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Géographie historique du monde méditerranéen

Hélène Ahrweiler

Première partie. Contributions sur le monde méditerranéen

An annotated map of Byzantine settlements in Israel

State of research

Yoram Tsafrir

Texte intégral

  • 1 The project is sponsored by the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, and was also assisted b (...)

1The annotated map of Byzantine settlements within the area of Israel is a part of a larger publication, the map of Judaea and Palaestina for the Tabula Imperii Romani.1

2The sources of information for the map and its accompanying gazetteer are of two types: the literary evidence and the archaeological data. The archaeological data itself comes from three major sources:

  1. Published reports of excavations and field surveys. In comparison with its size, Israel is perhaps the most excavated country in the world. The many scientific reports are well indexed and easily reached.
  2. The Archives of the Department of Antiquities and Museums of Israel. The archives consist of material from the time of the British Mandate before 1948, and from 1948 until the present time. The files are well arranged and easily approached, but they are not classified according to chronological definition of the sites, and in many cases they lack any chronological definition at all. Out of the thousands of files we counted several hundred sites which undoubtedly related to Byzantine period.
  3. The third major source of information is the Archaeological Survey of Israel. The survey has been in progress since the 1960’s and will continue for many more years before being completed. The survey identifies all archaeological remains on the surface. It is arranged in units of 10 × 10 km, each of which is presented on a separate topographical map in a scale of 1:20,000. The large scale enables the surveyors to mark the precise location even of discoveries like single small buildings, cisterns, agricultural terraces or concentrations of pottery. The surveyors cover the area by foot, with the assistance of aerial photographs. Each unit of 10 × 10 km is published in a separate book. The main difficulty in using the material of the survey is the slow tempo of work and publication. Up to the present fewer than ten maps have been published. The unpublished material, however, is available in the archives of the survey, including the pottery, coins and other finds, that have been collected in the site. Hitherto, several hundred previously unknown Byzantine sites have been added to our knowledge by the surveyors.

3The list of Byzantine monasteries in the Judaean desert represents a good example. Previous list counted fewer than 40 ruins of monasteries and hermitages in the Judaean desert. The present list of monastic ruins counts more than 80 sites.

  • 2 M. Avi-Yonah, The Holy Land, From Persian to Arab Conquests (536 B.C. to A.D. 640), A Historical G (...)
  • 3 The Onomasticon is carried out on behalf of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. It is d (...)

4A vast number of literary sources complements the archaeological data. The majority of the sources are in Greek and Latin, as well as in Hebrew and Aramaic. Oriental languages such as Syriac, Armenian, Coptic and Arabic also supply important materials. The late Prof. M. Avi-Yonah, whose writings on the historical geography of Palestine in the Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine periods have become the foundation of modern research,2 also initiated another comprehensive project, namely The Onomasticon of Eretz Israel in the Greek and Roman Sources. Since his death in 1974, the project has been carried out by the author.3 A parallel project, The Onomasticon of Eretz Israel in the Hebrew-Aramaic Sources is being carried out under the supervision of Prof. L. I. Levine. Both projects are sponsored by the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.

  • 4 See for example, P. Thomsen, Loca Sancta, Lepzig, 1907, and Avi-Yonah, above, note 2.

5The Onomasticon contains all written sources pertaining to places mentioned by name in literary sources, papyri, inscriptions, and even coins. Unlike the previous works,4 it does not include only bibliographical reference, but presents the entire relevant text. The sources are arranged according to the place names, in alphabetic order: first the Greek or Latin text with the necessary apparatus criticus, then the translation into Hebrew (or into English, in a separate edition). Following are annotations, discussions and descriptions of the sites, and bibliography.

6The chronological range of the Onomasticon extends from the conquest of Palestine by Alexander the Great up to the Muslim conquest. The majority of the sources, however, are from the Late Roman-Early Byzantine period. Altogether we have derived the material from more than nine hundred works (of some 600 authors, or collections) in the Greek and the Latin. The Onomasticon has significantly enlarged our knowledge: for example, the article Aila (modern Eilat) and the Ailanitic golf comprises ca. 70 separate references, more than double the number counted in previous collections. The article Ascalon will number more than 200 references, while a separate volume is planned for Jerusalem.

7The wide chronological scope of the Onomasticon — covering almost one thousand years—adds great value to the work. It enables us to produce a comprehensive history of the settlements, by the comparison of one period to the other, and the examination of our results with the archaeological data. Through this comparative research we learn about the process of settlement, how many Byzantine sites were indeed founded during this period, and how many continued their existence from the Roman, Hellenistic, and even Biblical times. On the other hand, we learn how many older settlements had ceased to exist before the Byzantine period.

8Most significant is the conclusion that the number of settlements in Palestine increased under the Byzantines. The land achieved its peak in settlement and demography, and the estimated population was larger than in any other period before and after—excluding the modern period from the first half of the 20th century on. Intensive process of settlement has been recognized in the borders of the desert, especially in the Negev. This was undoubtedly the result of demographic growth in the mainland, proved both by the literary sources and the archaeological survey.

9The increase in population found its expression not only in the number of the settlements all over the country, but also in the size of old cities. Caesarea, the capital of the province, for example, spread out of its Roman nucleus. In Scythopolis, ancient Beth-Shean, the capital of Palaestina secunda, a Byzantine street was recently discovered, nicely paved with basalt stones, that led into the newly settled Byzantine suburb, outside of the Roman wall in the south. Foundation inscription, from the first half of the six century, related the pavement to the governor Flavius Orestes.

10A dramatic change occurred in Jerusalem. Hadrian founded his Colonia Aelia Capitolina above the ruins of the glorious Jewish Jerusalem, which had been burnt to ashes by Titus. The provincial colony, of some 10,000 inhabitants, expanded under the Christian regime into a major city of more than 50,000 inhabitants.

11Study of the decline in population after the Byzantine period, shows that some deterioration did follow the Muslim conquest, but in general, a high level of settlement continued during the Ummayad regime. It was the emergence of the Abbasid dynasty, in the mid eight century, that marked the severe drop in the number of settlements and occupation.

12The careful topographical study of patterns of growth or decline in occupation, will supply material to deal with several major problems in the history of the country. Most important is the connection between settlements, demography and the political-cultural changes. Also to be considered are possible connections between demography and the plague of 542 CE, the impact occurrence of minor climatic changes and so forth. Other possible options are the study of ethnical and religious demography, illustrating the struggle between the victorious Christianity and the Jews, Samaritans, and the Arab tribes at the bordering deserts. This will be studied only through a precise chronological map of churches and synagogues, and of Christian, Jewish, and Samaritan inscriptions. We hope to illustrate these phenomena and many others in the map, and accompanying text, of our Map of Palestine in the Byzantine Period.


1 The project is sponsored by the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, and was also assisted by the Centre de géographie historique du monde byzantin, and the European Scientific Foundation. Geographical-historical interest brought us to suggest a common project of teams from neighbouring countries, in order to produce maps of the provinces of the three Pateslinae and Arabia. Such collaboration appeared to be impossible because of the political situation. An international committee of the Tabula Imperii Romani: Profs. Krauss, De Silva, Carettoni and the late Prof. Ward-Perkins (chairman), directed us to limit ourselves to those areas which were surveyed and studied by Israeli teams. It should therefore be emphasized that our research is free of any present day political connotation. Moreover, its results are offered to use of scholars of any country, even before the final publication.
The team is directed by the author. Its members are Mrs. Lea Di-Segni, Mrs. Judith Green, Mr. J. Patrich, and Dr. Roni Reich.

2 M. Avi-Yonah, The Holy Land, From Persian to Arab Conquests (536 B.C. to A.D. 640), A Historical Geography, (revised edition) Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1979. (First Hebrew edition 1949); Idem, Gazetteer of Roman Palestine (Qedem 5), Jerusalem, 1976.

3 The Onomasticon is carried out on behalf of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. It is directed by a committee, members of which are Profs. Ben-Hayim, J. Prawer, M. Stern, and A. A. Urbach, the president of the Academy. Members of the team are Lea Di-Segni, Judith Green, and Joseph Patrich.

4 See for example, P. Thomsen, Loca Sancta, Lepzig, 1907, and Avi-Yonah, above, note 2.


© Éditions de la Sorbonne, 1988

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