By the Editors of the Madain Project

Banias is an archaeological site and national park located at the foot of Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights, near the modern-day border between Israel and Syria. Banias is known for the ancient cultic site dedicated to the god Pan, and it was associated with the worship of Pan and the nymphs. In the New Testament, it is mentioned in the context of Peter's confession of Jesus as the Christ (Matthew 16:13-20).


The conquests of Alexander the Great, in the third century BCE, brought the Greeks to the east, and eventually to Banias. The Greeks were taken by the natural beauty of the site, touched particularly by the cave in which the springs welled. It is no wonder that they sanctified this cave and dedicated it to Pan, god of the forest and the shepherds. Thus came the name "Panias", also spelled as "Paneas", later became Baniyas in Arabic.

Towards the end of the first century BCE, the Romans incorporated the ancient Banias in to the Herodian empire. To show his esteem, Herod built a temple near the Banias springs and named it for the Roman emperor Augustus. Herod's son, Philipus, established the seat of his rule here, calling the town Caesarea Philippi. However, the name Panyas caught on and remains until today in its Arabic form called, Banyas.

The sanctuary is located on an elevated terrace aboce the Banias springs, enclosed on three sides by cliff walls. The Pan cave was special, due to the deep natural chasm in the floor, which led to ground water. Animal sacrifices were thrown in to this chasm. During the Roman period, beginning from the first century BCE, temples with statues, including the temple of Augustus, as well as rock-carved niches and Greek inscriptions, appeared. These indicated worship of other gods in addition to Pan. The sanctuary continued its pagan activity well in to the period of Christianity during the Byzantine era (circa fourth to sixth centuries CE), but in time, the temples near the cave were neglected and ruined. The date and circumstances of the sanctuary's abandonment and destruction are not known.

The archaeological excavations conducted here by the Israel Antiquities Authority, under the direction of Dr. Zvi Uri Ma'oz, exposed the remains of temples and cult-courts, sculptures, altars and inscriptions. These discoveries and findings indicate that the performance of sacrificial rites and the bringing of offerings, mostly food, ceramic and glass vessels, altars and statuettes to Pan and the Nymphs, as well as to other Greek gods such as Zeus, Asclepius, Athena, Hera, Aphrodite, Artemis, Dionysus and Aris.

At the eastern end of the sanctuary, near the "sacred forest", two structures associated with a unique cult of dancing goats were found. One was their place of exhibition; the other was used as a burial site. According to the Panias city coins, at the foot fo the sanctuary there was a sacred pool of semi-circular shape surrounded by a colonnade, where spring water collected. The pool served as the congregation place for theworshipers and the location for the annual Pan festival. The integration of sacred architecture in the scenery of springs, mountain, forest and the natural cave found here is one of its type in the Near East and perhaps in the entire Greco-Roman world.

Brief History


Pre-Hellenistic Period:
Before the Hellenistic and Roman periods, the site of Caesarea Philippi was known as Paneas. It was a significant city during the Hellenistic period and was named after the Greek god Pan. The city was associated with the worship of Pan and the nymphs.

Hellenistic Period:
During the Hellenistic rule, particularly under the Seleucid Empire, Paneas continued to be an important center. It was strategically located near the headwaters of the Jordan River and Mount Hermon.

Hellenistic-Roman Transition:
In 198 BCE, the region came under the control of the Seleucid king Antiochus III. Following the Battle of Panium, the city fell under the influence of the Hellenistic Seleucid Empire.

Herodian Dynasty:
The Hellenistic period was followed by the rule of the Herodian dynasty. Herod the Great, the Roman-appointed king of Judea, made significant improvements to the city. He named it Caesarea Philippi in honor of the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus (Caesarea) and himself (Philippi).

Herod Philip's Rule:
After the death of Herod the Great, his son Philip the Tetrarch became the ruler of the region, which included Caesarea Philippi. Philip is the ruler mentioned in the New Testament in connection with the events in Caesarea Philippi.

New Testament Events:
Caesarea Philippi is prominently mentioned in the New Testament, specifically in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. It is the location where Jesus has a significant conversation with his disciples, and Peter makes the confession that Jesus is the Messiah (Matthew 16:13-20, Mark 8:27-30).

Roman Period:
The city continued to thrive during the Roman period. It was strategically located along trade routes and served as a significant center for commerce.

Byzantine Period:
During the Byzantine period, Caesarea Philippi retained its importance. Churches were built, and the city continued to be a center of Christian activity.

Islamic Period:
With the Arab-Muslim conquest in the 7th century, the region underwent changes. The city retained its significance, albeit with a shift in religious focus.

Later Periods:
Over the centuries, the region saw various rulers and changes in political and religious dynamics. Today, the archaeological site of Banias (Banias is the modern name for Caesarea Philippi) is a national park and a popular tourist destination.

Notable Structures

circa 250 BCE

Grotto of Pan
The grotto of the Roman god Pan, a partly natural and partly man-made cave, is the nucleus beisde which the sacred sanctuary was built. In this "abode of the shepherd god", pagan cult began as early as the third century BCE. The ritual sacrifices were cost in to a natural abyss reaching the underground waters at the back of the cave. It was thought that if the animal disappeared in the water, this was a sign that the god had accepted the offering. However, signs of blood or flesh in the nearby springs or water were considered as a rejected sacrifice.

circa 19 BCE

Temple of Augustus
Built circa 19 BCE, during the reign of Herod the Great, in honor of the Roman emperor Augustus. A coin found at the site during excavations depicts the facade of thetemple. Today only the carved facade of the temple, western wall of the hall with semi-circular and rectangular niches housing the statues of the deities have survived. The back wall of the temple served as a passage to the "grotto of Pan", the holy of holies at the sacred precinct. This passageway was decorated with the carved stones.

circa 98 CE

Temple of Zeus
Built around 98 CE during the reign of emperor Trajan, for the city's 100th anniversary. A marble inscription found at the site implies that it was a temple dedicated to Zeus and Pan of Helipolis (the ancient city of baalbek). Today only the foundations of the temple have survived. Originally the temple included a columned portico behind which stood a cella where the religious and cult rites were conducted. The splendid Corinthian capital seen nearby once crowned one of the four columns of the facade of the temple. A coin found during the excavations of ancient city of Panias depict facade of a temple with the statue of Zeus in the middle.

circa 178 CE

Court of Nemesis
The Nemesis was the Roman goddess of vengeance and Roman imperial justice. Her long and narrow court was constructed around 178 CE in front of a great niche in which her statue was placed. A Greek inscription above the niche mentions the names of the goddess and of the person who donated funds for the sanctuary. The paving stones were arranged in a checker pattern of white and reddish stones.

circa 220 CE

Tomb-Temple of the Sacred Goats
This building, The Tomb-Temple of the Dancing Goats, was erected circa 220 CE, during the period of emperor Elagabalos. The bones of goats that were sacrificed during the cult rituals were buried in the rectangular niches in the main hall, together with the offerings of pottery, glass vessels and coins. The rites were performed on the roof in front of the rock-carved niche. On a Panias city coin, at the top of this text, the god Pan appears playing the flute and making the goat dance.

circa 200 CE

Corner Tower
The so-called "corner tower" is probably a fortification structure dating back to the various historical periods of the city of Panias. The lower walls, built of soft travertine stone, relate to the late Roman and Byzantine structures (third to sixth century CE). Above them is a part of the Crusader wall (twelfth century CE), also built of local travertine. Above this wall, are the remnants of an ayyubid corner tower (thirteenth century CE), built of hard local stone. Above the larger tower structure, is the smaller Ottoman era structure (circa 19th century CE), constructed with small polished stones, and at the top are the modern Syrian constructions.

circa 75 CE

Palace of Agrippa II
During the second half of the first century CE, Agrippa II expanded the city limits and enhanced it with beautiful statues and magnificient buildings (according to the description of Josephus Flavius). The building which served as a palace and the seat of government, has survived to much extent. Today, the architectural ramains of vaulted warehouses, internal courtyards, a large rectangular hall (probably a basilica), which was most likely used as a throne-room and other rooms and halls. A winding system of passageways and water-channels was constructed underneath the palatial-complex.

The entrance to the palace-complex appeared to be through two large towers, which were actually two apsidal halls situated on the either sides of the portal. These structures served as watchtowers guarding the entrance to the palace.

circa 350-550 CE

Byzantine Basilica
The basilica-shaped church served as the cathedral of the city of Panias during the Byzantine period (fourth to sixth centuries CE). In one of the rooms of thechurch there was a statueofJesus depicting the "miracle of the bleeding woman". According to Christian tradition, the woman, citizen of Panias, touched Jesus' garment and was instantly healed of all her ailments (Mark 5:25-34, Luke 8:43-49). The story of the statue first appeared in the writings of Bishop Eusebius who visited the city in the fourth century CE and saw the statue with his own eyes. The church that waserected during the Byzantine period was abandoned and destroyed during the ninth century CE, following the Arab conquest.


Old Synagogue

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