Beit Govrin - A Roman Amphitheater
by Hillel Geva
The remains of a Roman amphitheater at Beit Govrin (known in the Roman period as Eleutheropolis) in the Judean flatlands southwest of Jerusalem, were uncovered in the mid-1990s. The amphitheater was built in the 2nd century, on the northwestern outskirts of the then city of Beit Govrin. It is an elliptical structure (71 x 56 m.), built of large, rectangular limestone ashlars. It had a walled arena of packed earth, with subterranean galleries. The arena was surrounded by a series of connected barrel vaults, which formed a long, circular corridor and supported the stone seats above it; staircases led from the outside and from the circular corridor to the tribunes.
A vaulted room (3.8 x 3.2 m.) beneath the western tribune probably served for cultic purposes (sacellum). It contained two votive incense altars, one bearing a Greek dedicatory inscription, and over a hundred oil lamps.
This amphitheater, in which gladiatorial contests took place, could seat about 3,500 spectators. It was built for the Roman troops stationed in the region after the suppression of the Bar Kochba rebellion (132 - 135) and was in use until destroyed by earthquake in 363. It is located in the national park of Beit Govrin, has been partially restored and is open to the public.
Hillel Geva studied archeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, participated in excavations in the Jewish Quarter and the Citadel in Jerusalem, and is author of the entry "Jerusalem" in the New Encyclopedia of Archeological Excavations in the Holy Land and editor of Ancient Jerusalem Revealed.
Source: Israeli Foreign Ministry