Newly Discovered Roman Theater in Jewish City

Sidebar to: Under the Influence

The evidence of Hellenistic influence on Jewish culture isn’t just artistic and linguistic—it’s architectural, as well. Archaeologists at Tiberias, a Jewish city under Roman rule on the Sea of Galilee, have recently excavated a Roman theater dating to the city’s founding in 20 C.E. Experts from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) say the find suggests a somewhat surprising openness among the Jewish citizenry to adopt aspects of Hellenistic culture, especially since the population of Tiberias was decidedly more Jewish than multicultural neighbors like Sepphoris.

In its earliest stage, the theater was more than 150 feet in diameter and nearly 200 feet wide, with two blocks of seats. The theater was significantly expanded in the second or third century C.E. to seat more than 7,000 people. Four rows of seats in the first block have survived.

Archaeologists first discovered the theater in 1990 while digging at nearby Mt. Bernike, but excavation of the structure began only this year, under the direction of Walid Atrash. The site sits nearly 50 feet below ground level, underneath an Abbasid-period neighborhood that was built in a terraced style to conform to the slope of the theater. Researchers believe the theater was a primary gathering place for inhabitants of Tiberias.

The site will be named for Amir Drori, former director of the IAA.

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