Annotated Satellite Image (google) of Samaria-Sebasten Annotated Satellite Image (google) of Samaria-Sebaste



Transliterated Name Source Name
Samaria Hebrew שֹׁומְרוֹן
Somron Biblical Hebrew שֹׁמְרוֹן
Shomron Biblical Hebrew שֹׁמְרוֹן
as-Sāmirah Arabic السامرة
House of Khomry Assyrian
Bet Ḥumri Early (Assyrian?) cuneiform inscriptions
Samirin Cuneiform inscriptions of Tiglath-Pileser III (ruled 745–727 BCE) and later
Shamerayin Aramaic

Samaria-Sebaste has a rich history. Nahman Avigad in Stern et al (1993) provides some background.
Samaria, the capital of the kingdom of Israel and center of the region of Samaria, bears the name of the hill of Samaria on which Omri, king of Israel, built his city. The site is identified with the village of Sebastia (c. 10 km. northeast of Shechem). The place was renamed Sebaste by Herod when he rebuilt the city. The town lay on a high hill (430 m above sea level), towering over its surroundings. It was situated at a crossroads near the main highway running northward from Shechem, in a fertile agricultural region. Its topographic and strategic advantages were probably why the site was chosen for the capital of the kingdom of Israel, even though it lacked an adequate water supply.

The Bible records the foundation of Samaria: "In the thirty-first year of Asa king of Judah, Omri began to reign over Israel, and reigned for twelve years; six years he reigned in Tirzah. He bought the hill of Samaria from Shemer for two talents of silver; and he fortified the hill, and called the name of the city which he built, Samaria, after the name of Shemer, the owner of the hill" (1 Kings 16:23-24). Even after the fall of Israel, the Assyrians called it the house of Khomry, after Omri, the founder of the dynasty and of Samaria.
Gibson (2014) reports that
Samaria-Sebaste was destroyed during the First Jewish War (66–73 CE), but was rebuilt and gained the status of a Roman colony from the hands of Septimus Severus in 200 CE. By the time that Christianity became the dominant religion, Sebaste was already deteriorating and after the Arab conquest in the first half of the seventh century CE it was left in ruins.
Maps and Plans Chronology

Nahman Avigad in Stern et al (1993) discussed Stratigraphy

The first expedition distinguished three Israelite building phases: the palace from the time of Omri, the casemate wall and the storehouse from the reign of Ahab, and the buildings west of the casemate wall from the days of Jeroboam II. The Joint Expedition dug a stratigraphic section across the royal quarter. Early Bronze Age I pottery was found on the rock, but the site was not resettled until the Israelite period. Kenyon distinguished eight pre-Hellenistic building and ceramic periods, six of them belonging to the time between the foundation of the city in 876 BCE and its conquest in 721 BCE. This division was based on both architectural and ceramic considerations. According to Kenyon the building periods I-VI coincide with the ceramic periods I-VI, as shown here:
Period Description
I Omri: construction of the inner wall and the palace.
II Ahab: construction of the casemate wall and probably also of the east gate.
III Jehu and others: repair of the casemate wall, rebuilding of earlier structures, erection of new buildings.
IV Time of Jeroboam II and others: repair of the casemate wall, alterations in existing buildings, and construction of new ones, probably also of the storehouse.
V-VI Changes and repairs: burned layer attributed to the conquest of Samaria in 721 BCE.
The proposals for the first two periods - decisive for establishing the chronology of the pottery - have been questioned. The disagreement is rooted in the different approaches to archaeological methodology. The pottery from period I was found in the fills of the structures from period I, according to Kenyon's terminology. She attributes this pottery to the construction period of the buildings, claiming that it was brought by the builders in the time of Omri. For the same reason, she ascribes the pottery from period II - which is very similar to the earlier pottery - to building period II.

These conclusions were disputed, however, by W. F. Albright, Y. Aharoni, R. Amiran, G. E. Wright and others, who maintain that the pottery from periods I-II found in the fills of structures I-II predates these buildings. On the grounds of a typological comparison with pottery from other excavations, they date it earlier, to the tenth and beginning of the ninth centuries BCE. In their opinion the pottery attests to the fact that a small settlement existed on the site prior to the foundation of the city of Samaria.

Kenyon did not overlook this problem. Although she noted the discovery of two walls covered by the floors of buildings from period I, when discussing the pottery she stated that there was no trace of occupation from the beginning of the Early Bronze Age until the time of Omri.

Avigad shared the view of those who claim that pottery periods I-II precede building periods I-II and that the pottery of period III, which is richer and more varied than the preceding examples - parallels building periods I-II. Wright has also suggested a correction in the chronology of the walls. In his opinion, Omri, who resided in Samaria for only six years, could not have succeeded in building the first wall and the palace in such a short time. It is difficult as well to assume, according to Wright, that Ahab could have erected a fortification as extensive as the casemate wall during the twenty-two years of his reign. Wright therefore considers that Omri only began the construction of the first wall and that Ahab completed it, whereas Jehu, the founder of the next dynasty, built the casemate wall.

Wright's contentions are not acceptable to this writer. In Avigad's opinion it is highly improbable that Omri would have established his residence in a city that was not walled and in which there were no quarters suitable for a king. In all probability, he began the fortifications of the hill and the building of his palace while still living in his first capital, Tirzah. He would have transferred his capital to Samaria only after the site had been prepared - that is, after the main buildings had been wholly or nearly finished. He could certainly have completed the inner wall, which is a single wall only 1.6 m thick. The building of the casemate wall, on the other hand - for which the summit of the hill had to be widened by an artificial fill - was indeed a major undertaking. It required considerable time and means, as well as the vision of a great builder .It was certainly possible to complete it in the twenty-two years of Ahab's reign. In fact, the work was finished in an even shorter time, because during Ahab's reign Samaria withstood the siege of the Arameans only by virtue of its strong fortifications. (It should be noted that this discussion refers only to the fortifications of the acropolis; in times of emergency, the acropolis could also shelter the inhabitants of the lower city, of whose walls almost nothing is known.) Ahab, who married Jezebel, the daughter of the king of Tyre, certainly received ample assistance from the Phoenicians for this extensive construction project. During his reign, prosperity prevailed in the kingdom of Israel, and the Bible relates that Ahab was a builder of cities and palaces. Archaeological finds from sites other than Samaria also attest that Ahab was a great builder. He erected strong fortifications at Hazor and at Megiddo. At the latter site he probably also built the large stables, an assumption borne out by an Assyrian source recording the considerable number of war chariots that stood at Ahab's disposal. It cannot, therefore, be conceived that in his own capital, Samaria, he would have been satisfied with merely completing the construction of the unpretentious "inner wall" begun by his father.

For these reasons, it is difficult to attribute the construction of the casemate wall to Jehu. Even though Jehu founded a new dynasty, put an end to the cult of Baal, and won the confidence of the prophets, his reign does not seem to have been propitious for such a large building project as this. During his reign, the kingdom of Israel suffered political defeats and lost extensive territory. Jehu was the first Israelite king to pay heavy tribute to the Assyrians. Commercial relations with Tyre were broken off with the killing of Jezebel, and it is hardly likely that the Phoenicians would have nevertheless supplied him with aid to build fortifications. Furthermore, the Bible does not attribute any building activity to Jehu.

Therefore, those archaeologists seem to be correct who have ascribed the building of the casemate wall to Ahab and only its repairs to Jehu and his successors. The following chronological table summarizes the different views on the dating and the correlations between the building and ceramic periods at Samaria, up to its conquest in 722 BCE.

Stratigraphic Comparisons for the Biblical Periods in Samaria Stratigraphic Comparisons for the Biblical Periods in Samaria

Stern et al (1993)

The Iron Age in the Southern Levant

8th century BCE Earthquake

Although Austin et. al. (2000) state that according to Yadin et al. (1960:36), traces of the middle-eighth-century earthquake were found at Samaria no such reference is to be found [by JW] in Yadin et al. (1960:36), Yadin et al. (1960), Yadin et al. (1958), or Yadin et al. (1961) [This covers all of Austin et. al. (2000)'s references to Yadin et al. and excavations at Hazor]. Austin et. al. (2000) noted that no detailed excavation report [of Samaria-Sebaste] has been published concerning this period. Austin et. al. (2000) added the following observation

Samaria was the capital of Israel at the time of the earthquake. The biblical records indicate that Samaria received severe damage to palace-fortresses, walls, and houses (Amos 3:11; 4:3; 6:11). Pride in Israel’s royal citadel and fear of an Assyrian invasion would have been incentives for Samaria to upgrade quickly from the fallen mud brick to stronger hewn stone (Isaiah 9:9,10 [Heb. 9:8,9]).

3rd-7th century CE Earthquake

Initial excavations of this site were performed by Harvard University without the aid of modern excavation or recording techniques and without a valid chronology of Late Roman Byzantine ceramics (Russell, 1980). Reisner, Fischer, and Lyon (1924: 218) report the following which may indicate earthquake damage:

Restoration - During the Severan period the Basilica and the Forum were entirely reconstructed. The building, like those on the summit, had apparently been in ruins. Many of the columns had been overthrown, and the pedestals carried away.
Gibson (2014) reports that Samaria-Sebaste was destroyed during the First Jewish War (66–73 CE), "but was rebuilt and gained the status of a Roman colony from the hands of Septimus Severus in 200 CE. By the time that Christianity became the dominant religion, Sebaste was already deteriorating and after the Arab conquest in the first half of the seventh century CE it was left in ruins". This indicates that the Severan period referred to by Reisner, Fischer, and Lyon (1924) could have lasted from 200 CE until sometime before the middle of the 7th century CE.

Russell (1980) reports that later excavations by Crowfoot, Kenyon, and Sukenik (1966:137-38) found evidence of destruction and subsequent rebuilding in a large house found in the eastern insula. Crowfoot et. al. (1966) described the evidence as follows :
No portion of the walls above ground level survived. The foundations show at least two periods. some badly built walls with very rubbly building being added to the better built earlier ones. Nearly all the earlier ones seem to have been partially rebuilt in the worse style, with two or three courses of rubble on the top of their solidly built foundations. This would indicate that the original building had been destroyed to ground level, possibly by an earthquake
According to Russell (1980), Crowfoot, Kenyon, and Sukenik (1966) also suggested that the Basilica of the site might have been converted into a cathedral during the 4th century AD (Crowfoot, Kenyon, and Sukenik, 1966: 37).

Seismic Effects
3rd-7th century CE Earthquake

Crowfoot, Kenyon, and Sukenik (1966:137-38) surmised that the original building had been destroyed to ground level, possibly by an earthquake.

Intensity Estimates
3rd-7th century CE Earthquake

Effect Location Intensity
Collapsed Walls VIII+
The archeoseismic evidence requires a minimum Intensity of VIII (8) when using the Earthquake Archeological Effects chart of Rodríguez-Pascua et al (2013: 221-224).

Notes and Further Reading

Austin, S. A., et al. (2000). "Amos's Earthquake: An Extraordinary Middle East Seismic Event of 750 B.C." International Geology Review 42(7): 657-671.

Crowfoot, J. W., et al. (1966). Samaria-Sebaste. Vol. I: The buildings at Samaria, Dawsons of Pall Mall.

Gibson, S. (2014). “A Visitor at Samaria and Sebaste’. Archaeology in the Land of ‘Tells and Ruins. B. Wagemakers. Oxford: 61-72.

Reisner, G. A., et al. (1924). Harvard excavations et Samaria. 1908-1910. By---Clarence Stanley Fisher, David Gordon Lyon, Harvard University Press.

Russell, K. W. (1980). "The Earthquake of May 19, A.D. 363." Bulletin of the American School of Oriental Research 238: 47-64.

Tappy, R. (2014). “Israelite Samaria: Head of Ephraim and Jerusalem’s Elder Sister’. Archaeology in the Land of ‘Tells and Ruins. B. Wagemakers. Oxford: 61-72.

Yadin, Y. (1958). Hazor I, an account of the first season of excavation, 1955. - can be borrowed with a free account

Yadin, Y. and S. Angress (1960). Hazor II: an account of the second season of excavations, 1956, Magnes Press, Hebrew University. - can be borrowed with a free account

Yadin, Y. (1961). Hazor III-IV, an account of the third and fourth seasons of excavations, 1957-1958. - can be borrowed with a free account

Ben-Tor, A. and R. Bonfil (1997). Hazor V: An Account of the Fifth Season of Excavations, 1968, Israel Exploration Society, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. - can be borrowed with a free account

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