007-19), as part of development project to open the site as a national park. Assistance was provided by A. Pažout (field supervision, measurements, photogrammetry and GIS), M. Schuler (field supervision), N. Koskanen (field supervision and finds processing), J. Rentz (field supervision), V. Lechem (field supervision and petrography), B. Alaverdian and A. Khait (administration), A. Iermolin (metal detection and small finds conservation), Y. Vitkalov (on behalf of the IAA, field conservation), M. Osband and N. Shamir (ceramics), D. Syon (numismatics) and G. Staab (Greek epigraphy).
The site of Horbat Sussita (Hippos, also known as Antiochia Hippos of the Decapolis) is located on Mt. Sussita within ‘Susita National Park’, 2 km east of the Sea of Galilee, overlooking Kibbutz ‘En Gev. As from 2000, the site is continuously excavated by the Hippos Excavation Project. The excavations revealed numerous components of the Graeco-Roman city that functioned through the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, and Early Islamic periods. The results are published in a series of monographs and articles (see, e.g., Segal et al. 2014, including the full history of research at the site; Eisenberg 2016; 2017; 2018).
In 2018 and 2019 the excavations were continued in the following fields (Fig. 1):
Southern Bathhouse (SWL I; Fig. 1:4)—in the western side of the bathhouse building, an alley outside of the western wall of the bathhouse and a probe in the drain on the eastern side of the bathhouse;
Decumanus Maximus West (DMW; Fig.1:12)—in the course of the western part of the decumanus maximus on the line with the odeion, and in a southward running cardo on its junction with the decumanus;
Decumanus Maximus East (DME; Fig.1:12)—in the course of the eastern part of the decumanus maximus between the two modern IDF buildings;
Saddle of Mt. Sussita (HDSL; Fig. 1:19–21) —the area outside of the city walls, on the western slopes of the saddle, a compound with a monumental gate, a bathhouse, and a theater;
Theater (THR; Fig. 1:21)—the theater identified within the saddle compound, along the southeast slopes of the mountain;
Saddle Necropolis (NSD; Fig. 1:18, 23)—part of the necropolis on the eastern side of the saddle, where at least two mausolea were identified;
Southwest Church (SWC; Fig. 1:14)—a small church building in the middle of the southwest residential quarter of the city, also known as the Burnt Church;
Forum (FRM; Fig. 1:5)—below the level of the Roman forum in the area where the paving was robbed out in antiquity.
The Southern Bathhouse (SWL I) is one of the main excavation areas, investigated as from 2005 (Fig. 2). Over ten seasons of excavations a public bathhouse was unearthed. The bathhouse was in use between the second and the fourth centuries CE. It was built on the site of Early Roman fortifications, and it was reused for unspecified activities in the Byzantine period (Kowalewska and Eisenberg 2017; Kowalewska 2019a; 2019b).
The 2018 excavations, in the eastern extent of the area, revealed layers from the Byzantine reuse of the space, which covered a collapse of limestone ashlars (collapsed walls of the bathhouse) and a cement floor (one of the floors of the bathhouse, probably of a pool robbed of decorative slab revetment). Under the floor and inside the western wall adjacent to it, a drain was excavated, which produced 24 coins of the second to fourth centuries CE (not later than 341 CE), six pieces of bone dice and two bone pins. The excavations in the western part of the area included later reoccupation of what was originally the praefurnia of the bathhouse and the alley running north–south giving access to the service area through the western wall of the bathhouse. The alley had two channels (drain or water supply) running underneath it, which were blocked by garbage in the fourth century CE. In the northern part of the area the reoccupation included construction of multiple rubble walls, possibly for domestic purpose. In the southern part of the area the reoccupation included construction of a southern city wall and rubble blockage of the bathhouse furnaces, and later on, blockage of the whole space. The SWL I area was not excavated in 2019.
The Decumanus Maximus West (DMW) is the western course of the city’s main street. It was previously excavated in 2008, 2014, 2016 and 2017 (Fig. 3). In 2018 and 2019, the excavations concentrated on the spot close to Rami Zayit Memorial and the IDF shed (Fig. 4). The area proved to be heavily disturbed by IDF activity, which entirely damaged the basalt paving of the surface of the decumanus. Architectural remains excavated in the area included two basalt ashlar-constructed piers (W2756 and W2757), which bordered the decumanus from the north and south, a patch of well-executed flagstones (F2765) that belonged to a cardo running south of the decumanus, remains of well-cut limestone and basalt ashlar walls (W3834, W3830), and numerous walls of unworked stones (W2748, W2772, W3828, W3829, W3840, W3853). Paving F2765 (preserved patch 2.8 × 11.5 m) is dated to the Roman period, not later than end of the first century CE, as evident from masons’ marks engraved on at least 13 of the flagstones, identical to the marks documented on paving of the decumanus and the forum of the city (Kowalewska and Eisenberg 2019). The surrounding of F2765 was completely restructured in the Byzantine period, removing parts of the paving and the whole of the western side of the cardo, constructing in its place the rubble walls that reused multiple Roman architectural items (such as A14614, A14727, A14645 incorporated in the walls, and others found scattered around in the fills), and a series of packed-earth and plaster floors (e.g., F3855, F3839). Although significant amounts of pottery were recovered from the excavated Byzantine structures, the exact nature of the activity was not established.
The Decumanus Maximus East (DME) is the eastern course of the city’s main street. It was excavated in 2005–2007 to reveal the whole of the surviving paved surface. In 2018 the excavations were conducted in an area in the middle of the course of the street, between the two IDF buildings, where the NPA commissioned work for the installation of an infrastructure sleeve for cables and pipes. The original paving of the street (F1020) was temporarily removed, and a probe (2.5–3.7 × 9.5 m) was excavated (Fig. 5), which encompassed the street itself and up to 2 m to the north and south of the street. The stones were set in a layer of binding material and some filling (L2791), which produced pottery of mainly first century BCE and first half of the first century CE, with some later inclusions as well (evidence of repairs?). Below, a sequence of floors was revealed (F2795, F2798), dated to the first century BCE by pottery and a coin. The sequence of floors continued further down (L3805, L3808, F3815) to bedrock (F3818), producing a mix of ceramic finds from the first and second centuries BCE (Fig. 6). Another pronounced feature excavated under the paving was the continuation of the water channel that runs all along the southern side of the street. The accumulations removed from inside of the channel were dated by ceramic finds to fifth–sixth centuries CE. After the modern construction was completed, the original paving stones were returned to their spot with use of modern Roman-like mortar to hold them (Vitkalov 2019).
Excavations on the saddle of Mt. Sussita (HDSL), on the side of the eastern approach towards the city gate, were initiated in 2014 and continued since. The area includes remains of multiple structures (a monumental gate, a bathhouse, and a theater), which together create an extra-mural compound. As from 2017, the surrounding of the theater was treated as a separate excavations field termed THR (described in the next paragraphs). In 2018 and 2019 the excavations in HDSL concentrated mainly on the area above the gate, where a pool was identified, and on a square opened between the monumental gate and the bathhouse, where no architecture was identified (Fig. 7). The monumental gate, including the pool, was already published by Eisenberg (2019).
The theater (THR) was identified at the end of 2016, and several probes were excavated in 2017. In 2018 and 2019 the excavations concentrated on the southeastern corner of the theater building and the probe adjacent to W7004 (Fig. 8). The probe (L7017; 1.0 × 1.3 m), reaching down to bedrock, produced mixed finds. One of the vomitoria, enclosed between W6011 and W6010, was further excavated to reveal very poor preservation of the theater structure in this spot. Main work was done on the southeastern aditus maximus area, where it was established that W7023 dates to the fifth-sixth centuries CE and belongs to a stage of Byzantine restructuring. The aditus maximus of the theater is the passage between W7025 and W7048, entered through a gap 2.5 m wide between W7041 and W7047, evidently roofed by a vault (Fig. 9).
The Saddle Necropolis (NSD) was excavated in 2012, concentrating on an impressive mausoleum, now called the Lion’s Mausoleum (after a lion sculpture, now on display in the Hippos Exhibition in the Hecht Museum, Haifa). In 2018 and 2019 the excavations were continued and expanded to the north outside of the Lion’s Mausoleum (L3625), where another impressive mausoleum evidently stood (named Mausoleum B; Figs. 10, 11). Full outlines of Mausoleum B have not yet been excavated (a corner of the structure is indicated with the small white arrow, Fig. 11), but clearly most of the meticulously sculpted basalt architectural fragments scattered in the area belonged to this mausoleum (e.g., triglyph-metope frieze fragment A7173; Fig. 12). The floor of the Lion’s Mausoleum (F3623) was exposed already in 2012, including probes down to bedrock. Additional probe (L3624) was excavated in 2018, revealing ceramic material not later than mid-Roman period. Some cleaning was done also in the western part of the structure (L6048, L6058), where two partially preserved Roman oil lamps were found. The Lion’s Mausoleum was already published in detail by Eisenberg (2020).
The Southwest Church (SWC) was first investigated in 2005, and later probed in 2007. In 2019 the excavations continued in the central and western part of the building. It revealed the continuation of the layers from destruction of the church in fire (Fig. 13) and continuation of the well-preserved mosaic pavement (F821; Fig. 14). The mosaic includes a variety of motifs—grapes, pomegranates, etrogs, baskets (possibly with loaves of bread), fishes, birds, goblets etc., interrupted by geometric motifs, and two inscriptions (in addition to an inscription identified in 2005). The inscriptions reveal information on the purpose of the church and its benefactors (Staab and Eisenberg 2020). The debris of the church produced a wealth of material, from parts of colonnades, through rooftiles and nails for the wooden beams of the roof, to metal instruments of the church doors, including two knockers in shape of lion’s heads. The mosaic and surviving plasters on the walls were partially conserved and fully covered up at the end of the season.
The forum and its surroundings (FRM) were excavated through various seasons revealing the whole of the space of the forum plaza. The paving of the plaza survived in the north and east (F301; Fig. 15), and in the rest of the area was removed for reuse already in antiquity. In 2019 excavations were undertaken in the spot where the paving was missing, commissioned by the NPA for the planned repaving of the spot with modern stone. Total space of two squares was opened, divided to four trenches (A–D). The main revealed feature was a channel (L3007) that run under the forum in E-W line. Partially above the channel and partially cut by the channel were a series of several packed-earth and plaster floors that followed a similar stratigraphic pattern in all four trenches and produced a wealth of ceramic finds. The pottery indicates that the upper floors date to the Early Roman period (end of the first century BCE?), while the lower floors belong to the Hellenistic period (second century BCE). The channel probably belongs to the Early Roman period phase as well. The remains must be that of the Hellenistic agora of the city; they were excavated under the paved forum and are devoid of any architecture, as expected from an open plaza. Trenches A and B were excavated down to bedrock, which showed traces of cutting and remains of walls of unworked stones. The pottery and the increased amount of flint finds point to Chalcolithic date of these remains. The excavated trenches were filled up at the end of the 2019 season.
The 2018 and 2019 excavation seasons at Hippos continued the research of the city initiated in 2000 and were largely connected to the development of the site by the NPA. They revealed a wealth of additional information about the Graeco-Roman city and its fortunes from the Hellenistic beginnings to the earthquake of 749 CE. The excavations under the forum produced evidence of the Hellenistic agora, possibly the first to be archaeologically identified in the region. The Hellenistic and Early Roman phases of the public spaces of Hippos were also exposed in the trench through the eastern side of the decumanus maximus. Excavations of the western side of the decumanus maximus added knowledge about a cardo of the Roman period. The prosperous Roman-period phase of the city was also investigated through excavations outside of the eastern city gate: the wealthy Lion’s Mausoleum, partial investigation of another opulent funerary building (Mausoleum B, which is still under excavation), and the compound of a possible sanctuary that included a monumental gate, a bathhouse, and a theater. The fourth-century-CE disruption in the city life is evident from the excavations of the Southern Bathhouse, which went out of use, and was reused for other purposes from the end of the fourth century CE. The excavations of the Southwest Church added an invaluable insight into the Byzantine-period life at Hippos and the local cult of saints, in shape of well-preserved mosaic, with two fully read inscriptions, and well-preserved collapse of the building. The excavation seasons were accompanied by significant conservation projects of lifting and returning of part of the paving of the decumanus maximus, consolidation of the Southwest Church’s mosaic floor, and continued conservation of some more fragile finds from the previous seasons. The excavations and research of the site will continue hand in hand with the NPA development, with the hope of future permanent conservation and excavation activity at the site.
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