Hammath Tiberias

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Dates Excavated:



Moshe Dothan

Archaeological Information: Area D3 to H6 on the grid system

Date of Building Construction:

Stratum IIb: first half 3rd century[794]
Stratum IIa (=Severus Synagogue): late 3rd-first quarter 4th century[795]
Stratum Ib: 5th century[796]
Stratum Ia: mid 7th century[797]

Place of Building in Settlement:
At the far southern end of the villages of Hammath and Tiberias, which were at this point in history were combined into one city. [798] The synagogue is located on the highest terrace of the site.

Building Description:
Stratum IIb: This was a rectangular hall with three rows of three columns on stylobates, dividing the space into four uneven aisles. The northeast corner of the hall extended outwards to the north, forming a niche of 1.20 m deep. There were two side rooms: one to the north and one to the south.[800] The northern side room possibly had a stairwell leading to an upper floor or the roof. The interior walls of the building were plastered with colorful decorations and the floor had mosaics, which were destroyed by the rebuilding of Stratum IIa.[801] An oblong cistern with a white mosaic floor was attached to the northwest corner of the north room. Stratum IIa: This building, also known as the Synagogue of Severos, is very similar in layout to the one in Stratum IIb. Three entrances were located in the north wall, as indicated by a Greek inscription in the mosaic floor.[802] The south room was now expanded to the east and new partition walls created four rooms. One room, Room 35, had a rectangular sunken area on the west side, in which multiple objects were found.[803] The floor of the four aisles of the synagogue was paved with decorated mosaics, including a zodiac, Torah shrine with menorahs, and Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic inscriptions. Stratum Ib: This is an entirely new synagogue building, built upon the remains of the Severus synagogue. This building was an apsidal, longhouse synagogue with two rows of six columns and a transverse row of four columns in the northwest area. It might have had a second story. There is a large, inscribed apse at the south side of the nave with rooms on each side, an exonarthex on the north side, as well as a narthex and an atrium to the north. There is an additional hall on the west side, which has a small apse with raised platform on the east.[804] The entire hall was probably covered with polychrome mosaics. Stratum Ia: In the last phase of the synagogue, the apse in the western hall was removed, niches were installed in the southeast and southwest walls, and a roof was constructed above this hall. The courtyard was divided into smaller units.[805] No changes were made to the main synagogue building except for a new mosaic floor that was mostly geometric in design.

Maps and Plans

Other Materials

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First Deposit

Date Excavated: 1961-1962

Deposit Location:

Inside sunken area in the southern side room

Archaeological Information:

Stratum IIa, Room 35, Locus 52

Certain association with the building itself? Yes

Deposit Retrievable? Yes

Deposit Type: IIA2

Deposit Description:

In the Stratum IIa Phase of the building, four rooms were created against south wall W119: rooms 36, 34, 35, and 109. The level of room 35 was about 80 cm higher than that of the floor in the Stratum IIb phase: the marked difference in elevation is due to a deliberate fill, laid on the mosaic floor of Stratum IIb, covered by a floor of stone slabs.[806] The new, higher level of the floor was apparently meant to serve as a base for a structure or accessory. Room 35 was a continuation of the nave; any structure could have been reached from the main level of the nave only by means of steps. On the west side of room 35 was a rectangular area of 1.80 m X 80 cm, which was left unfilled and had a “cist” built into it: Locus 52.[807] The part below the floor was 83 cm deep, and the part above the floor probably had wooden walls on three or four sides and might have reached the ceiling of the room. A possible opening to the structure must have been on the south side, from a narrow passage leading from room 109. On the floor of the cist was found a quantity of oil lamp fragments, a pottery spindle whorl, the upper part of a stone measuring cup, a fragment of a roof tile, three broken bone needles, fragments of a bone spatula, a few bronze and iron (?) hooks, a few iron nails with flat heads, and 31 small, worn bronze coins dated to the 4th-5th centuries.

Container Present? No

Description of Coins:
In the final excavation report published in 1983, Dothan gives a full analysis of three coins found in Locus 52: coins 28, 29, and 31.[808] In 2000, Nitzan Amitai-Preiss published an additional 54 coins from the “Late Byzantine and Early Muslim” synagogue.[809] Unfortunately, this catalogue is a mixture of Byzantine and medieval coins and no information is given on where, or in which locus, each coin was found, or what their identification numbers are. It is thus unclear if any of these coins were found in Locus 52, or not. No other information on the coins could be retrieved, as they are not stored at the IAA, and Moshe Dothan passed away in 1999.[810] According to Ariel, there is a good chance that the coins from Locus 52 were all discarded.[811] Thus, this database only contains information on three of the 31 coins. The coins range from 346 to 383 CE, and are attributed to Constantius II, Valens, and Valentinian II.

Other Images

Conspectus Table:

Conspectus table Hammath Tiberias, Deposit 1. This table can be seen in full screen by clicking the icon on the bottom right. For more details on the specific coins in each row, please hover over the numbers.

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– The Bornblum Eretz Israel Synagogues Website: http://synagogues.kinneret.ac.il/synagogues/hammath-tiberias/
– Bible Walks:
– Virtual World Project


[794] This date is based on the latest coins found in stratum III, as well as on the historical events in the Galilee in the early 3rd (Dothan 1983, pp. 66-67). Magness, however, argues for a late 4th or early 5th century date, based on her interpretation of the pottery, coins, and inscriptions (Magness 2005a, pp. 8-13).

[795] This date is based on the hypothesis that the building was constructed between the visit of Diocletian to Palestine in 286 CE and the end of the reign of Constantine the Great in 337 CE, based on the inscriptions found inside the synagogue building (Dothan 1983, p. 67). However, Magness 2005a dates this phase to the late 4th-early 5th century.

[796] This date is based on the theory that the synagogue was built immediately after the synagogue of Severus was destroyed in the earthquake of 419 CE (Dothan 2000, pp. 93-94). However, based on the dating of the pottery and coins, Magness believes that the stratum Ib synagogue has a terminus post quem of the late 6th to 7th century (Magness 2005a, p. 10). This was also indicated by David Stacey, who believes Stratum Ib should be dated to 750 CE or later (Stacey, 2002).

[797] Magness 2005a dates this Phase to the 9th to 10th century.

[798] Tiberias was always a popular destination for pilgrims, travelers, and historians. The first excavations at the site were undertaken in 1920/21 by the Jewish Palestine Exploration Society under the supervision of Nahum Slouschz (Dothan 1983, p. 5). The investigation in the area around the synagogue started in 1947, when the construction of a modern bathhouse was undertaken at the site. The Israel War of Independence of 1948 stopped these plans, and it was only when a new development plan for the site was drawn up in 1961 that the site was properly excavated by Moshe Dothan (Dothan 1983, p. 6).

[799] Dothan 1983, p. 7.

[800] This building was not laid out in absolute cardinal directions (see map drawing). By “east” side, I mean the direction of Wall 127, “north” means the direction of Walls 122-123, “south” the direction of Wall 119, and “west” the direction of Wall 138 (Dothan 1983, 2000).

[801] Although Weiss suggests that the easternmost aisle had a stone pavement (Weiss 1992, pp. 323-324).

[802] Although it is hard to be sure; this suggestion is primarily based on parallels to Galilean synagogues (Spigel 2012a, p. 219, footnote 444). Weiss suggests that the entrance was in the east wall and that Stratum IIb and Stratum IIa were in fact one synagogue that went through several changes (Weiss 1992, pp. 322-324)

[803] Dothan suggests that the Torah scrolls were stored here, which would have been brought out into the nave for reading (Dothan 1983, p. 25). Spigel thinks that the image of a Torah shrine on the mosaic floor directly in front of this apse, together with archaeological remains of wooden pediments inside the space, suggest that a physical Torah shrine stood inside this sunken area (Spigel 2012a, p. 219).

[804] Dothan 2000, p. 18. According to Milson, the last synagogue was modified into a church. This apse, together with a water installation formed a baptistery, like in the Church of Kursi (Milson 2004, pp. 45-56). I find his arguments unconvincing, as water installations were not uncommon in synagogues and do not need to point to a baptistery. Also, Milson seems to ignore the fact that the mosaic pavement of Stratum Ia building still depicts a seven-branched menorah, making it a Jewish communal building (see also Stacey 2002).

[805] Dothan 2000, p. 37.

[806] Dothan 1983, p. 28.

[807] Dothan 1983, p. 28.

[808] It is unclear why only three of the 31 coins are given; does this mean the others were illegible?

[809] Dothan 2000, pp. 95-101.

[810] Dothan worked at the Haifa University and there is a chance the coins are still stored there. I reached out to professors Ayelet Gilboa, Michael Eisenberg, and Danny Rosenberg from Haifa University to obtain further information, but they never responded to me.

[811] Personal communication: “I can imagine a situation whereby Rahmani (staff member IAA) told Dothan that the coins were so worn as to be uncleanable and unidentifiable, and that as a result Dothan never gave them to Rahmani to access” (Donald Ariel).