History and Archaeology of Ancient Capernaum



By the Editors of the Madain Project

Capernaum, Kfar Naḥūm (كفر ناحوم‎), was a fishing village established during the time of the Hasmoneans, located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Archaeological excavations have revealed two ancient synagogues built one over the other. A house turned into a church by the Byzantines is said to be the home of Saint Peter. The village was inhabited continuously from the second century BCE to the eleventh century CE, when it was abandoned sometime before the Crusader conquest. This includes the re-establishment of the village during the Early Islamic period soon after the 749 CE earthquake.

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Brief History of Ancient Capernaum

Hasmoneans Period (circa 140 BCE - 37 BCE)
Capernaum likely existed during this period, and archaeological evidence suggests that the site may have been occupied in earlier Hellenistic period as well. The Hellenistic period corresponds to the time after the conquests of Alexander the Great when the influence of Greek culture spread throughout the eastern Mediterranean. It is estimated that the fishing town of Capernaum had a population of some 1,500 in the first century CE.

Roman Period (30 BCE - 330 CE)
Capernaum continued to thrive during the Roman period. The town played a significant role in trade and fishing activities around the Sea of Galilee. The remains of the synagogue in Capernaum, which dates back to this period, suggest a well-established and prosperous community. Although the small fishing village was not involved in the Jewish uprising against the Romans (First Jewish–Roman War 66–73 CE), the Jewish-Roman historian Josephus Flavius is believed to have stayed at Capernaum (Kepharnōkón) after a fall from his horse in nearby Bethsaida.

Byzantine Period (330 CE - 638 CE)
The Byzantine period saw the construction of Christian churches and the spread of Christianity throughout the region. The archaeological site of Capernaum includes evidence of a Byzantine church built over what is traditionally considered the house of Saint Peter. During this period, around 530 CE, Capernaum was mentioned in the writings of Theodosius the archdeacon who said that it was situated, as one goes northward from Tiberias, two miles from Tabgha (Heptapegon) and six miles short of Bethsaida along the same route.

Islamic Period (638 CE - 1099 CE)
Following the Arab-Muslim conquest, the town's prominence declined, and Capernaum went through a period of transformation. While historical records about specific events in Capernaum during this time are limited, archaeological evidence suggests that the town persisted, albeit with reduced significance.

Crusader Period (1099 CE - 1291 CE)
The Crusaders, who sought to control the Holy Land, established settlements and fortifications in the region. Capernaum was not a major Crusader center, but there were influences from this period in the broader context of the Holy Land.

Mamluk and Ottoman Periods (13th century - 1918)
Capernaum's significance further diminished during the Mamluk and Ottoman periods. The town's decline was likely influenced by economic factors, changing trade routes, and natural disasters.

Modern Period (20th century - present)
Capernaum was rediscovered in the 19th century, leading to systematic archaeological excavations. The site has become an important archaeological and religious destination, attracting visitors interested in the historical and biblical aspects of the region.

Archaeology in Capernaum

Featured Article Byzantine Era Church of St. Peter

Due to its location and early treatment as a Christian pilgrimage site, a large octagonal Byzantine church was erected over the purported "House of Peter" in the fifth century CE. The so-called "House of Peter" is an ancient residential structure at Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee that’s been an obvious object of attention and religious devotion since the second century CE. The association with Saint Peter adds religious significance to the ancietn archaeological site for Christian pilgrims.


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