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The History and Archaeology of Bet Shean (Scythopolis) from the Hellenistic to the Medieval Periods: Introductory Volume (Series of Final Reports)

Yoram Tsafrir, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Fellow 2005–2006

The Hebrew University excavation at Bet Shean (directed by Gideon Foerster and myself) took place between the years 1986–2000. It was the largest archaeological project carried out in Israel in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Biblical Bet Shean was refounded as Scythopolis in the Hellenistic period. At the end of the fourth century, it became the capital city of the province of Second Palestine. In the early sixth century, it reached its peak in size (some 160 hectares) and demography (probably 30–40,000 inhabitants). Around 635 CE, it was conquered by the Muslims who called it Baysan. A process of decline, which had begun already in the late Roman period, accelerated. The town was destroyed by an enormous earthquake in the year 749 CE.

The publication program comprises five large volumes (written by members of the research team) that deal with major complexes that cover the entire area: 1. The Street of the Monuments; 2. The Valley Street, the Roman Basilica and the Byzantine Agora; 3. Silvanus Street, the Eastern Bathhouse, and Hisham’s Bazaar; 4. Palladius Street and the Caesarea Street; 5. The Amphitheater and the Neighboring Byzantine Quarter. Several volumes of smaller scale on selected topics (for example, on oil lamps and on early Islamic glass, which have already appeared) will complete the publication. Such a large-scale program calls for an introductory monograph which will supply general orientation and enable the readers of the detailed reports to insert each individual complex into a comprehensive historical and archaeological frame. I have dedicated my work at Dumbarton Oaks to the writing of this monograph

My research has been concerned with general problems such as urbanization and municipal organization, city economy, urban planning, the role of plagues and earthquakes, ruralization of the city in late Roman and Islamic periods, etc. There is also an analysis of individual monuments: the streets, temples, basilica, forum and the Byzantine agora, bathhouses, residential buildings, mass entertainment structures, statues, etc. Each of these topics will be inserted into the monograph according to the chronological order. I believe that, when completed, the monograph will present more than a profile of an individual city, but will also shed light on urbanism and culture in the entire region of Palestine and Arabia.