hippos (sussita) excavations Project
about the project and the site
Hippos Excavations Project is one of the main continuously running Classical archaeology research expeditions in Israel. Since year 2000 our international team excavates the site of Hippos (Sussita) to show as much as possible of the ancient city and learn about our past from its well-preserved remains.
Geography, History, and the Preserved Remains
As from 2012 a new session of excavations began, directed by Dr. Michael Eisenberg on behalf of the Zinman Institute of Archaeology. In 2016 Dr. Arleta Kowalewska joined in as a co-director. Prof. Mark Schuler, with his Concordia University team, continued to unearth the North-east Insula until 2019.
Remains of Hippos-Sussita, known in Arabic as Kulat el-Husn, have been known since 1883, when Gottlieb Schumacher visited the site. Following the construction of a military post by the Israel Defense Forces in 1950s, limited rescue excavations were carried out by the Department of Antiquities of Israel. In 1964 Mt. Sussita was declared a National Park and in 2004 the area around it and the site itself were declared a National Nature Reserve. Following an archaeological survey conducted in 1999, it was decided to embark on a large-scale scientific project that runs from 2000.
Hippos Excavations Project is an international expedition. The first twelve seasons (2000-2011) were an Israeli-Polish-American collaboration co-directed by: Professor Arthur Segal and Dr. Michael Eisenberg from The Zinman Institute of Archaeology, University of Haifa; Professor Jolanta Młynarczyk from the Research Centre for Mediterranean Archaeology, Polish Academy of Sciences; Dr. Mariusz Burdajewicz of the National Museum in Warsaw, Poland; and Professor Mark Schuler from Concordia University at St. Paul, MN, USA.
Historians associate the concept of the Decapolis with the 'new order' installed by Pompey along the eastern shores of the Mediterranean after the fall of the Seleucid Empire in 63 BC and after the liberation of the cities from the Hasmonaean rule. The cities of the Decapolis had much in common with one another. Most were founded during the Hellenistic period and were supported by the Seleucid kings, who saw them as a counterweight to the kingdoms that lay to the west (the Hasmonaean Kingdom of Judaea) and to the east (the Nabataean kingdom). Most of the population of the Decapolis cities was Hellenized and saw themselves as citizens of a polis in every respect. From the days of Pompey the cities were part of Provincia Syria. Still, the Roman authorities did not hesitate to transfer (although temporally) Hippos and Gadara to the area ruled by Herod the Great. After the annexation of the Nabataean kingdom by the Romans in CE 106, the Decapolis region was included in Provincia Arabia that extended more or less over the area of the former Nabataean kingdom. From then onward, the residents of the Decapolis were subjects to the governor of the new province, stationed in Bosra.
The ancient city of Hippos-Sussita is located on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, on top of mountain 350 m above the lake. The city and the mountain are almost entirely isolated from their surrounding, with just a narrow 'saddle' bridge leading towards the western slopes of the Golan Heights. The ancient city fitted the contours of the mountain, giving Hippos a rectangular shape. Its length from east to west was about 550 m and its maximum width from north to south about 220 m. The entire city was surrounded by an imposing fortification wall.
Antiochia-Hippos, in Aramaic known as Sussita, was founded after 200 BC, when the Seleucids seized the Land of Israel from the Ptolemies. Pottery from this period in found all over the mountain, but the architectural remains consist mainly of a temenos - designated compound for a temple, in the city center. During the Roman period, Hippos belonged to the Decapolis, a group of ten cities which were regarded as centers of Greek culture in the area of a predominantly Semitic population. In the Jerusalem Talmud, and in other Jewish Halakhic literature, Hippos was considered to have a mainly non-Jewish population. Despite the trade connections between Hippos and the Jews dispersed in the towns and villages along the shores of the Sea of Galilee and the nearby Golan Heights, Hippos was regarded as the sworn enemy of Jewish Tiberias.
Hippos, just as the other Decapolis cities, flourished through the Roman period. The main public buildings excavated in Hippos belong to this time, among them the forum (main square) and the decumanus maximus (main thoroughfare), the kalybe (temple for cult of the emperor) and at least one other impressive temple, the civic basilica, the theater and the odeion, a monumental gate, and at least two bathhouses. The extraordinary cemetery by the city's main access road through the saddle was also built then, including its two ornate mausolea and a series of 13 large podia for sarcophagi.
By the 4th century CE, the majority of residents in the city were probably Christian, since it was the seat of a bishop. At least seven churches were built there, within the see of Palaestina Secunda. Three of the churches have been excavated almost completely, and two others were exposed partly, revealing colorful mosaics, informative inscriptions, and often even marble chancel furniture.
The Early Islamic period remains paint a picture not of a polis (Hippos was deprived of its administrative role in the Umayyad state setup), but of a Christian agricultural settlement, with the central spaces taken by wineries, threshing floors for grain, industrial-size bakeries, and olive oil presses. Hippos continued to exist until the mid-8th century, when the city was destroyed by the catastrophic earthquake of January 18 CE 749 and never resettled.
In 2017 the research was expanded to include the Hippos territory, the area that the polis of Hippos once controlled. The initiative of the Hippos Regional Research is co-directed by Dr. Michael Eisenberg and Dr. Mechael Osband.