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Archaeology in Israel: Yodefat

Ancient Yodefat is located in central Galilee, on a hill rising to 419 m. above sea level. Deep valleys surround the hill on all sides except the north, where a low saddle separates it from the rest of the mountain range. In rabbinic sources, Yodefat is described as a fortress dating from the time of Joshua; it was among the towns captured by Tiglath Pileser III in 732 BCE. In the Second Temple period Yodefat was an important Jewish town, mentioned in the Mishna and the Talmud (Jewish Oral Law). Its geographical position is precisely as described by the 1st century historian Josephus Flavius. (Wars III, 7,7)

Between 1992 and 1998, seven excavation seasons were conducted in the remains of Yodefat. Fortifications and buildings of the Hellenistic and Roman periods and clear evidence of the town's destruction during the Jewish revolt against Rome were uncovered.

The Fortifications

A small village was built on the top of the hill of Yodefat during the Hellenistic period (3rd-2nd centuries BCE). In the 1st century BCE, under Hasmonean rule, the crest of the hill was surrounded by a wall, whilst the northern side, devoid of natural defenses, was fortified by a 5.5 m. thick double wall, strengthened with massive towers. During the Early Roman period (end of the 1st century BCE - beginning of the 1st century CE), a new town wall was constructed on the southern part of the hill, expanding the town's area to some 13 acres.

The Residential Quarters

Densely built-up residential areas, some with narrow lanes along the town's wall, were constructed in the early Roman Period. The houses were built on terraces, their backs cut into the rock of the hillside; where this was steep, the rooms were built as "steps", each up to half a meter higher than the previous room. The dwellers of these quarters had to rely on rock-cut cisterns for their water supply since there is no nearby spring, yet in some of the houses, mikva'ot (Jewish ritual baths) were found. In the southern part of the town a number of pottery kilns were uncovered, and dozens of clay loom weights were found in the ruins of one of the houses, indicating that weaving took place there. The remains of a large mansion near the top of the town, some of its rooms decorated with frescos painted in geometric patterns and as imitation marble, are evidence of some wealth.

The Destruction of Yodefat

Yosef ben Matityahu (the contemporary historian who called himself Josephus Flavius) was born of a priestly family; he was appointed commander of the Galilee at the outbreak of the Jewish revolt against the Romans in 66 CE and undertook the fortification of several towns, the key fortress being Yodefat.

In 67 CE, the Roman army under Vespasian (who was soon to become Emperor of Rome) besieged the city, which held out for 47 days. Josephus himself describes the siege, the suicide pact of the last defenders and his own surrender to the Romans. (Wars III, 7)

Remains of the Roman siege ramp were found in the northern part of the town. Evidence of the battle that took place here includes dozens of iron arrowheads, ballista stones and heavy rolling stones. The skeletons of some 30 men, women and children in a water cistern, are silent, but vivid testimony to the fate of Yodefat's inhabitants.

A personal memento, created by one of Yodefat's residents, is a flat stone (10 x 9 cm.) with incised drawings: on its face is a structure with a stepped podium and gabled roof (a mausoleum of the type decorating ossuaries used for burial in Jerusalem at the time); on the reverse, a crab is depicted. These motifs have been interpreted as representing death (the mausoleum), and the time of the defeat - the Hebrew month of Tamuz, whose sign is the crab.


Sources: Israel Antiquities Authority