BAR 35:06, Nov/Dec 2009
How many Roman theaters survive in Israel and Jordan today?
No archaeological tour of Israel or Jordan is complete without an excursion to a Roman theater. These architectural marvels, which are found in abundance on both sides of the Jordan River, are often so well preserved that a modern visitor can still experience the same sights and sounds that greeted the theater’s audience 2,000 years ago.
But despite their ubiquity and seemingly obvious function, the more than two dozen theaters found in Israel and Jordan defy any straightforward explanation. Contrary to their appellation, most of the theaters were neither built nor frequented by Romans. From their first appearance in Palestine and Transjordan during the first century B.C., the theaters were the work of powerful local rulers who sought to cloak themselves and their kingdoms in the cultural mantle of Hellenic civilization.