Hippos-Sussita reveals evidence of 363 C.E. earthquake
Excavations at Hippos-Sussita near modern-day Kibbutz Ein Gev in Israel have uncovered evidence of the earthquake that shook Galilee and nearby regions in 363 C.E. The earthquake was so devastating that it may have been partially responsible for the halted rebuilding of the Temple at Jerusalem planned under Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate.
Located on a flat-topped mountain 1,000 feet above the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, the ancient city was established as Antiochia Hippos in 200 B.C.E. by the Seleucids. Under the reign of Hasmonean ruler Alexander Jannaeus, the city became known as Sussita (Hippos is “horse” in Greek and Sussita is “horse” in Aramaic). In the Roman period, the city was part of the Decapolis, a group of ten loosely-aligned Hellenized cities located in northeastern Palestine, which was predominantly Semitic.
By the fourth century C.E., Sussita had become a mostly Christian city. As Arthur Segal and Michael Eisenberg write in “The Spade Hits Sussita” in the May/June 2006 issue of BAR:
In the Byzantine period, ancient Palestine was divided into three districts. Sussita was one of the cities of Palaestina Secunda, which included the Galilee, and most of the population was Christian. From the writings of the church fathers, we learn that, in this period, the city was the seat of an Episcopus (bishop). The five churches located so far in Sussita confirm the range and depth of Christianization that the city underwent.
Recently, the Hippos-Sussita Excavations Project, led by Michael Eisenberg of the University of Haifa, uncovered evidence that the earthquake of 363 C.E. caused major damage to the city’s basilica and baths. Amid the bones of a woman crushed by a collapsed roof in the basilica—which served as the city’s marketplace—the archaeologists found a dove-shaped gold pendant (pictured below).
While the historically well-documented 363 C.E. earthquake caused a number of destructions, Sussita was able to recover after 20 years of rebuilding. Yet it was unable to recover from the devastation left in the wake of the catastrophic earthquake of 749 C.E., and the city was permanently abandoned as a result.
Arthur Segal and Michael Eisenberg, “The Spade Hits Sussita,” Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2006.
Arthur Segal and Michael Eisenberg, “Hercules in Galilee,” Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 2011.
Jeffrey Brodd, “Julian the Apostate and His Plan to Rebuild the Jerusalem Temple,” Bible Review, October 1995.
“Archaeological High Horse,” Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 2011.
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