SAMARIA (Heb. Shomron, modern Sebaste), city established as the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of Omri c. 884 B.C.E. Prior to the Omride period the site appears to have been the center of an extensive wine and oil production area, which may have accounted for its choice as the new capital. Apparently the origin of the name of the site was from Shemer, the eponymous owner of the land that Omri purchased for two talents of silver (I Kings 16:23–24).
The site has been excavated by two archaeological expeditions. The first was the Harvard Expedition, initially directed by G. Schumacher in 1908 and then by G.A. Reisner in 1909 and 1910 with the assistance of architect C.S. Fisher and D.G. Lyon. The second expedition was known as the "Joint Expedition," a consortium of five institutions directed by J.W. Crowfoot between 1931 and 1935, with the assistance of K. Kenyon, E.L. Sukenik, and G.M. Crowfoot. The leading institutions were the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem, the Palestine Exploration Fund, and the Hebrew University. In the 1960s small-scale excavations directed by F. Zayadine were carried out on behalf of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan.
The city is built on the summit of a rocky hill, and the foundations of the monumental buildings from later periods often plowed down through the earlier strata to the bedrock, which was never far below. In modern times the site has been used as farmland by the villagers of neighboring Sebaste; this meant that most of the excavated areas had to be back-filled and returned to agricultural use. These two developments hindered excavation and later analysis of the remains. The earliest remains consist of extensive rock-cut installations, initially thought to date to the Early Bronze Age by Kenyon. These were reevaluated, first by Stager and then by Franklin, and are now recognized to be the remains of an extensive early Iron Age oil and wine industry (designated Building Period 0).
Only the acropolis of Samaria has been extensively excavated down to the bedrock. The palace was excavated solely by the Harvard Expedition and recognized by it as the Palace of Omri (designated Building Period I). The Omride palace was located on an elevated 4-meter-high rock-cut platform that isolated it from its immediate surroundings. Immediately below the palace, cut into the face of the bedrock platform, there are two rock-cut tomb chambers that have only
recently been recognized and attributed to Omri and Ahab. West of the palace there are meager remains of other Building Period I buildings, but much of the rock surface has been severely damaged by later buildings. The Omride palace continued in use during the next building phase (designated Building Period II), but it was no longer isolated on an elevated platform. The acropolis area was extended in all directions by the addition of a massive perimeter wall built in the casemate style; the new enlarged rectangular acropolis measured c. 290 ft. (90 m.) from north to south and at least c. 585 ft. (180 m.) from west to east, and the surface was now raised to a uniform elevation by the addition of a massive fill. This phase (Building Period II) was traditionally attributed to Ahab due to the misallocation of Wall 161 that runs parallel to the northern casemates and the identification of a large rock-cut pool near the northern casemate wall as the biblical "Pool of Samaria"; the wall (Wall 161) is now recognized to belong to Building Period II and the "pool" is a rock-cut grape-treading area that originated in Building Period 0 and continued in a reduced form in Building Period I. Consequently the onset of Building Period II can only be relatively fixed. There is neither a biblical anchor nor securely dated pottery to establish the chronological affiliation of Building Period II. The Omride Palace was still in use and the royal tombs were still accessible (now via subterranean rooms) and there was an administrative building, the "Ostraca House" (named for the 63 ostraca retrieved from the floor's make-up) built west of the palace on the newly extended acropolis. The ostraca provide a wealth of data concerning oil and wine supplies, and can possibly be attributed to the period of Jeroboam II c. 785–749, thus providing a probable date for Building Period II. North of the palace a rich cache of Phoenician ivories (furniture ornamentation) was retrieved. This was mixed with later debris, but it was presumed by the excavators (the Joint) that it was
The city was rebuilt without any major changes in the second century C.E. by Septimius Severus, when the city was established as a colony. Samaria has been associated with the burial place of John the Baptist and his tomb, reached by a steep flight of steps, is situated beneath the Crusader cathedral in the village. A small basilica church, first founded in the fifth century, was excavated on the southern slope of the acropolis. The church is traditionally the place of the invention of the head of John the Baptist. A monastery was added to it at a later date. In the 12th century C.E. a Latin cathedral dedicated to John the Baptist and marking the spot of his tomb, was built east of the Roman forum and combined elements of the Roman period city wall. It later became the Sebaste village mosque.
G.A. Reisner, C.S. Fisher, and D.G. Lyon, Harvard Excavations at Samaria (1908–1910), 1–2 (1924); J.W. Crowfoot and G.M. Crowfoot, Early Ivories from Samaria (Samaria-Sebaste 2) (1938); J.W. Crowfoot, K.M. Kenyon, and E.L. Sukenik, The Building at Samaria (Samaria-Sebaste 1) (1942); J.W. Crowfoot, K.M. Kenyon, and G.M. Crowfoot, The Objects of Samaria (Samaria-Sebaste 3) (1957); F. Zayadine, "Samaria-Sebaste: Clearance and Excavations (October 1965–June 1967)," in: ADAJ, 12:77–80 (1966); A.F. Rainey, "Toward a Precise Date for the Samaria Ostraca," in: BASOR, 272:69–74 (1988); L.E. Stager, "Shemer's Estate," in: Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 277/278:93–107 (1990); B. Becking, The Fall of Samaria: An Historical and Archaeological Study (1992); R. Tappy, The Archaeology of Israelite Samaria. Early Iron Age through the Ninth Century B.C.E., vol. 1, Harvard Semitic Studies 44 (1992); R. Tappy, The Archaeology of Israelite Samaria. The Eighth Century B.C., vol. 2, Harvard Semitic Studies 50 (2001); N. Franklin, "The Tombs of the Kings of Israel," in: ZDVP, 119 (2003), 1–11; idem, "Samaria: from the Bedrock to the Omride Palace," in: Levant, 36:189–202 (2004); S. Gibson, The Cave of John the Baptist (2004).
[Norma Franklin (2nd ed.)]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.