As a historian, it is extremely gratifying simply being in the same location that history has taken place and thinking about the centuries of history beneath my feet. It is one thing to read about this history (which is fine because that’s important as well), but it is another thing to physically be there and reconstruct that environment and think about what that social interaction might have looked like over the course of various centuries. Israel presents an interesting part of history because of its location and its clashes with various empires. The site that we are located at in Israel presents that picture and so do the various sites that we visit on our days off. At our archaeological site, as well as my square in particular, I am able to see the degree of activity in that area and it allows me to get a better picture in head about how that activity might have taken place and how it has changed over time. This semester was my first time taking a course on ancient history and it was on the Roman Empire. I learned crucial history that was going to help me better understand the site at Omrit and it has allowed me to better understand modern Israel. I knew the extent of activity that the Romans had in this region and how it was important to their empire, not just economically and politically, but how much of an influence they held culturally. But I didn’t really understand it all that well until I visited those sites.
The various archaeological/ historical sites that we have visited thus far show that influence and that widespread influence. For example, our first site was at Banias, or the Hermon Stream, and I was able to see the extent that Herod and his son Agrippa II had in that territory. That territory was given to them by the Romans and eventually Agrippa built a palace. However, during the 4th century Byzantine period it was re-purposed as a bathhouse (below). Then during the Crusades it was fought for and control of the territory transferred from the Muslims to the Crusaders. Another interesting location that ties in with this Crusader history was Nimrod’s Fortress built during the Middle Ages. It was a strategic location that controlled one of the main roads from Tyre to Damascus. It was built by al-‘Aziz ‘Othman the nephew of Salah a-Din in 1227 and was completed in 1230. It was expanded over the years by different builders and it overlooked the Hula Valley which made it completely defensible from all sides (below).
Zippori was once a bustling community that went through various historical changes. It was conquered by Pompeii in 63 BCE and was passed on to Herod the Great. Herod had to fight for the territory and it was made the capital of Galilee until 4 BCE when the Jews revolted against the Romans and captured it. This victory was short-lived once the Romans came in and recaptured it and burned it to the ground. It was also used during the Byzantine period through the Crusader period.
However, my favorite site so far has got to be Caesarea Maritima because of its major influence and activity of Roman culture. Herod completely renovated and re-purposed the port city to match the lavishness of Rome and in fact Herod named it after Augustus Caesar. The city eventually became the headquarters of the Roman administration of “Palestine” as they named the region. The most impressive parts of this city, to me, are the theater and the amphitheater. To think, that I was standing in the center of Roman entertainment that included chariot races and gladiatorial combats, was beyond exciting. I could never have imagined myself being in that position. The aqueducts were also an amazing feat and impressive construction. But their control of water was what made them civilized and that more important to the city. Also fascinating was to rethink about the conflict between the Jew and gentiles,as well as the historical Jewish revolts.
I got to see these structures and the time & space that they occupy across the land and throughout history which is extremely amazing, to say the least.