The excavations at Hippos/Sussita (also known as Antiochia Hippos of the Decapolis), located 2 km east of the Sea of Galilee, have continued since 2000 (Kowalewska and Eisenberg 2021
; Hippos-Sussita Website
). In 2020, work was conducted in the following areas (Fig. 1): the Saddle Necropolis (NSD; in the Flowers Mausoleum, its surrounding sarcophagi and a burial cave; Fig. 1:22, 23); the Northern IDF Building (NIDF; as part of the building’s renovation; Fig. 1:25); the Forum (FRM; a probe next to the northern portico wall of the forum; Fig. 1:5); and the Southwest Church (SWC; also known as the Burnt Church; conservation only; Fig. 1:14).
The Saddle Necropolis (NSD)
The necropolis covers the southern part of Mt. Sussita’s saddle, stretching from the modern parking lot in the south to the ditch in the north (Figs. 1, 2). The necropolis includes a large number of sarcophagi and pit graves, scores of burial caves, and a few prestigious funerary structures. One of these, the Lion’s Mausoleum, was published in detail (Eisenberg 2020). Another mausoleum, found next to it, was excavated in 2019 and 2020 (see below, the Flowers Mausoleum).
Podia. The most noteworthy of the necropoleis’ funerary structures were 13 podia, constructed along the eastern side of the road through the saddle (see below). Past surveys here documented a series of walls constructed from large nari ashlars with drafted margins and significantly protruding bosses. The excavations exposed the outline of 12 structures, four of which were excavated fully, and parts of others were exposed. The structures are of solid stone throughout, hence they were termed podia. As evident from historical photographs, a thirteenth podium stood further south, now covered by the dirt path and partly destroyed by a modern installation. The podia most probably displayed sarcophagi on their flat top and differ slightly in size (c. 5 × 5 m, height 3.2–3.8 m). The passages between the podia are comprised of packed-earth floors laid on top of one another. Finds from the lower floors date from the first century CE; the upper floors yielded material dating mainly from the end of the third–beginning of the fourth century CE. The podia were constructed on partly hewn and leveled nari bedrock. The bedrock under the podia was pierced by shafts, which gave access to a tunnel that contained a ceramic pipe. The pipe, cemented inside the tunnel, is clearly the Hellenistic pressure water supply system for the city; the material recovered from the shafts indicated that the pipe was last accessed in the late Hellenistic–Early Roman periods. About 1 m east of the podia, the bedrock is cut by a trench that evidently held the Early Roman basalt pressure pipe of the city’s water supply system (Meshel et al. 1996; Tsuk 2018). The basalt pipe was repaired in the first years of the fifth century CE, as indicated by the coins recovered from the cement bedding that held the pipe, and in the Umayyad period it was robbed out, leaving only a few broken pipe fragments.
The Flowers Mausoleum (5.5 × 5.5 m; previously termed Mausoleum B) was fully excavated in 2020. The excavations revealed the foundations of the four walls of the mausoleum, preserved up to two courses, made of well-cut basalt ashlars placed directly on the nari bedrock. The mausoleum’s floor and its above-ground structure were not preserved, but many of the building stones were found fallen to the sides of the walls. Additional architectural fragments that belonged to the mausoleum were scattered on the slope east of the mausoleum, towards Nahal No‘a. Many of these fragments were recovered with the aid of a mechanical excavator and a winch operated by an ATV. Altogether over 50 architectural fragments that belonged to the Flowers Mausoleum were recovered, including four frieze fragments with metopes decorated with carved basalt flowers, which gave the name to the mausoleum. The excavation inside the foundations of the mausoleum, in soil with large natural basalt stones, produced only a small amount of pottery. The preliminary reading dated the finds mainly to the first century CE. This dating is suggested also by the finely sculpted architectural fragments and the mason’s marks identified on some of them.
Sarcophagi and Burial Cave. In 2020, seven sarcophagi were excavated in NSD, either free-standing or placed in cavities cut in the bedrock. One sarcophagus was made of basalt; the others of limestone, probably the local nari. Two of the limestone sarcophagi were decorated, the decorations suggesting a date in the second–third centuries CE. No indicative artifacts were recovered from the sarcophagi. Additional fragments of sarcophagi were found within the debris of the funerary podia: one made of basalt, and at least four made of limestone. It is not possible to determine whether or not these sarcophagi originally stood on the podia.
The excavation of the first rock-cut burial cave within NSD was initiated at the end of 2020: the entrance to the cave was cleared, part of the collapsed bedrock ceiling was removed, but no floor has yet been reached.
The Northern IDF Building (NIDF)
This area has never been investigated by the Hippos Excavation Project, but limited work were carried out in 1949–1951, during the construction of the IDF building. The Department of Antiquities and Museums conducted salvage excavations that exposed the eastern part of a church that stood to the southeast of the modern building (Fig. 3). Three apses were revealed and backfilled almost completely. The area surrounding the church was recognized as a Byzantine neighborhood but was not excavated. The excavations of the church have not been published, except for a brief mention in 1950 (Bulletin 1950).
Two excavation squares were opened (Fig. 3): one inside the southern part of the building (26.6 sq m), and one outside the building (25 sq m) adjacent to its northwestern side. The remains in both squares were found disturbed heavily by the construction of the modern building, including backfills with ancient architectural fragments and concrete poured on top of ancient remains. The disturbed layers were removed mainly by mechanical tools. Many of the architectural fragments and parts of installations that were found were documented and put on display near the building. Other archaeological remains that were exposed during current construction work outside of the excavation squares were documented as well.
The excavation revealed three bell-shaped cisterns, Byzantine and Umayyad-period floors, and three walls dated to the late Hellenistic or Early Roman period. These features and the small finds indicate that the area was a domestic area in the Byzantine and the Umayyad periods, constructed possibly in the second half of the fourth century CE on top of remains of Hellenistic and Early Roman houses. A few pottery sherds of Neolithic and Chalcolithic date point to activity at the site in those periods.
The Forum (FRM)
A probe (1 × 2 m; Fig. 4) was sunk along the northern side of the wall of the forum’s northern portico (W356), in line with the basilica’s western entrance. The objective was to investigate the construction of the portico wall down to its foundations, prior to the partial reconstruction of the portico colonnade. The probe reached bedrock 1.6 m below the latest identified plaster floor, dating from the late Byzantine–Umayyad periods. The probe cut through multiple plaster and packed-earth floors, the lowest of which contained Hellenistic-period pottery. The exposed bedrock was not leveled or cut in antiquity. Wall 356 was constructed adjacent to the exposed bedrock, with only a few centimeters of foundation trench fill between them. The foundations of W356 were dry constructed of unworked basalt stones (Fig. 5).
The Southwest Church (SWC)
In 2020, only conservation work was conducted in the Southwest Church. Work concentrated on the mosaic carpet and wall plaster in the western part of the church, which was exposed in 2019. The mosaic is mostly well-preserved, and the cleaning brought to light two previously unknown inscriptions in tabulae ansatae in front of the main church entrance, with additional information on the church benefactions (for three inscriptions identified in previous years, see Staab and Eisenberg 2020).
The 2020 excavations at Hippos revealed a wealth of additional information about the Graeco-Roman city and its fortunes from Hellenistic beginnings to the earthquake of 749 CE. The most important finds were made on the saddle (NSD), where funerary structures and sarcophagi were investigated, and unexpected information on the city’s water supply system was revealed. For the first time, there is evidence of the Hellenistic-period pressure pipe water supply system, and the history of the Early Roman basalt pressure pipe is better known. In addition to the two richly decorated mausolea that stood within the Saddle Necropolis, a series of podia that displayed sarcophagi along the saddle road towards the city’s eastern gate is now revealed.