Excavation at Omrit began in 1999 after a grass-fire exposed significant Greco-Roman architecture atop a hill overlooking the green Hula Valley in northern Israel. Located just a couple kilometers southwest of the site Banias/Caesarea Philippi, Omrit was a prominent location in the landscape that hosted a Greco-Roman temple complex consisting of three temples. These temples stood from the 1st century BCE through 4th century CE and were at the center of important transportation and trade corridors in the region.
For over a decade Macalester College, first on its own and then in collaboration with Carthage College, worked to uncover this temple complex. And three temples later, we can say the effort was certainly worth it. Scholars across the globe have come to recognize the architectural and historical importance of Omrit’s late Hellenistic shrine and the two Roman temples that replaced it and served as a religious center for interested locals and travelers to worship the Roman emperor as a god (a practice known as “Roman ruler cult”). Now the temples are fully excavated, final publications on the temple complex and its associated finds have hit the presses, and preservation efforts are underway.
But important work still needs to be done – and CSB|SJU is working with schools including Carthage College, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the City University of New York at Queens to do it!
These schools have combined their efforts in a new phase of excavation at Omrit. This exciting phase focuses on the settlement located in proximity to the temple complex. And our goals are several-fold. We are working to document and explain the various phases of this settlement, the most substantial remains of which date to the 4th and 5th centuries CE (though later evidence, even as late as the early modern period, can be found onsite as well). What was the origin of this settlement? What was its relationship to the temple complex and how was it used? What does it stand to tell us about this perennial borderland? What can it tell us, if anything, about the Roman empire’s transformation from a “pagan” to a Christian empire? These are just some of the questions that Omrit may hold the key to answering – and the answers are, as the old saying goes, in the dirt.