Overview: Beth Shean (Bet-shan, Bet Shean, Beth Shan, Bet She'an) -- the Old Testament name for this site. Scythopolis is what it was called in New Testament times. It subsequently became the capital city of the Decapolis (ten cities) and was the only one on the west side of the Jordan.
Details: Located 17 miles (27 km) south of the Sea of Galilee, Beth Shean is situated at a strategic junction of the Harod, Jezreel, and Jordan Valleys. Surrounded by fertile land and having an abundance of fresh water from the adjacent springs of Mt. Gilboa, this place has been long inhabited. The excavation of Beth Shean has become an Israeli national park.
Below is a model of what the Roman city of Scythopolis would have looked like based on archaeological discovery. The numbering is provided for reference in later photos.
Note the grass
covered mound beyond the Roman city ruins (as #1 in model photo).
Beth Shean was the center of Egyptian rule in the northern part of Canaan during the Late Bronze Period. Monuments with inscriptions from the reigns of Seti I and Ramses II were found, plus a life-size statue of Ramses III and many other Egyptian inscriptions.
The city is mentioned a number of times in the Old Testament. For example, the fall of King Saul to the Philistines at Gilboa:
Beth Shean was part of the territory originally given to the tribe of Manasseh when Israel returned to the promised land at the time of Joshua.
The fact that Beth Shean was referenced as a city even at this early time showed that it was already a significant landmark, a fact verified by the aforementioned early Egyptian presence.
Though given to an Israeli tribe, archaeology and Scriptures imply that they did little to control or take over the city.
Remember that at the death of King Saul (1 Samuel 31:8-13) the Philistines were said to control the city. It was not until the time of Solomon's kingdom that Beth Shean was ruled directly by Israel (at least for a time).
During the Biblical silence of the inter-testament period, the
Greco-Roman city of Scythopolis was founded in 250 B.C. encompassing
the area of ancient Beth-Shean.
By New Testament times, Scythopolis was the capital of the Decapolis (ten cities). It was the only one located on the west side of the Jordan river. As such it is referenced in New Testament passages, especially concerning the ministry of Jesus:
At the time of the Great Revolt against Rome (66-73 A.D.), many Jewish cities rebelled against their Roman rulers, but the Jewish residents of Scythopolis decided they could trust their non-Jewish neighbors. They remained unarmed and were brutally massacred at the hands of their neighbors. The entire city was destroyed in October of 749 A.D. by a massive earthquake, leaving spectacular ruins to be found in modern times.
The Roman coliseum
(as #3 in model photo). Here gladiators fought their battles and
A drainage channel
(sewer) runs beneath the basalt paved main street of the city. [As #4
in model photo]
Excavations have revealed a remarkable city, one which incorporated all the 'glory of Rome' and the best of Hellenistic culture. A typical Roman cardo, or main commercial thoroughfare, connected the upper city with the forum, marketplace, Roman bathhouse, and theater.
See write-up in photo above this one regarding the Sigma
Ruins of the shops that lined the market area. Note the intricately tiled walkways.
The Roman amphitheater theater dominated the city. The excavated theater is still in use today. While the acoustics are still amazing, enabling a speaker to be easily heard at upper levels, they would have been even better in ancient times. Copper containers full of water originally were placed in special locations (see photo below) where they would act to amplify the sound. The containers were removed after the destruction of the city, as they would still have great value.
The 7000 seat
theater (as #2 in model photo).
The outside, rear, entranceway of the Roman coliseum at the base of the upper level.