Sebaste, identified with ancientSamaria, is the capital of the northern kingdom during the Iron Age II inPalestineand a major urban centre during the Hellenistic and Roman periods. A series of excavations were carried out in the site between 1908-1910 byHarvardUniversity, under the direction of G.A. Reisner and C.S. Fisher, and in 1931-35 by a Joint expedition under the direction of J. Crowfoot. Small excavations were also carried out by the Jordanian Department of Antiquities in 1967.
According to the biblical tradition, Omri purchased the hill from a man named Shemer and made it his capital.Samariawas captured by the Assyrians in 722 BC during the reign of Sargun II. After the conquest, the city became the centre of the AssyrianprovinceofSamaria.
The excavations uncovered part of the city on the acropolis surrounded by two walls. Within this walled area, several buildings were uncovered, consisting of a monumental building with square rooms and a central courtyard. This building probably functioned as part of the royal quarter. One of the major discoveries in this building is the ivory collection that was found in one room. Under Persian ruleSamariaremained a provincial capital for centralPalestine. In 332 BC,Samariawas captured by Alexander the Great. Massive fortification around the acropolis was added, including a circular tower. The city was completely destroyed by John Hyrcanus in 107 BC.
After Pompey in 63 BC, the city became part of theprovinceofSyria. Augustus gave it to Herod, the latter renamed it Sebaste (in Greek Sebastos is Augustus) in honour of the emperor. A large building program was carried out by Herod, including the basilica, the forum, the stadium and an aqueduct. Septimus Severus gave it the status of colonia in AD 200. Severus built a large basilica and a colonnaded market street running from the west to the eastern gate, consisting of 600 columns. A theatre belonging to the early 3rd century was uncovered on the northern slope of the acropolis.
During the Byzantine period, Sebaste was the seat of a bishop. The city was linked with the tradition of John the Baptist, whose tomb was located in the city by popular Christian and Islamic tradition. A Byzantine church was erected on the southern slope of the city and a Crusader church was built in the centre of the present town. The Mamluk, Ottoman and present town ofSebaste, still preserving the ancient name, is located on the eastern part of the Roman city, indicating a strong element of cultural continuity.
The site of Sebaste-Samaria (Arabic form of Sebastia, Sabastyeh) is located ca. 10 km northwest of Nablus, and occupies a hill about 439 m above sea level. It is located on a strategic point on the junction of two main historical routes, the northern Nablus road to Jenin and the western route from the Jordan valley to the coast. It commands the surrounding fertile agricultural area.
Samaria (Sabaste) was the capital city of the northern kingdom during the Iron Age II and has continued to be an important administrative centre of the region. Local Christian and Islamic traditions locate the tomb of John the Baptist in Sebastia. Churches and a mosque were built there dedicated to John the Baptist, prophet Yahia, inaugurating this religious tradition which still continues.
criterion (ii) The city exhibits an important interchange of human values characterized by a distinct landscape (terrace type of landscape composed of mainly olive, apricot and fig trees).
criterion (v) The city is an example of a traditional human settlement, which is representative of different cultures from the Iron Age, Persian, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Islamic periods to the present time, within a cultural area, which resulted in a mixture of various archaeological and cultural contexts.
The site is largely in a ‘natural’ state, part of a working landscape of settlement and farming. Only small areas are displayed, and they are not well presented. The excavations have been left as found, showing impressive if largely unintelligible remains, but on the hilltop they need conservation attention and the area is quite dangerous for visitors. The site is, however, not developed and is currently under the Israeli control. Nevertheless, the site attracts many tourists because of its historical importance.
The site, especially the Roman City, has features in common, both generally and in particular, with the sites of Caccaria, Nablus, Jerash in Jordan, Tyre or Baalbeck in Lebanon, and Cesarea.