The Roman Temple and the Church (Areas 67.3, 77.1)
A Roman temple was discovered in previous seasons in the areas south of the decamanus
. It was founded during the first half of the second century CE; a church was constructed above it in the late fifth or early sixth century CE. Other building remains, discovered in some of the excavation squares, have been ascribed to an intermediate phase, after the temple was abandoned in the mid-fourth century and before the establishment of the church, about a hundred years later (Weiss 2010a
In past seasons, the Roman temple and the courtyard to its north were revealed as far as the decamanus (Fig. 2). The church was built perpendicular to the axis of the temple and parallel to the decamanus. So far, two main parts of the church have been uncovered: a large atrium with two adjoining rooms were unearthed in the western part of the area; the eastern side of the church—a broad apse at the end of the nave and a smaller apse at the end of each aisle—was discovered in the eastern part of the area. Between these two parts of the area remained an unexcavated stretch along the western side of the temenos, near where the atrium and the prayer hall meet; seven squares were opened here. It was hoped that they will yield other sections of the temenos’ western wall and help ascertain the architectural connection between the prayer hall and the atrium, which will explain the differences in elevation from west to east between the different parts of the church that were identified in past seasons.
Another section of the temenos’ western wall (preserved length 5.9 m, width c. 1.65 m) was discovered in two of the excavation squares. Two parallel sections of walls that probably belonged to an early construction phase were discovered at equal intervals perpendicular to the temenos wall; it is therefore possible to reconstruct a row of rooms, perhaps shops, that were built along the western wall of the temenos. However, this reconstruction raises problems regarding the relationship between the temple, the courtyard and the temenos wall. Another possibility is that the walls, or at least some of them, were connected to buildings of the intermediate construction phase, which were identified in other squares throughout the temenos. The expansion of the excavation in this part of the complex, beside the temenos wall, will allow to determine this matter.
Plaster floors were discovered in some squares at the elevation of the temenos courtyard in front of the temple. A similar floor discovered west of the temenos wall may belong to an open space that stretched between the temenos and the cardo to its west; its size is unclear. This open space was built at the same elevation as that of the temenos, indicating that the entrance to the temenos may also have been from the west, although no in-situ threshold was discovered; additional openings to Roman temple courtyards are known in several
sites. Two coins discovered in the floor of the temenos and in the area outside it date to the second half of the third century CE and reflect the continuation of life there.
The narthex (width c. 3.5 m) was set between the prayer hall and the atrium, and spanned the width of the entire building. Neither its floor nor any other surface that could connect it with the architectural spaces on either of its sides were preserved. A comparison of the elevations in the atrium, in the prayer hall, in the chapel to its south and in the presbyterium shows a gradual change in elevations from west to east. The atrium floor was 70 cm lower than that of the prayer hall, and a similar difference was discovered between the floor of the prayer hall and that of the presbyterium. Thus, three steps, of either stone or wood, should be reconstructed along to the wall shared by the atrium and the narthex, and three additional steps must have been in front of the presbyterium. So far, these steps have not been discovered.
The walls of the narthex cut through the earlier temenos floor (Fig. 3). The walls, which were preserved to a height of one or two courses, were built mainly of various-sized ashlars, some of which were probably taken from the abandoned temple. Three coins dating to the second half of the fourth century CE were found in the foundation levels of the church, indicating that the church was not constructed before the beginning of the fifth century CE. Other finds discovered in several of the excavation areas throughout the church show it was probably built only in the late fifth or early sixth century CE.
The walls of the narthex in its northwestern corner were completely robbed in antiquity, and the fills discovered there, extending down to the bedrock, contained fragments of pottery vessels dating to the Early Islamic period. Similar fills were discovered in several pits, sometimes as deep as the church’s wall foundations. These finds, when taken in conjunction with what previously discovered finds about the church, allow us to assume that its walls were plundered in the Umayyad period or at the beginning of the Abbasid period. These finds are insufficient in determining when the church was abandoned, whether it happened in the Late Byzantine period or close to the time of its destruction.
A Monumental Building from the Roman Period (Area 78.2)
A monumental building comprising two main wings was discovered in past seasons in the area north of the decamanus
. A large courtyard paved with stone was partly discovered in the eastern area of the excavation and just to the west of it was a portico with a plaster floor. To the west, in the area extending from the portico to the corner of the cardo
and the decamanus
, another complex was found. It consisted of several rooms, some of which were decorated with mosaics, which were partly preserved. The preservation in the area and particularly in the western wing of the building was not good, and therefore the stratigraphic and architectural picture is still unclear. The building was constructed in the late first or early second century CE, when the network of streets was built in the lower city, and was in use until the fourth century CE. In the Byzantine period, an elongated building with parallel, east–west walls was erected on top of the Roman-period structure. The three steps that were added along the northern side of the decamanus
are probably related to the Byzantine construction. Thus, the elevation of upper step may reflect that of the later building’s floors, which were not preserved (for a discussion of the finds from previous seasons in Area 78.2, see Weiss 2010b
). The renewed excavation in this area and the work slated for the coming seasons will ensure the complete exposure of the Roman building and the remains that postdate it, providing more complete information concerning the northeastern insula
located in the heart of the lower city.
The excavation was conducted in two separate locations: near the southwestern corner of the building and alongside the courtyard in the east. Three excavation squares were opened in the east. Two of them yielded the northern continuation of the portico adjacent to the western side of the courtyard was (Fig. 4). The portico's western wall was preserved only up to the level of the floor, and it was built of roughly hewn stones in secondary use. The floor of the portico was made of white plaster that was uniformly leveled. Part of a plastered installation was preserved west of the portico wall; nearby were ex-situ remains of a terra-cotta pipe. The installation might have been linked to a drainage system set below the floor level in the space bordering the portico to its west. Another section of the courtyard pavement was discovered in the third eastern square (Fig. 5): several stone tiles placed in two rows, surrounded by the plaster foundation bearing the negatives of extracted stone pavers. Several sections of walls built on the floor of the portico and the courtyard point to a second construction phase in the building, prior to its destruction.
A small cache of five coins was found in the floor foundation of the stoa, near the end of the exposed wall. A preliminary examination identified these as flans; their diameter and thickness are indicative of Roman provincial stamping.
The excavation in the southwestern corner of the building focused on removing balks and on completing the excavation of some of the squares which were only partially excavated in previous seasons. The aim was to expose the corner of the building and study the connection between the wall sections that have been discovered so far. The walls in the southwestern corner of the building were only partially preserved to a height of one course; in some places their course was missing, but could be discerned in the hewn bedrock. An analysis of the wall remains shows that besides the rooms with the mosaics that were discovered in past, the building consisted of another room (3.5 × 3.9 m), near its southwestern corner. The northwestern corner of the room had a partially preserved plaster floor. Since the plaster floor was found at an elevation similar to that of the mosaics in the adjacent rooms, it may have been the foundation of a mosaic that had not survived.
Once the southwestern corner of the building was identified, it became clear that during the Roman period a sidewalk (presumed width c. 4 m) extended between the southern wall of the building and the decamanus. At this stage in the excavation, it is unclear whether the three rooms adjacent to the sidewalk opened onto the street or if they faced north, toward an inner courtyard.
A concrete wall (thickness c. 0.3 m) was exposed along the decamanus, next to the intersection of the streets. It was completely identical to the concrete foundation found behind the stone steps that were added along the street in the Byzantine period. The steps in this spot were robbed, but the concrete casting remained in situ. It was also revealed that the stone ramp that was previously discovered along the route of the decamanus was incorporated in the concrete wall and was constructed during the same phase as the wall. Another concrete wall stump that formed a corner with the first concrete wall was discovered to the west, near the route of the cardo; it extended north but was severed, possibly due to later construction. The function of this section will be ascertained with further excavations to the north, along the western wing of the complex and the course of the sidewalk along the cardo.
In previous seasons, two deep, parallel robber trenches were discovered, one running across the courtyard and another to its north; both had concrete foundations at the bottom. The continuation of the robber trench that ran across the courtyard was discovered this season in adjacent squares. The fills that covered it contained pottery sherds dating to the Byzantine and Late Islamic periods. These new finds seem to suggest that the foundation walls discovered at a great depth in the adjacent pits, below the Roman building, did not belong to the Roman building as was speculated at first; rather, these were the foundations of a Byzantine-period building whose walls were later robbed. Judging by of their dimensions and the identical nature of the two parallel robber trenches, it is presumed that they resulted from plundering the walls of the Byzantine-period building. Moreover, the wall built of stones in secondary use that was previously discovered to the south ran parallel to the robber trench. An analysis of the finds so far shows that the robber trenches should be associated with the wall south of them, and that all of them are related to the building from the Byzantine period which had elongated, parallel spaces that extended along an east–west axis, parallel to the decamanus. A sidewalk was probably built at the elevation of the third step and ran along the main thoroughfare, in front of the building facing the decamanus and all along it. An analysis of the data shows that the Byzantine-period complex that was partially exposed served as a storehouse (horreum) and that the stone ramp by the street intersection was meant to facilitate the entry of animals and the transfer of goods to the building.
Dwellings (Area 68.2)
The continuation of the decamanus
toward the east was discovered in the past in this area, as well as a another street that runs perpendicular to the eastern cardo
(below), which extends southward, parallel to the cardo
in the center of the city (see Weiss 2007
for a discussion of the finds from previous seasons in Area 68.2). Sections of walls that did not constitute a clear building plan were discovered mainly in the insula
southwest of the intersection. The excavation focused on the area southeast of the intersection in order to become familiar with the buildings in the eastern insula
, to see how far the built-up area extended and thereby identify the eastern boundary of the lower city. Three squares that were only opened and two squares in which the excavation was completed were examined east of the eastern cardo
(Fig. 6). These yielded sections of four rooms that probably belonged to one terraced complex built to conform to the topography that rises from north to south. The walls probably continues to the south and east. The walls of the building were constructed of ashlars and were generally preserved only one course high (Fig. 7). Three rooms were paved with plaster, and in the southern room, at a higher level, was a white mosaic floor with a black frame that was partially preserved. The walls of the mosaic-paved room were robbed down to their foundations, making it difficult to determine the room’s precise outline. Several coins dating to the late fourth or early fifth century CE were discovered in the plaster floors and probably date the construction of the building. Judging by the material that was in the fill covering the structure, it seems that the building remained in use until the end of the Byzantine period.
A later floor, made of plaster mixed with gravel and tesserae, was discovered near the surface, above the two southern rooms of the building. Ceramic material from the Mamluk period found in the fills below the floor date the later level to the end of the Mamluk period or the Ottoman period. As no walls or other architectural elements were discovered on this floor, it is unknown whether a building stood there in the late period or if this was a separate level, possibly an agricultural installation.
A fine-quality stone pavement was found in the area extending west of the building, as far as the eastern cardo. An apsidal wall built on another small stone pavement was discovered south of the pavement. It is unclear whether this pavement served as a sidewalk along the eastern cardo or if it was the pavement of a closed structure, the purpose of which is unclear at this stage of the excavation. Thus, it is also uncertain whether the two floors were interrelated and if the apsidal wall that was added in a late phase was connected to them.
The excavation findings this season enhanced our knowledge about Zippori and revealed the architectural developments of the city during the Roman period and Late Antiquity. The stratigraphic analysis of the buildings excavated along the decamanus provided important information about the monuments built along the road that served as the main thoroughfare leading into the city from the east. Public buildings were constructed inside the urban center, and private houses were in built in its eastern part, near the entrance to the city. This settlement pattern, although incomplete at this stage of the excavations, provides important information about the relationship between public space and private space in the cities of the Land of Israel.