Alexander, Etruscans and a Field Trip to Beit Shean

Posted by on Apr 13, 2015

Alexander, Etruscans and a Field Trip to Beit Shean

Each month our class of the international program of biblical archaeology and history heads off around the country to see the sites we have been studying in our classes. In the last few weeks of the first semester we immersed ourselves in the ‘later periods’ with our lecturer Meir, who taught us about the Persian Period, the period following the conquest of Babylon by King Cyrus of Persia in 540 BCE, through to the end of the Late Roman Period circa third century CE. For our last trip of the semester there was no better place to go than beautiful Beit Shean in Israel’s north, a site that we began studying back in our first week at Tel Aviv University; in our Late Bronze Age Archaeology and History and Egypt in Canaan courses, and now in our ‘later periods’ classes.

On our way to Beit Shean we stopped by Gan HaShlosha National Park, which besides boasting stunning scenery and tempting warm water pools for our cool winter’s day, features Israel’s Museum of Regional and Mediterranean Archaeology. Here we were given a private see-all tour by the museum’s own curator and a reminder of the greater context in which Ancient Israel sits, on the Mediterranean Sea and connected with nearby Egypt and Greece. One of the highlights of the museum was an exhibition dedicated to the Etruscans, the sea-going peoples from the western Italian coast.

Our private tour at the Israel Museum of Regional and Mediterranean Archaeology


From the fall of Persia to the Hellenization of Ancient Israel

Beit Shean is an ideal place to visit for those interested in exploring the changes that took places in the Levant in the centuries leading up to the birth of Christ.

Having overthrown the Persian King, Darius III, in a series of decisive battles, Alexander the Great soon took charge of the territories of the Persian Empire for his own kingdom. In 332 BCE, Alexander passed through Ancient Israel on his way to Egypt and triggered a process of ‘Hellenization’ throughout the region. Following Alexander’s death (and a few years of civil war), Alexander’s mighty empire was divided between his generals, two of which are relevant to our study of Ancient Israel. Ptolemy established rule over Egypt and Seleucus established rule over Syria and Mesopotamia. This left the region of modern-day Israel outside the clear territories of each empire and as a result each fought for control of the region, with the Ptolemies dominant here during the 3rd century BCE and the Seleucids during the 2nd century BCE. Each left their mark on this land, attempting to win over local peoples with new and modern Greek cities, culture and entertainments – the Hellenization process.

Beit Shean in all her glory!

Spanning northern Israel, Jordan and southern Syria were the cities of the Decapolis (the “ten cities”) which, despite maintaining political independence, were referred to as a single geographical unit based upon their common language and culture. Beit Shean (or Scythopolis) is easily one of the most beautiful of the cities and is the only Decapolis city west of the Jordan River.

Strolling around Beit Shean’s Amphitheatre


Pompey’s Plan!

After 63 BCE the northern territories of modern Israel became part of the Roman Empire under General Pompey (after whom the city of Pompey came to be named) and Beit Shean expanded from the amazing upper tel to become the mighty city whose ruins we can still stroll through today. Walking along the main cardo (the main north-south road) inspired us all with thoughts of what this great city must have been!

The Tel Aviv class of Archaeology and History of the Land of the Bible – we’re a close group – we study together, work together, tour together and ---- together!

As our day in Israel’s own Greco-Roman paradise came to an end and the bus made back for Tel Aviv, I confess my own adventures were just beginning. While most returned to for classes, paper writing and holiday plans, I was left (voluntarily!) at the Beit Shean border, heading for five weeks of excavation and tour guiding for the Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project in Jordan, now with a little extra perspective I could bring to the remainder of the cities of the Decapolis in modern-day Jordan.


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