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Hammath Tiberias

Hammath Tiberias

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Transliterated Name Source Name
Hammath Tiberias Hebrew ‎‎

The remains of Hammath Tiberias extend from the hot springs (el-Hammam) to the southern boundary of ancient Tiberias, on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. In the Talmud, the place is identified with Hammath (Joshua 19:35), a fortified city of the tribe of Naphtali:
"Hammath-Hammatha" (J.T., Meg. 1, 70a)
This identification is not certain, however, because the excavations and a survey of the Hammath area uncovered no remains earlier than the Hellenistic period. Hammath is mentioned many times in the Mishnah. Tiberias and Hammath were originally two separate cities, each surrounded by a wall of its own
"Rabbi Jeremiah said ... from Hammath to Tiberias - a mile" [J.T., Meg. 2:1-2])
Subsequently, however, they were united, apparently in the first century CE:
"Now the children of Tiberias and the children of Hammath again became one city." (Tosefta, 'Eruv. 7:2)
In the liturgical sources (Mishmarot 24), Tiberias was known as Ma'uziah after the priestly order that had settled in Hammath. Tiberias was forbidden to the priests because it contained a cemetery. When Tiberias became the seat of the Great Yeshiva and the Sanhedrin in the third century CE, and the spiritual center of the Jews of Palestine and the Diaspora, the suburb of Hammath shared its prominence. With the abolition of the patriarchate in about 429 CE, Hammath began to decline, but it continued to exist as a city, supporting itself with its profitable hot springs. The Jewish community remained in the city throughout the Arab period until its decline in the Middle Ages.



Two excavations have been carried out at the site. The first was undertaken in 1921 (two seasons) under the supervision of N. Slouschz. It was the first excavation by a Jewish resident of the country and the first on behalf of the Palestine Exploration Society and the Department of Antiquities. The second (two seasons in 1961-1962 and 1962-1963), under M. Dothan, assisted by I. Dunayevsky and S. Moskowitz, was on behalf of the Israel Department of Antiquities. The site was earlier explored by the Mandatory Department of Antiquities in 1947.

Slouschz's Excavations

About 500 m north of the city's southern wall, Slouschz uncovered a synagogue in the form of a square basilica (12 by 12m), divided by two rows of columns into a nave and two aisles. The three entrances to the building were on the north. East of the building was a courtyard that was entered from the east, and from there a doorway led to the eastern aisle. At the southern end of the nave was a partition consisting of four small columns. The enclosed area behind it probably held the Ark of the Law. In the eastern aisle stood the "seat of Moses" (cathedra). The various levels of pavements, the mosaics, and the alterations in the structure indicate that there were several phases in the construction. However, the excavators did not succeed in tracing them. In the opinion of L. H. Vincent, there were two building phases. In the first, the entrance to the building was on the south, facing Jerusalem. Two building phases are also confirmed by the pavements, one of which is a stylized mosaic.

S1ouschz identified the synagogue with the kenishta de-Hammatha (synagogue of Hammath) mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud (Sot. 1, 16d), and assigned it to the Early Roman period. Vincent, however, disputed this identification, on the basis of a comparison with other ancient synagogues and the building's small size. In his opinion the main, late phase of construction should be attributed to the fourth to fifth centuries CE. Synagogue research since Slouschz's identification attributes this synagogue, which lacks an apse but whose entrance (according to Dothan) faces Jerusalem, to the fourth century CE. Near the synagogue the excavators uncovered part of a cemetery containing sarcophagi from the third and fourth centuries CE with the names of the deceased written in Greek - Isidorus, Symmachus son of Justus (SEG VIII, nos. 9-11) - as well as several graves dating from the Early Arab period. Among the finds are a capital decorated with a menorah, a fragment of a chancel screen with a menorah in relief, and a seven branched menorah carved in limestone. In addition to Slouschz's investigations, M. Narkiss and Z. Eshkoli published architectural details and a number of objects found in the synagogue and its vicinity.

Dothan's's Excavations

An area of approximately 1,200 sq m was excavated near the hot springs, about 150 m west of the Sea of Galilee. The ancient buildings had been erected on an artificial terrace running parallel to the seashore from southeast to northwest, closely following the contours of the terrain. Beyond the southern limit of the main excavation area the remains of the city wall and one of its towers were uncovered. These were found to date not earlier than the Byzantine period, although they appear to rest on the remains of walls of an earlier city.

Three main construction levels were revealed, dating from the first century BCE to the eighth century CE. The numismatic evidence showed that remains from the first century BCE lay beneath level III.


The prominent features of the southern synagogue may be summarized as follows.
  1. At Hammath several superimposed synagogue buildings were found, beneath which was a public building whose function is not clear. The synagogues were built from the fourth to the middle of the eighth centuries.
  2. A unique type of synagogue was uncovered here-a broadhouse with four rooms (IIA, B). The entrance was on the side facing Jerusalem (IIB) and there was a permanent place for the Ark of the Law in a rectangular room that preceded the apse in Palestinian synagogues (IIA).
  3. The mosaic pavement in synagogue IIB was constructed in the spirit of the Hellenistic-Roman art of the fourth century. The zodiac depicted in the mosaic is the earliest found in the country.
  4. The Greek inscriptions referring to this synagogue's builders are the first to mention the patriarchs of the Sanhedrin. They contribute greatly to what is known about Judaism in the fourth century CE in Tiberias.
  5. The uppermost synagogue (IA) is an instructive example of Jewish architecture at the beginning of Arab rule in Palestine. It sheds light on the customs practiced in synagogues then.

Tiberias - Introduction Webpage

Aerial Views, Plans, Drawings, and Photos
Aerial Views, Plans, Drawings, and Photos

Aerial Views

  • Annotated Satellite View of Tiberias and environs from
  • Annotated Satellite View of Hammath Tiberias from
  • Hammath Tiberias in Google Earth
  • Hammath Tiberias at

Plans and Drawings

Stratum IIA

Normal Size

  • Plan of synagogue IIA from Stern et al (1993 v. 2)
  • Plan of synagogue IIA from Magness (2005:9)
  • Fig. 1B Plan of synagogue IIA by Dothan from Weiss (2009)
  • Fig. 5A Plan of synagogue IIA as reconstructed by Weiss from Weiss (2009)
  • Fig. 6 3D proposed reconstruction of synagogue IIA by Weiss from Weiss (2009)


  • Plan of synagogue IIA from Stern et al (1993 v. 2)
  • Plan of synagogue IIA from Magness (2005:9)

Stratum IIB

  • Fig. 1A Plan of synagogue IIB by Dothan from Weiss (2009)
  • Fig. 5B Plan of synagogue IIB as reconstructed by Weiss from Weiss (2009)


  • Remains of synagogues I and II from Dothan (1968) and Stern et al (1993 v. 2)


Magness (2005)

The chronology of the four synagogue buildings at Hammath Tiberias (from bottom/earliest to top/latest)

Magness (2005)

Moshe Dothan in Stern et al (1993 v.2)

Level Start Date End Date Description
Beneath III 1st century BCE ? 1st century BCE ?

The numismatic evidence showed that remains from the first century BCE lay beneath level III

III 1st or 1st half of 2nd century CE

The main building (60 by 40 m) in level III dates from the first century or first half of the second century CE. This building, only half of which was excavated, consists of a central court with halls and rooms along at least three of its sides. Two entrances to the building were found on the south side. Its plan resembles that of a public building, such as a gymnasium, and it may have already been a synagogue in that early period. All the later structures (above the building), except perhaps those of the intermediate phase III-II, were synagogues. Among the meager finds from this building is a unique glass goblet in the shape of acantharus, silvered on the inside and outside and decorated with floral reliefs below the rim. Level Ill seems to have been destroyed in the middle of the second century, and the few remains above it (intermediate phase III-II) do not appear to belong to a public building.

IIB-A IIA - 1st half of the 4th century CE IIA - 5th century CE

The synagogue in level II was erected on these remains. The last stage of the synagogue (IIA), which was the better preserved, is based, for the most part, on the earlier phase, IIB. It is a broadhouse (15 by 13 m), oriented southeast to northwest, and is separated from the structures around it. Three rows of columns, each containing three columns, divide the building into four halls, the widest of which (the second from the west) is the nave. Attached to the building on the south is a corridor paved with mosaics with an entrance on the east. Although no other entrances to the building are preserved, there may have been more than one. On the north side of the building was a room that may have contained stairs leading to the roof or to a second story.

Building IIA does not differ greatly from its predecessor. The corridor, however, was divided into cells and closed off as a passage. In this writer's opinion the direction of the entrance to the synagogue was also changed. Henceforth, the entrance seems to have been through three openings in recesses in the northern wall. The stairwell was no longer in use, and access to the second floor may have been from a small room adjoining the corridor. From the southern end of the nave, a step led to a raised niche in the corridor where theArkofthe Law, which in the previous stage had no permanent place, was probably kept. The walls of the building were decorated with colorful paintings, remains of which were found in the debris.

The nave and aisles were paved with magnificent mosaics in thirty hues, which have survived in a fine state of preservation. The most important is the mosaic pavement in the nave, which is divided into three panels. In the southern panel the Ark of the Law is depicted, flanked by seven-branched menorahs with flames and a lulab, ethrog, shofar, and incense shovel. The middle panel represents the zodiac surrounding the figure of the sun god Helios riding in his chariot (the chariot was partly destroyed when the wall of level I was built). Helios has a halo above his head, one hand raised in benediction and the other hand holding a globe of the universe. The corners of the panel display female busts, each with a Hebrew name beside it, symbolizing the four seasons of the year. The northern panel contains a dedicatory inscription in Greek of the founders of the synagogue. It is flanked by two lions. The two eastern aisles contain mosaics in geometric design and three inscriptions, one in Aramaic and two in Greek.

The main builder of the synagogue, according to the Greek inscription, was Severus, called "the pupil of the most illustrious patriarchs," evidently the title bestowed on high officials in the court of the presidents of the Sanhedrin in Tiberias ("Severus ... completed [the work of construction]. Praise be to him and to Julius the parnas [synagogue official]"). Another Greek inscription mentions Profuturos, who built one of the porches. The Aramaic inscription refers to the place as "a holy site"-that is, a synagogue.

The remains of the floors, as well as the coins and lamps, date the synagogue to the fourth century CE. The plan of the building, which is a broadhouse divided into four halls, differs from all the known ancient synagogues of the second to third centuries CE.

The artistic level of the mosaics is high. In the individual treatment of the figures, they strongly resemble the Cons tan tinian mosaics at Antioch. Evident here is the strong influence exerted by Hellenistic-Roman art at the beginning of the fourth century on the Jewish capital at Tiberias. The free artistic expression displayed in the nude representations of the signs of the zodiac, the frequent use of Greek, as well as the various finds, all accord with the spirit that prevailed in the period when the heads of the Sanhedrin flourished in Tiberias and confirm a date in the first half of the fourth century CE for the construction of synagogue IIA. Level IIA was evidently destroyed in the fifth century, and the great synagogue IB was erected in its place.

IB-A beginning of the reign of the Umayyads beginning of the Abbasid period

The new synagogue, IB, was oriented in the same direction as its predecessors. Unlike them, however, it was not isolated from the other buildings, which were attached to it on the north and south, whereas streets skirted the building on the east and west. The synagogue was built in the form of a basilica, as was common in synagogue and church construction in the fifth and sixth centuries CE. It was divided by two rows of columns into a nave and two aisles. A third row of columns divided the nave transversely, thus creating an entrance hall (pronaos). The three rows of columns supported a gallery on the second story that ran along three sides of the building. The three main entrances were on its north side. Three steps led from the nave to an interior apse. East of the apse was a room with stairs ascending to the second story; to the west was another room, where the synagogue's "treasury" was hidden in the floor. From the western aisle, three doorways opened onto a courtyard paved with flagstones. Its walls are well preserved. A small apse was discovered on the southern side of the courtyard and beyond it were plastered rooms that had served as cisterns (mikvehs ?). The mosaic in the hall was made of tiny colored tesserae; the preserved fragments indicate that it depicted figures of animals in addition to geometric and floral designs. Level IB was apparently destroyed in the first half of the seventh century, perhaps when the Byzantines reconquered the country from the Persians. The new synagogue (level IA), probably built at the beginning of the reign of the Umayyads, is not markedly different from its predecessor except that the small apse was no longer in use. Part of the courtyard was covered with a roof, supported by a column, thus creating a room in which one of the stairs of the apse was used as a bench. This may have served as a beth midrash, or study hall. A new mosaic pavement was laid that was decorated mainly with geometric designs, but at the entrance to the nave there were other motifs, such as a menorah. The rich finds included pottery of the type found at Khirbet el-Mafjar and many clay lamps, some bearing Arabic inscriptions. A long Aramaic inscription on a jug has been partly deciphered. It concerns a gift of oil from Sepphoris.

In this level, a segment of a paved street was also found (which was constructed in level IB). It ran from the city gate along the western wall of the synagogue's courtyard. The evidence furnished by the coins makes it clear that all the structures in this level were destroyed at the beginning of the Abbasid period, in approximately the middle of the eighth century, and never rebuilt. The ruins were used as dwellings and silos by squatters in the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries.

Stratum IIB Earthquake (?) - 4th century CE

Magness (2005) reports that in his excavation reports, Moshe Dothan interprets the evidence to indicate that the synagogue of Stratum IIB was destroyed in the Eusebius' Martyr Quake (303-306 CE). Magness (2005) apparently dates the end of Stratum IIB to the 4th century CE and does not ascribe an earthquake to its presumed destruction. Weiss (2009:338) opined that there is no reason to assume that the [Stratum II] Hammath Tiberias synagogue had two distinctly different stages suggesting instead that the Stratum II synagogue underwent several internal changes during its years of existence and that the remodeling of the synagogue that Dothan attributed as a response to the Eusebius' Martyr Quake (303-306 CE) occurred later - some time after the earthquake, most probably in the second half of the fourth century C.E.

Stratum IIA Earthquake (?) - 5th century CE or later

Magness (2005) reports that in his excavation reports, Moshe Dothan interprets the evidence to indicate that the synagogue of Stratum IIA was destroyed in the 419 CE Monaxius and Plinta Quake however Magness (2005) dates for Stratum IIA are that it was built in the late 4th to early 5th centuries CE and occupied until the 3rd quarter of 5th century or later.

Stratum IA Earthquake (?) - 8th-10th centuries CE

Moshe Dothan in Stern et al (1993 v.2) reports that all the structures [of Level IA] were destroyed at the beginning of the Abbasid period, in approximately the middle of the eighth century, and never rebuilt. Magness (2005) reports that in his excavation reports, Moshe Dothan interprets the evidence to indicate that the synagogue of Stratum IA was destroyed in one of the 749 CE Sabbatical Year Quakes however Magness (2005) dates Stratum IA to the 9th-10th centuries CE.

Notes and Further Reading

Articles and Books
Bibliography from Stern et al. (1993 v. 2)

Other studies

L. H. Vincent, RB30(1921), 438-442; 31 (1922), 115-122

Goodenough, Jewish Symbols 1, 214-216

B. Lifshitz, ZDPV78 (1962), 180-184

id., Journal for the Study of Judaism 4 (1973), 43-45; M. Dothan, IEJ\2 (1962), 153-154

id., RB 70 (1963), 588-590

id., ASR, 63-69

id., Hammath Tiberias (Reviews), BAR 10/3 (1984), 32-44.-IEJ 34 (1984), 284-288. -JAOS 104 (1984), 577-578.- Syria 62 (1985), 362-364.- Bibliotheca Orientalis45 (1988), 401-402

Hiittenmeister-Reeg, Antiken Synagogen 1, 436-461

Archives of Ancient Jewish Art: Samples and Manual (eds. Y. Yadin and R. Jacoby), Jerusalem 1984, 1-38

D. Milson, LA 37 (1987), 303-310.

Early Arab period

E. D. Oren, Archaeology 24 (1971), 274-277

id., IEJ 21 (1971), 234-235

id., RB 78 (1971), 435-437.

Bibliography from Stern et al. (2008)

Main publication

M. Dothan & B. L. Johnson, Hammath Tiberias, II: Late Synagogues, Jerusalem 2000

ibid. (Reviews) Bibliotheca Orientalis 58 (2001), 659–660. — The Roman and Byzantine Near East, 3, Portsmouth, RI 2002, 253–260.


E. Dvorjetski, Aram 4 (1992), 425–449

13–14 (2001–2002), 485–512

id., Medicinal Hot Springs in Eretz-Israel during the Period of the Second Temple, the Mishna and the Talmud (Ph.D. diss.), Jerusalem 1993 (Eng. abstract)

id., Latomus 56 (1997), 567–581

id., Roman Baths and Bathing: Proceedings of the 1st International Conference on Roman Baths, Bath, 30.3–4.4.1992 (JRA Suppl. Series 37

eds. J. Delaine & D. E. Johnston), Portsmouth, RI 1999, 117–129

id. (et al.), Stories from a Heated Earth: Our Geothermal Heritage (eds. R. Cataldi et al.), San Diego, CA 1999, 34–49

G. A. Herion, ABD, 3, New York 1992, 37–38

Y. Hirschfeld, A Guide to the Antiquities Sites in Tiberias, rev. ed., Jerusalem 1992

Z. Weiss, EI 23 (1992), 156*–157*

H. Shanks, BAR 19/4 (1993), 22–31

S. Stern, Le’ela 38 (1994), 33–37

E. J. Stern, ‘Atiqot 26 (1995), 57–59

D. L. Gordon, OEANE, 2, New York 1997, 470–471

L. J. Ness, Journal of Ancient Civilization 12 (1997), 81–92

id., Astrology and Judaism in Late Antiquity (Ph.D. diss., Miami 1990), Ann Arbor, MI 1998

L. A. Roussin, Archaeology and the Galilee: Texts and Contexts in the Graeco-Roman and Byzantine Periods (South Florida Studies in the History of Judaism 143

eds. D. R. Edwards & C. T. McCollough), Atlanta, GA 1997, 83–96

id., BAR 27/2 (2001), 52–56

H. Mack, Cathedra 88 (1998), 180–181

D. Amit, From Dura to Sepphoris, Portsmouth, RI 2000, 231–234

Y. Englard, Cathedra 98 (2000), 172–173; L. I. Levine, Jewish Culture and Society Under the Christian Roman Empire (Interdisciplinary Studies in Ancient Culture and Religion 3), Leuven 2003, 91–131

J. Magness, Symbiosis, Symbolism and the Power of the Past, Winona Lake, IN 2003, 363–389, 553–554

S. S. Miller, JQR 94 (2004), 27–76

D. Milson, PEQ 136 (2004), 45–56.

Jones (2021)

Jones (2021) reports that evidence for the Monaxius and Plinta Earthquake of 419 CE has been reported in Stratum IIa of the synagogue at Hammath Tiberias. Jones (2021) also reports that Magness has disputed archaeological evidence for this earthquake at the Synagogue in Hammath Tiberias and other sites in the Galilee (1997: 217-18; 2005: 8-10; 2007: 271-72; 2012: 113-14).

Wikipedia page for Hammat Tiberias