Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Days 9-14: Tiberius and Gamla

In the past week, we have visited Tiberius (a modern city just down the road) and Gamla (an ancient city up in the Golan Heights).  We went to Tiberius last Thursday, and two other guys and I went off the beaten path a ways.  We eventually wound up at a nargilah (hookah) bar where we spent an hour and a half surrounded by people who only spoke Hebrew.  With my limited Hebrew knowledge, I was able to pick up on a few phrases that were often directed toward us (like, "Those people don't know any Hebrew!").  Two of the patrons (one was an owner we think) got into a heated sudoku contest which was an endless source of entertainment for us.  After we left, we made our way to one of the main streets to get some falafel before getting back on the bus to head back to the kibbutz.

The definite highlight of the week was our trip to Gamla this past Saturday.  Gamla is in the Golan Heights, which is a region of Israel to the east of the Sea of Galilee (I wrote about it briefly last week).  The Golan Heights exist as a flat plateau at the top of the very hilly area of the Galilee.  As we were told while we were there, whoever controls the Golan Heights controls what is below (the reason for Israel's occupation of the area since 1976).

The site that we visited was Gamla, which means "camel" for it is a town on a hill shaped much like a camel's hump.  In antiquity, Gamla was a town that fell to Rome during the First Jewish Revolt in 67 CE.  After first remaining largely indifferent to the rising rebellion throughout Roman occupied Israel, Gamla eventually joined due to the influence of the massive number of refugees seeking shelter within the city walls.  Upon joining the rebellion, the city enlisted Flavius Josephus to build a wall to protect the city from the expected attack from Rome and Rome's allies.  Josephus came and built a wall along one of the slopes (for the other sides were high up from the ground, protected by steep ravines).  Herod Agrippa II  laid seige to the city for several months in 66 CE, but he did so to no avail.  Rome eventually sent the then general Vespasian with his son Titus to subdue the growing revolt.  Vespasian and Titus (soon to be  emperors of Rome) are reported to have arrived with three legions (30,000 troops), who surrounded the cliffs in the middle of which sat the minimally protected Gamla.  Vespasian's men were pushed back at first, but ultimately were able to breach the citiy's fortifications.  The Roman soldiers were reported to have taken to the roof tops of the city to have a better angle from which to attach the Jews.  This proved fatal, however, for buildings began to collapse and many Roman soldier's parrished in the debacle.  The Jews forced Rome to retreat, which is not something the Romans were used to doing.  Vespasian and Titus concocted another plan, and this time, sent a small number of men to tunnel under a tower in the wall's fortifications.  The Roman soldiers snuck undetected below the tower and accomplished their upon the towers collapse (the tower had been built hastily and the builders had not dug a foundation).  It did not take the Romans long to flood the city and quickly subdue all of Gamla.

We know of this story from Josephus, the same man who had built the wall at Gamla.  Before the Roman siege of Gamla, Rome had captured Josephus and likely used him as a source of information.  The head archaeologist of Gamla believes Josephus writes such details about Gamla because Josephus was likely present in the Roman encampment when Rome launched its siege against Gamla.

The amount of information gained from this trip was immense and all of it fascinating.  Above is a small snippet.  We are about to go on another field trip within the hour, and I wanted to write a bit about what we had done before everything started to run together.

The dig is going well, and we are making progress in our square.  We still only have ideas of what we are excavating, but we expect to have firmer ideas within the next couple of days.  Thanks for reading.