The Roman Temple and the Church—Areas 67.3 and 77.1
A Roman temple, founded in the first half of the second century CE, and a church constructed above it in the late fifth or early sixth century CE, were discovered in previous seasons in Areas 67.3 and 77.1, south of the decamanus. Remains of other buildings were revealed in several squares, and they are ascribed to an intermediate phase, after the abandonment of the temple in the middle of the fourth century CE and before the establishment of the church about a century later.
This season, the work concentrated on three sub-areas: in the east, the west and the north (Fig. 2). Several squares were opened in each sub-area, in order to answer stratigraphic questions which arose during the previous seasons, and provide new details regarding the temenos, the intermediate phase and the church. Three squares and one half of a square were opened in the eastern part (67.3 East), south of the southern apse of the church. The purpose of the excavation in this area was twofold: to identify the eastern wall that encloses the complexes south of the church, and to uncover more remains that belong to the intermediate phase and the temenos level.
The wall enclosing the hall to the south of the church’s southern aisle, proved to continue eastward, far beyond the area that was excavated and the estimated boundary of the church. North and south of this wall, which was built of fieldstones, and below the floor level of the church, were several layers of slanting plaster surfaces—work surfaces used by the builders of the church. Similar layers were discovered in previous seasons, but they were of lesser quality and not as massive. A heap of soft, dressed limestone blocks, probably associated with nearby production of lime, was uncovered in one of the squares. It is possible that the plaster surfaces which relate to the lines of the walls were associated with the production of lime, an important component in ancient construction. The top plaster-surface also served as foundation to the floor of the rooms located south of the church.
Building remains ascribed to the intermediate phase were discovered in the southwestern square, where one course of a wall that was constructed of soft limestone blocks set on a rubble foundation was exposed. Part of a tabun adjacent to the eastern side of the wall was partially preserved. Apparently it was incorporated in the plaster floor, whose remains survived on the southeastern side of the square. A tiny blue glass object decorated with a menorah, which was probably used as an inlay for a ring, was discovered in the fill around the plaster floor and the tabun. The building remains, particularly the wall oriented northeast–southwest, continue the outlines of the intermediate-phase construction, which was discovered in the northern and western squares in previous seasons.
In the western part of the area (67.3 West), one square was opened, the balks were removed, and the excavation continued in two squares from the previous season. Four construction phases were discerned in the area west of the church’s narthex, in the southwestern corner of the atrium (Fig. 3). A small section of the bedding to the temenos floor was exposed, and ascribed to the first phase. As in other places, it was made of white plaster mixed with reddish soil, and was set directly on the bedrock, or on a fill of light-red soil rich in pottery.
The temenos level was cut by a wall oriented southeast–northwest, which had two courses of ashlars in secondary use. A small section of this wall, which belongs to the second construction phase, was discovered in the previous season beneath the wall that delimited the narthex from the west. Now that the wall is completely exposed, it is clear that stratigraphically it belongs to the intermediate phase, which was identified elsewhere in the temenos. The wall clearly cuts the floor of the temenos, and went out of use when the church was built: the eastern stylobate of the atrium cuts it in the west, and the western wall of the narthex was built on top of it to the east. The pottery that was found in the foundation trench was not sufficiently diagnostic to date the construction of the wall, but it was obviously built in a later phase of the temenos, or after the temple and the temenos were no longer used for worship.
The third construction phase is related to the church. The southeastern corner of the atrium was fully defined this season. A plastered doorjamb, a single column drum and a threshold comprising several stone slabs, which were discovered in situ, are part of the doorway between the rooms south of the church and the corner of the atrium.
In the fourth and final phase, which dates to the Umayyad period, a stone floor was built in the corner of the church’s atrium. Walls oriented east–west delimited it in the north and south. The northern wall was particularly thick. It was built some distance from the wall of the intermediate phase, which was entirely exposed this season. A fill of earth mixed with stones of various sizes, among them a fragment of a pedestal, were found in the space between the two walls. Construction of the wall south of the stone pavement blocked the passage from the southeastern corner of the atrium to the rooms south of the church. To the south, another room with a plaster floor had already been exposed in previous seasons. This room and the stone-paved room next to it were part of a single complex, which was erected in the Umayyad period. The stone floor and the walls enclosing it were built of ashlars in secondary use, some of them broken. As the architectural and stratigraphic relationship between the church, the stone floor and the walls enclosing it were investigated, it became apparent that the floor and walls postdate the church, whose walls were dismantled in preparation for the subsequent construction. Plaster floor was laid over the stone level during the Abbasid period, and it reflects another construction phase in this room, before it went out of use.
The excavation in the northern part was conducted in two locations. The first was next to the plaster floor which was discovered in previous seasons in the fore part of the apse. Another section of this floor was exposed during this season. It extends westward beyond the wall built of stones in secondary use that separates the presbyterium from the nave. Examination of the relationship between the wall and the plaster floors on either side of it, proved that the wall cut both, and therefore it is either a later addition to the church, or postdates it. The second location was north of the northeastern side of the church, as far as the decamanus
. One square was opened, and several balks were removed. Remains of the entrance from the decamanus
to the temple-area and the paved sections of the temenos
were discovered in previous seasons. In the second phase, probably in the fourth century CE, a row of shops blocked the entrance to the temenos
and canceled the direct approach from the decamanus
to the temple-courtyard. In the third phase, the church was constructed to the south, not far from the row of shops; thus they existed simultaneously throughout the Byzantine period (for a preliminary publication of the temple and the church that was built above it, see Weiss 2010
Remains of the three construction phases were discovered in the area which was excavated this season. Another section of the foundation of the temenos floor was discovered in the area between the wall that borders the shops from the south and the northern wall of the church (Fig. 4). A large part of a shop from the intermediate phase was exposed, in addition to the shops that were discovered in previous seasons. Most of the western, southern and eastern walls of the shop were preserved to a height of one or two courses, and its floor was made of smooth plaster. Two stones, perhaps a threshold, were preserved from the northern shop-wall, which was next to the decamanus. The two stones rest partly on the temenos wall, and it is clear that the northern wall of the shop cancelled the temenos wall, which became the foundation for the new wall. The southern wall of the shop was discovered this season, and it continues the line of the wall that delineated the row of shops from the south. The new section, like the ones found in previous seasons, cut the floor foundation of the temenos. The evidence that was discovered in the southern and northern parts of the shop during this season, reinforces the conclusion that the row of shops postdates the temenos, and its construction cancelled the entrance from the decamanus to the temple-courtyard.
The eastern end of the wall that delimited the northern aisle in the church was exposed during the excavation season. The outer face of the wall (height 1.27 m) curved, conforming to the outline of the apse at the end of the northern aisle, and it was covered with two or three layers of light-gray plaster. The wall served as a deep foundation for this part of the church. The space between the northern wall of the church and the wall that borders the shops from the south, was filled with earth up to the level of the stoas along the decamanus. It seems that this level was an open space, perhaps an alley between building complexes in this part of the city. A layer rich in a variety of finds associated with the interior furnishings of the church, was discovered in the upper layer in this area. A few bronze inlays were found, but mostly a large quantity of marble fragments, some decorated with a variety of patterns in relief. These finds were no doubt associated with the furnishings inside the church—capitals, fragments of columns, chancel-screens and parts of the altar. The concentration of marble items in this area is related to a lime pit which was discovered nearby in previous seasons. The material finds in this level date mainly to the Umayyad period, and indicate that the plundering and destruction of the church occurred in this period.
The aim of the excavation this season was to expose the continuation of the eastern cardo and the buildings adjacent to it on the east and west, toward the south, in order to evaluate the nature of the construction along this axis and the scope of it in the east. The excavation in this area is of great importance and is likely to add significant data regarding the boundaries of Zippori and the development of the city during the first centuries of the Common Era. To this end, six squares were laid out c. 40 m south of the area that was excavated in previous seasons.
A section of the eastern cardo (length c. 4.85 m; Fig. 5) was discovered in the two eastern squares. The northern part of this street, which was exposed in previous seasons, was part of the impressive network of streets that was built in Zippori during the late first and early second centuries CE. The newly found section of the road was paved with various-sized stone slabs and sloped gently toward the south. Where the bedrock was high, it was hewn and smoothed to match the level of the street. Plaster repairs substituted for several missing stones, which were worn or dislodged over time. A plastered water channel was built along the western side of the cardo. The channel had a slight gradient toward the south, and was covered with stone-slabs that were a little above the level of the street. A thick layer of collapse was uncovered above the street. It contained numerous building stones, and was partially sealed by a layer of plaster that sloped to the east. The material in the collapse dates to the Late Byzantine period, indicating that about this time the cardo, or at least this part of it, went out of use.
West of the street were remains of adjacent buildings—or perhaps one building consisting of several rooms—which were constructed in the Roman period, at the same time as the eastern cardo (Fig. 6). A square room (4.5 × 4.5 m) with a floor made of fine-quality polygonal stones was excavated next to the cardo on the west. Parts of other rooms, including two narrow spaces which may have been used as utility rooms, were exposed to the south and west. An intact cooking pot dating to the Early Roman period was discovered in situ in the southwestern corner of the southern room. The rooms had plaster floors, often of high quality, but they were only partially preserved. The walls of the rooms were built of fieldstones and partly-dressed stones, and were generally preserved to a height of one or two courses. A segment of plaster was preserved in situ on one of the walls, and it therefore seems that a layer of coarse plaster was applied at least to some of the walls.
The rooms that were exposed remained in use without interruption until the Late Byzantine period. At some point, probably in the Early Byzantine period, some of them were modified, as can be seen by the raised level of the floors and the introduction of a water channel that extended from east to west along the width of the southern room. Large stone slabs covered the channel, and a new plaster floor, which was uncovered throughout most of the room, was laid above it. Two of the rooms were partially covered with collapsed stones of various sizes. The pottery that was sealed in the collapse dates to the Late Byzantine period, and indicates that the buildings went out of use at about this time.
Several plaster floors, sealing the building remains, the eastern cardo and the collapse, were discovered directly below the surface. The floors, which were partially preserved, and not associated with walls, belong to the third construction phase that was identified in Area 68.2. Construction in this phase was over the earlier remains, but did not relate to them, and should apparently be dated to the Late Byzantine period, or perhaps slightly later; the date will be examined when the excavation is expanded in the coming seasons.
Roman Monumental Building—Area 78.2
A monumental building which dates to the late first century or the early second century CE, was discovered in previous seasons in the area north of the decamanus. There are two main wings in the building, but there is some doubt if they are part of a single complex. A large stone-paved courtyard was partly revealed in the eastern side of the area. West of the courtyard and adjacent to it, there is a portico with a plaster floor. Farther west, in the area between the portico and the southwestern corner of the building, near the junction of the cardo and the decamanus, another complex consisting of several rooms, some of them decorated with mosaics, was discovered.
The excavation was conducted in two separate locations: one along the western wall of the Roman building, next to the cardo, and the other east of the courtyard. Four squares were opened west of the building, and many balks were dismantled, so that the entire area is now open. The picture that emerges from this area completely changes some of our conclusions from the previous seasons. Buildings ascribed to the Roman period were exposed, one early, from the late first–early second century CE, and another building from a later date, but still within the Roman period. The new building enveloped and buried elements of the earlier building in its foundations, but it also incorporated several parts of older structure in the new complex, as for example the rooms with the mosaics in the southwestern corner of the early building.
Three main construction phases were found. The earliest remains belong to the Early Roman building that was discovered in previous seasons. This season part of its western wall (c. 10 m long), which was founded on the bedrock, was exposed. Next to it was a cistern covered with a barrel vault, oriented north–south. Some 6 m to the north, the edge of another cistern was discovered, oriented east–west and perpendicular to the presumed line of the western wall of the building, which has not yet been discovered. The walls of the two cisterns were covered with multiple layers of thick gray plaster.
Several sections (more than 20 m long) of an ashlar wall were discovered c. 2 m west of the building’s wall and parallel to the cardo. A threshold was revealed in the northern side of the wall in situ, and just west of it a rounded installation made of hard limestone was embedded in the ground. Another section of this wall was discovered to the south, next to the rooms with the mosaics and near the decamanus. The line of this wall was used in the two Roman building phases, and it is therefore difficult to determine accurately its initial shape. The opening with the stone installation at the northern end of the wall suggests that there was a row of shops along the cardo and next to the building. Support to this interpretation may also be found in the several plaster layers that were discovered in a gap between this wall and the line of the stylobate that delimits the cardo from the east; these are probably related to a sidewalk that extended in front of the shops on this side of the street.
Analysis of the finds in the western part of the early building clearly shows that the rooms with the mosaics were used in both Roman buildings, although the mosaic floors were added with the construction of the later one. The many fresco fragments decorated with geometric and floral patterns, which were discovered in the fill covering the early building and in the foundation trenches of the later building, indicate that the Early Roman building was richly decorated.
A monumental wall (length 14 m, width 1.4 m; Fig. 7) was discovered west of the wall that delimited the early Roman building. The wall was constructed of well-dressed ashlars arranged on one face as headers and on the other as stretchers. The construction style is identical to that of a wall that was discovered in the past on the northern side of the building. The two walls are perpendicular, and delineated the building on the north and west. Their continuation, which will be exposed in the coming seasons, forms the northwestern corner of the building. Analysis of the remains of the western wall, which was exposed this season, clearly shows that the construction of the new building canceled both the wall that delimited the Early Roman building from the west and the cisterns that were revealed next to it.
The intensity of the remains in the area, the building components, the width of the structure—35 m, or c. 100 Roman feet—and the other finds that were collected in the area, show that the monumental walls were part of a Roman building. The deep foundations that were uncovered in previous seasons provide additional evidence, although the connection between them and the monumental outer walls has not yet been found. These foundations are, however, similar in width to the monumental walls, and are parallel to the aforementioned northern wall, and therefore reinforce the hypothesis that all of them belong to a single construction phase, still within the Roman period. Instead of completely destroying the earlier structure, the builders marked the lines of the new construction, dug foundation trenches and removed the earlier construction where necessary, while parts of the building that did not stand in their way were buried in the foundations of the later building.
Remains of the late Roman building have not yet been discovered east of the monumental wall. However, the picture is somewhat clearer to its west. The front wall of the early-phase shop remained in use into the following phase, but apparently by then it enclosed an elongated entrance corridor (width c. 2.1 m) that extended along the western façade of the building. A threshold was incorporated in the wall, perhaps a side entrance to the late building, and next to it were sections of the floors that abutted the wall on both sides (Fig. 7). The floor on the west was made of coarse plaster, and two floors, one on top of the other, were found in a section that was preserved to the east. At the top was a smooth, fine-quality plaster floor, and protruding from under its northern edge was a white mosaic floor. It seems that the western floor reflects the route of the sidewalk, and the eastern floor shows the level of the corridor that ran along the western façade of the building. If so, it is interesting to note that the elevation of the mosaic which was discovered this season along the corridor, is identical to that of the mosaic floors in the rooms at the southwestern corner of the building which, as far as we can tell at the present state of knowledge, were added with the construction of the Late Roman building.
The third construction phase is ascribed to the Byzantine period, although it is difficult at this stage of the excavation to determine its exact date. Stone paving (width c. 7 m) was laid during this phase from the cardo to the western wall of the later Roman building, its elevation higher along the route of the sidewalk and the entrance corridor. At the front of the pavement alongside the cardo, a threshold of unknown function was incorporated. It is possible that the threshold stone was randomly incorporated in the pavement, but it is also possible that this was a closed entrance-hall with a doorway to the cardo, which was added at some point to the façade of the later Roman building that remained in use into the Byzantine period.
An extended excavation square (4 × 7 m) was opened in the east, to expose other parts of the early Roman building, and the robber trenches and deep foundations which were identified near it in previous seasons. Another section of the courtyard of the Early Roman building was uncovered in the southern part of the square. Several isolated hard limestone pavers were found, but mostly only the plaster foundation of the floor was preserved here (Fig. 8).
In the north, a robber trench was discovered, and in it a few plaster layers that date to later periods—from the Byzantine to the Umayyad. Several hard limestone slabs (each c. 1 × 1 m) still attached to their original plaster foundation (combined thickness of the stone slab and the foundation c. 0.4 m) were found in the robber trenches. Other smaller fragments were gathered on the higher levels of the excavation square. Two of the slabs were discovered overturned and one upright; clearly these fragments and the others are related to the plundering of stone slabs, and were collected elsewhere and eventually left here.
Plaster surfaces and robber trenches that were exposed in the building, in this season as in previous ones, show that the later Roman building was no longer in use by the late Byzantine period, and that in the following centuries unrelated construction activity whose nature is not yet clear, took place in it.
The excavation finds from this season constitute another tier in the painstaking work conducted by the Zippori expedition, which in recent years has sought to clarify structural and stratigraphic issues regarding several of the important buildings that were exposed alongside the decamanus, in order to advance the final publication of these significant discoveries. Over the years a fascinating and important picture of the settlement unfolds, providing information regarding the construction and development of the city through time.