Beit She'an

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Beit She'an, also spelled as Beth-shean, formerly known as Scythopolis and Beisan is a city in the Northern District of Israel/Palestine, which has played an important role in history due to its geographical location at the junction of the Jordan River Valley and the Jezreel Valley.


In the Biblical account of the battle of the Israelites against the Philistines on Mount Gilboa, the bodies of King Saul and three of his sons were hung on the walls of Beit She'an (1 Samuel 31:10-12). In Roman times, Scythopolis was the leading city of the Decapolis, a league of pagan cities.

The settlement in the area began in the Late Neolithic or Early Chalcolithic periods (sixth to fifth millennia BCE). Occupation continued intermittently throughout the Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods, with a likely gap during the Late Chalcolithic period.

Settlement seems to have resumed at the beginning of the Early Bronze Age I (3200–3000 BCE) and continues throughout this period, is then missing during Early Bronze Age II, and then resumes in the Early Bronze Age III.

After the conquest of Beit She'an by Pharaoh Thutmose III in the 15th century BCE, as recorded in an inscription at Karnak, the small town on the summit of the mound became the center of the Egyptian administration of the region.

According to the Hebrew Bible, around 1000 BCE the town became part of the larger Israelite kingdom. 1 Kings 4:12 refers to Beit She'an as part of the kingdom of Solomon, though the historical accuracy of this list is debated. An Iron Age I (1200-1000 BCE) Canaanite city was constructed on the site of the Egyptian center shortly after its destruction.

The Hellenistic period saw the reoccupation of the site of Beit She'an under the new name "Scythopolis" (Ancient Greek: Σκυθόπολις), possibly named after the Scythian mercenaries who settled there as veterans. Little is known about the Hellenistic city, but during the 3rd century BCE a large temple was constructed on the tell.

Notable Structures


Western Bath House
The largest of the two bathhouses in Beit She’an, this complex of buildings from the Byzantine period is still relatively well-preserved. Some parts of the original colonnades have been re-erected and provide an idea of the grandeur of this antique wellness center during the antiquity. The floor heating system (hypocaust) underneath the bathing halls is also still visible, as well as a few public toilets and pools.


Palladius Street
The colonnaded Palladius street extends from the theater to the foothills of the ancient Tel, 150 meters from south (near the theater) to north (foothills of the hill). The street was built in the Roman period, starting from the 1st century CE, and restored during the Byzantine period. On both sides of the 24 meters paved street was a raised roofed sidewalk with shops and public houses. Historians established that the street was named after a 4th-century Roman governor after uncovering an inscription. There are rare mosaics and a Roman amphitheater which is still in use today.


Roman Theatre
Built during the reign of Septimius Severus, during the late 2nd century, Beit Shean's Roman Theater is the best preserved in Israel. It had seating for 6,000 spectators, with the lower part of the structure built into the ground and holding semicircular tiers of seating. The upper part is born on massive substructures, with nine entrances leading to the horizontal gangway halfway up the auditorium. The upper seating tiers have been partly destroyed, but the lower seating rows are excellently preserved. There are also substantial remains of the stage wall, which was originally richly decorated with columns and statues.


Southern Bath-house
The southern bath house or the smaller bath house is located north of the theatre. The bath house dating back to the Byzantine period is centered on an inner courtyard with colonnades around three sides and preserving remains of the original mosaic and marble decoration. Like other Roman and Byzantine cities, Bet-She'an had numerous bath-houses, of which this example, at 8,500 square menters, is the smaller of the two discovered in the town center. Built in the 4th centur CE, this bath-house was in use for nearly 200 years, undergoing periodic renovations and alterations.


House of the Egyptian Governor
The Residence of the Egyptian Governor at Beit-Shean was part of a larger administrative complex, which also included a number of government buildings, a royal granary, and a residential quarter for the families of the Egyptian officials. This fortified governor's residence was built in Beit She'an in the 12th century BCE. This brick building (23 x 22 meters) had thick walls. In its central hall, surrounded on all four sides by rooms, two wooden columns on stone bases supported the ceiling. Nearby, on both sides of a street, were large dwellings for Egyptian officials. Architectural elements, such as door lintels and doorposts, with dedicatory inscription and solemn oaths were found, as well as Egyptian-style luxury items, such as pottery objects and jewellery.


This public fountain dates back to the 2nd century CE. Several decorative elements belonging to this structure have been found in its vicinity, and there are plans to re-incorporate them in a future reconstruction of the nymphaeum.


See Also


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