And That's How They Lived in Zippori

Ran Shapira
Ran Shapira
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Ran Shapira
Ran Shapira

Two deep canals, discovered this summer at the Zippori National Park by a Hebrew University expedition, will probably help solve the riddle occupying researchers: how water reached the town, which was the capital of the Galilee during the first century B.C.E. and the first century C.E.

In July 2003 Dr. Zvika Zuk, a National Parks Authority archaeologist, discovered a large water reservoir at Zippori's eastern entrance. Zuk, who was digging at the site in cooperation with the Israel Antiquities Authority, discovered a reservoir covered with two layers of mortar along with the remains of five cut stone arches that once supported a roof over the reservoir.

The dimensions and style of the reservoir led researchers to believe it served as one of Zippori's primary water sources during the first century C.E., in the Roman period. During the second century C.E., a larger reservoir was built to the southeast. The head of the excavation, Professor Zeev Weiss of the Hebrew University, thinks the canals helped supply water to the reservoirs.

Discovered nearby were smaller canals, and pipes from clay and lead. The two large canals were covered in gray mortar. Researchers believe they were connected to the two aqueducts that brought water to the reservoirs from the Mashhad and Al-Reina fountains, east of Zippori. One canal is connected to the northern aqueduct, and the other to the southern one.

Larger than thought

The waterworks discovered this summer gave researchers a better understanding of the structure and dimensions of ancient Zippori. One of the large canals stretches along the Decumanos - the city's colonnaded east-west road, which Weiss says welcomed travelers arriving from the large neighboring city to the east, Tiberius.

As with all Roman cities, Zippori's roads were laid out like a grid. At the center were two colonnaded roads, the Decumanos and the Cardo, which ran from north to south. The two streets were paved with diagonally-placed rectangular stone slates. This season, another section of the Decumanos was discovered.

The new segment is 27 meters long. There are two stone steps along it on the northern side, which Weiss said were used to reach the paved section above the road and the houses facing it. Structures built in the Roman and early Byzantine periods were found at excavations both north and south of the road, but the work was interrupted by the war and did not resume. Students at the Archaeological Institute, youth and local workers took part in this memorial excavation for the late Dr. Noam Shudofsky. It was funded by the Hebrew University and foreign donors with the assistance of the National Parks Authority.

Near the water structures and canals another street segment was discovered, crossing the Decumanos from north to south. This street was previously unknown, and according to Weiss it testifies to the city's dimensions during the Roman period. Beforehand, the grid of streets had been revealed mostly in the western part of the city, west of the Cardo. This newly discovered street shows Zippori was larger than researchers previously estimated, but more work is still required to excavate the streets and structures between the main roads.

When in Rome

The previously unknown road, along with the waterworks and canals, provide a much clearer picture of ancient Roman Zippori. It was a Jewish city built in Roman style. The city's structure, says Weiss, shows its inhabitants adopted the Roman ways they had previously opposed.

Zippori was the capital of the Galilee during Herod's time, the first century B.C.E. and the first century C.E. After Herod died, the people of Zippori rebelled against Roman rule. In response the city was torched and its people were sold into slavery.

The city was rebuilt, but Tiberius, founded during the time of Herod's son, became the new regional capital. Zippori's residents included some of the wealthiest and most distinguished Jews of their era. When the great rebellion broke out in 66 C.E., the people of Zippori chose to draw on past experience and did not join it. Because of this, the city was not destroyed and was rebuilt in Roman style after the rebellion, Weiss says.

As a result, many structures remain today, but more importantly, Zippori later become a center of Jewish revival after the great rebellion. Survivors found shelter there, and Jewish thought and tradition resumed in the city.

Decades later, halfway through the second century C.E., Zippori became the center of Jewish life in Israel. In the days of Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi, the Sanhedrin resided there, where it sealed the Mishna. In fact, says Weiss, Zippori should have become a symbol, rather than Masada.