2,000-year-old Amphitheater Discovered Near Tiberias

A 2,000-year-old Roman amphitheater has been fully uncovered, 19 years after it was discovered and excavation began.

The amphitheater was 15 meters below ground. Remnants poked through the sand at what Israel Antiquities Authority Archaeologist Walid Atrash called "a central meeting point."

The initial finding in 1990 surprised the archaeologists digging near Mount Bernike, in the Tiberias hills, since nothing there is referenced in the scriptures.

The efforts to fully excavate the theater began this year.

The late Professor Izhar Hirschfeld and Yossi Stepansky, the archaeologists heading the excavation, initially stated the structure was from the 2nd or 3rd century C.E., but later quickly realized that they go all the way back to the beginning of the 1st century C.E., closer to the founding of Tiberias.

"The most interesting thing about the amphitheater is its Jewish context," said Hirshfeld at the time of the initial discovery. "Unlike Tzipori, which was a multicultural city, Tiberias was a Jewish city under Roman rule. The findings demonstrate the city's pluralistic nature and cultural openness, something uncommon in those days."

In light of the findings, Tiberias apparently was a particularly liberal city for its time, more than 2,000 years ago, said Atrash. "The theater was enormous, and thus attracted a lot of attention. It seated more than 7,000 people, and appears to have been a prominent landmark for the entire area."

Tiberias Mayor Zohar Oved said the amphitheater discovery is undoubtedly "one of the most important findings in the history of the Jewish people." The site will be opened to the public in the near future, he said.

The site will be named after Amir Drori, the first director of the Israel Antiquities Authority.