Hippos-Sussita Excavation Project The Fourth Season

See Also: First Season - 2000Second Season - 2001Third Season - 2002

By Arthur Segal
Head of the Project
Hippos Excavation Project
Zinman Institute of Archaeology
University of Haifa, Haifa

Michael Eisenberg
Asst. to Director
Hippos Excavation Project
Zinman Institute of Archaeology
University of Haifa, Haifa
October 2003

A. General

The fourth season of excavations at Sussita, undertaken by the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa in cooperation with the Polish Academy of Sciences, the National Museum at Warsaw, and Concordia University in St. Paul, Minnesota, was conducted throughout July 2003. The expedition was led by Prof. Arthur Segal, Prof. Jolanta Mlynarczyk, Dr. Mariusz Burdajewicz, and Prof. Mark Schuler.

B. Excavation Area

During the fourth season, the following areas were excavated:

  1. The Hellenistic Compound
    This excavation area includes mainly the area known from previous seasons as the "Northern Complex" and the other areas which were excavated within it and immediately adjacent to it. An impressive segment of the central part of the open court [the temenos] of the Hellenistic compound was exposed.
  2. The Forum
    It is the main public plaza of Roman Hippos, paved with carefully dressed basalt slabs. To its west is the Kalybe [monumental structure which served as a temple for the Imperial cult] and to the north is the Hellenistic Compound. The eastern, as well as the southern sides, still remains unexcavated. This season the northeast corner of the Forum was exposed. On the beautifully preserved pavement, 14 monolithic granite column shafts were found lying together with many other architectural fragments, a silent reminder of the fatal earthquake which occurred in 749 C.E.
  3. The Northwest Church
    This season the excavation of the church's main hall and its southern wing was completed. The Martyrion, located to the south of the central apse of the church, was also unearthed.
  4. The Northeast Church
    This church, first excavated in the previous season, is situated 50 m. east of the Northwest Church. This season the chancel area and the southern aisle of the church were unearthed. One of the two tombs located in the church was also excavated.
  5. The East City Gate
    The main goal of the excavations in this area was to clear the debris which covered the structure and to expose the main features of the gate area. During the fourth season, the round tower, being the central feature of the gate, was completely exposed, as was a 4 m. long segment of the city wall.

C. The Hellenistic Compound

At the end of the fourth season, it became clear that the main component of this area was actually a Hellenistic compound (temenos) bounded on its western and southern sides by an imposing, beautifully built wall. About 40 m. of this solid, massively built wall was exposed in the previous season. Although the excavation of this large Hellenistic compound is still far from being completed, it is already clear that what we have here is an extensive sanctuary which continued to fulfill its original religious function during the Roman Period as well. This assumption is based on the additional finds, especially of architectural remains. It seems that the Northwest Church was built upon the remains of both Hellenistic and Roman temples, as a symbolic gesture meant to signify the victory of Christianity over Paganism. The impressive southern wall of the Hellenistic compound is noteworthy, especially for its excellent construction with its layers arranged with great care in a uniform pattern of headers and stretchers. The basalt ashlars have dressed margins which give the impression of order and unity.

What is important to mention here is the fact that, so far, very few Hellenistic structures have been exposed in the Decapolis cities. Most of the architectural remains exposed in Gadara, Gerasa, Pella, or Scythopolis belong to Roman-Byzantine periods. The very fact that the Hellenistic Compound has been found in Hippos is in itself a very important contribution to the architectural history of this area of the Hellenistic-Roman world.

D. The Forum

During the fourth season the northeast corner of the beautifully paved forum plaza was entirely exposed. The forum was planned as a tristoon, a rectangular plaza surrounded on the north, west, and east sides by colonnades. Fourteen of these column shafts made of Egyptian grey granite were found scattered on the forum's pavement, a silent testimony to a fatal earthquake which took place in 749 C.E. Among those columns, many architectural fragments were located, such as bases, podia, and capitals. They were made of limestone, basalt, white marble and granite. It is obvious that Roman architects were very much aware of the qualities of different kinds of building materials.

The most meaningful find in the forum area this season was a limestone semicircle podium, presumably meant to carry a statue of a prominent citizen of Hippos. What is so special about this podium is the fact that in order to erect a statue in the forum, one has to get City Council [Boule] consent. This is an important testimony to the very character of Hippos as a real Polis.

E. The Northwest Church

The main effort of the Polish team excavating the Northwest Church concentrated on exposing the southern Sacristy, located to the south of the main apse of the church. Two reliquaries were found here indicating that this area of the church served actually as a Martyrion, a place of the cult of martyrs. An additional area which has been almost completely exposed this season is the southern wing, shaped as a long hall, divided into three smaller rooms. This part of the church was used apparently as a Diakonikon, a storage area for agricultural products to be consumed by the priests and monks. The Diakonikon area proved to be extremely rich in finds. Worth mentioning are the iron agricultural tools, bronze vessels, and especially the marvelous Umayyad decanter. The latter proves that the church was still in use in the 8th century C.E.

F. The Northeast Church

Approximately 50 m. to the east of the Northwest Church is another, named the Northeast Church. This Church was excavated by a team from Concordia University, St. Paul, Minnesota, headed by Prof. Mark Schuler. During this season, the southern aisle of the main hall of the church was fully excavated and the chancel area in front of the apse was exposed. In the chancel area, two burials were located. The southern one is a sarcophagus made of limestone and covered with a monolithic lid made also of limestone. This sarcophagus contained the bones of a woman at least 60 years old.

The very fact of finding a female burial in such prestigious place in the chancel area is surprising and a rare discovery indeed, and further exploration will be conducted next season in order to identify her.

The second burial has been only partially excavated. It is in the shape of a typical "cist tomb," built of basalt ashlars. In this tomb, a limestone sarcophagus was found covered by 6 stone slabs. It is our intention to continue the exploration of the Northeast Church, especially its unexcavated tomb in the next season.

G. The Eastern City Gate

During the 4th season of excavations, it was decided to complete the excavations of the eastern city gate located at the east end of the Decumanus Maximus. It should be mentioned that following the fortification activities which were conducted here by the I.D.F. during the 1950's substantial damage was inflicted upon the remains of the ancient structures, especially here at the Eastern City Gate.

The eastern gate of Hippos was incorporated into the city wall and situated at the east end of a cliff overlooking the topographic saddle that links the mountain of Hippos to the western slopes of the Golan Heights.

The gate has one passageway with a tower on either side that protrudes eastward from the wall. The unique aspect of the eastern gate of Hippos is the lack of symmetry with regard to the placement of two towers in relation to the gate itself and the totally different plan of these towers. The round tower, which is incorporated into the wall of the city, created a killing field opposite the gate itself facing towards the saddle and also towards the slope to the south of it. The square tower, on the other hand, which is placed at the edge of the cliff, does not create any real killing field except for the narrow space near the gate passageway.

During the 4th season, the Round Tower was fully exposed. Additionally, an impressive, 4 m. long segment of the city wall was unearthed. The wall shows superb craftsmanship and its ashlars beautifully dressed with smooth bosses and delicate margins were laid with great accuracy in uniform layers of opus quadratum.

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