Ruins of an Early-Roman Jewish rural village in the Judean foothills region, south of the valley of Elah. The remains include residential houses, cisterns, several ritual baths (Miqveh), ancient synagogue, wine presses and other farming installations.
Horvat Ethtri (Kh. Umm Suweid) is an Early-Roman Jewish rural settlement. It is located in the Judean foothills region, 4km south of the valley of Elah, now a part of the Adullam park. The remains, spread over 20 dunams, include residential houses, cisterns, several ritual baths (Miqveh), ancient synagogue, wine presses and other farming installations.
The name of the site is based on an ostracon that was unearthed here bearing the name “‘Ethri”. It provides a probable identification to the village name: Caphetra, or: Kefar Ethra, which was described by Josephus Flavius as one of the Jewish villages destroyed by the 5th Legion in 69 AD. After then the Jewish settlement was rebuilt, but finally destroyed after the Bar Kokhba revolt.
The following aerial view shows the area of the ruins of Horvat Ethri. The site is located on the north western end of a spur, at elevation 406m above sea level. It overlooks the area at a 30m height difference.
Access to the site is from Highway #38 from a park road that starts near Moshav Tsafririm. Follow signs to Horvat Midras, but pass the turn to Midras, continuing 1.5km until a turn north to Horvat Ethri.
- Hellenistic and Roman periods
The structures that were exposed on the site were dated to the Hellenistic through Roman periods. There were several phases of the settlement of this village:
- Phase I: End of Persian period – this farming village was established at the end of the Persian period (4th century BC). Evidence was found only in presence of pottery.
- Phase II: Hellenistic period – Some of the structures were built during this period. They were later either dismantled or incorporated into the next phase. There were no gaps of occupation in the settlement during the entire Hellenistic period, including during the wars of the Hasmoneans with the Seleucides. There were two ritual baths at that time, implying that the settlement was Jewish.
- Phase III: Early Roman period -During the 1st half of the 1st century AD the village was rebuilt. It reached a size of 10 dunam, with a peak just before the great revolt (67-70 AD). The village was initially abandoned following the Great revolt against the Romans (66-70 AD).
- Phase IV: Great revolt to Bar Kokhbah revolt – The Jewish population in Ethri survived, and after a short break they (or new settlers) rebuild the village, restructuring the residential complexes, and erecting a public structure (synagogue) in the southern side. The western structures (K, U), though, were not resettled at this phase, as well as half of the original size. Following the Bar Kokhba revolt (132-136 AD) the village was burnt and destroyed.
These phases are further detailed:
- Great Revolt
During the great revolt the village was burnt and destroyed. Signs of a fire were seen on the eastern wing of the south complex.
A record of such destruction may have been reported in Josephus accords, when it was destroyed by the 5th Legion in 69 AD (War IV:9:9):
“…but Cerealis, one of his commanders, took a body of horsemen and footmen, and laid waste that part of Idumea which was called the Upper Idumea, and attacked Caphethra, which pretended to be a small city, and took it at the first onset, and burnt it down”.
- Hiding complexes
During the Bar Kokhba revolt, Jewish residents across most of the villages in Judea tried to save themselves by constructing underground hiding places. The Roman historian Cassius Dius wrote about this (Historia Romania, 69, 12, 3):
“To be sure, they did not dare try conclusions with the Romans in the open field, but they occupied the advantageous positions in the country and strengthened them with mines and walls, in order that they might have places of refuge whenever they should be hard pressed, and might meet together unobserved under ground; and they pierced these subterranean passages from above at intervals to let in air and light”.
- Devastation of Judea
These hiding places may have saved some of the souls. However, the carnage that followed the onslaught left the village in ruins. The archaeologists uncovered mass burials in one of the ritual baths (XI) with bones of 12 individuals, which were collected after they were apparently left exposed. One of the skeletons showed cut marks on the neck suggesting that this individual was beheaded.
After its destruction, the Jewish population ceased, as all other Jewish villages in northern Judea. Cassius Dio, the historian of Rome, wrote about the devastation of Judea by Hadrian (Roman History, 69 13):
“Fifty of their most important outposts and nine hundred and eighty-five of their most famous villages were razed to the ground. Five hundred and eighty thousand men were slain in the various raids and battles, and the number of those that perished by famine, disease and fire was past finding out. Thus nearly the whole of Judaea was made desolate, a result of which the people had had forewarning before the war”.
Head of Hadrian, found in the tombs of the Kings (PEF Jerusalem P. 406)
Jews were forbidden to return to all settlements in the vicinity of Jerusalem. Eusebius of Caesarea wrote about this ban in the 4th century (Church History, Book IV, Ch. 6, 3):
“…the whole nation was prohibited from this time on by a decree, and by the commands of Hadrian, from ever going up to the country about Jerusalem. For the emperor gave orders that they should not even see from a distance the land of their fathers..”.
- Ottoman period – PEF survey and excavations (19th Century AD)
The area around the site was examined in the Palestine Exploration Foundation (PEF) survey (1866-1877) by Wilson, Conder and Kitchener. A section of their map is shown below, with the site in the center appearing as Umm Suweid. The area around the site was heavily populated with farms and villages.
An ancient road passes near the site, marked by double dashed lines. It connected the main road to Jerusalem in the valley of Elah near Beit Natif, down south towards Beit Guvrin (Jibrin) and beyond.
They merely wrote (Volume III, volume XXI, p. 380):
“Umm Suweid (J u).—Heaps of stones, foundations, caves, and cisterns”.
Part of Map Sheet 21 of Survey of Western Palestine,
by Conder and Kitchener, 1872-1877.
(Published 1880, reprinted by LifeintheHolyLand.com)
Excavations were conducted in the years 1999 thru 2001, headed by Boaz Zissu (Bar Ilan Univ.) and Amir Ganor (IAA).
In a cistern (numbered XII), adjacent to the synagogue on the southern complex, 28 pottery pieces were found with letters and names written with black ink. On one of these pieces (Ostracons) there was a name written with square Hebrew script with 4 letters: ‘E-th-r-i (עתרי). Based on this Ostracon the name of the site was changed in 2001 to Horvat Ethri.
(a) Aerial Views
An aerial view of Horvat Ethri was captured by the drone in 2018, looking towards the north. The ruins, dated to the Early Roman period, cover an area of 20 dunams.
The plan of the village consists of residential quarters enclosing two central plazas (town squares, each with an area of 17m by 45m). Narrow lanes connected the plazas to the residential units. The residential quarters have central courtyards with surrounding rooms. The walls were built of large nari blocks (softer type of limestone used in Jerusalem).
Click on the photos to view in higher resolution…
The following aerial views show closer views of sections of the village.
The southern complex includes a large residential building, other rooms around central courtyards, a public structure identified as a synagogue, ritual baths and underground hiding places.
On the north western side are ruins of another, yet not excavated, complex with a central courtyards and rooms around it.
The next aerial view is of the center of the village.
The west side of the village is next. The top two rooms may have been a watch tower that protected the entrance.
(b) North western access
A view of the northwest side of the ruins is seen here in another aerial view. Access to the site is from the north western foothills.
In the greater area around the site are farming fields, terraces, agriculture installations, watch towers, quarries, caves and ancient roads.
The welcome sign describes the site and suggests a 800m hike to and from the ruins.
The access path ascending the hill follows an ancient Roman road that led to the village from its north west side. The road is bordered on both sides by large field-stones. Other roads lead to the settlement from the east and south. Traces of one of the roads was identified on the east side of the public building – a 3.2 wide lane.
The road reaches the western edge of the village, where a formidable structure is located.
The rectangular (7 x 10m) structure is built of large ashlars. There are 2 rooms inside the walls (marked by the excavation team as K1 and K4).
This western structure probably has served as a defense tower, commanding the approach from the west side.
Past the watch tower are rooms K2 and K3.
The street continues on from the left side to the top of the hill.
Beyond are rooms U1-U2-U3, seen next.
This western section was destroyed in the Great revolt against the Romans, and was not rebuilt as other sections of the village.
(c) Northern Ritual bath
A ritual bath (Miqveh) is located nearby, on the northern edge of the village. It is one of the four immersion baths which were carved into the rock across the plazas and courtyards.
(d) Burial cave
Another nearby point of interest is burial cave III on the north side of the village. The cave was originally cut in the 1st century AD, and used for storage or hiding.
The cave contains a square burial room, with three burial troughs cut into the sides.
On the facade of two of the troughs are carved motifs: two discs, amphora, and altar.
An aerial view of the southern complex is seen here.
The major points of interest are marked on this view. On the east side is a public structure which is identified as a synagogue. An underground hiding complex was cut from the building to the structure on its right side. A ritual bath (miqveh) is located nearby. Outside, on the south, is a wine press installation.
The entrance to the public structure is seen below. It is 1m wide, facing north-east towards the direction of Jerusalem.
The area of the building is 13m by 7m, built with 0.9m wide walls.
It was built in the time between the two revolts against the Romans, probably at 112 AD as determined by a coin found in the floor. The building was in use until the end of the Bar Kokhba revolt (132-136). During the late Roman period the structure was reused.
Under the building are earlier cisterns and a ritual bath that was filled up during the construction of the building.
On the floor are three square pedestals, on which the columns stood in order to support the roof. Each column was built of several drums, with a Doric-like capital on top.
A rock cut stepped and white plastered installation of a ritual bath (Mikveh) is located on the east side of the building. It was constructed before the construction of the building, during the Hasmonean period. Later, during the Bar Kokhba revolt, it was used as an entrance to a public hiding complex (marked as XV).
A Vestibule (lobby, hall) is located alongside the western wall of the public building. It is seen here behind the wall on the left side.
Near the entrance to the public structure are steps that lead down to a ritual bath.
The bottom of the bath:
Another smaller ritual bath is located on the eastern entrance to the vestibule.
- Rooms T1-T2
Along the western side of the Vestibule are twin rooms T1-T2. Under the floor of T2 is the end of the hiding complex that started from the public building.
- Rooms N4-N6:
The rooms in the center of the southern complex are located to the west of the vestibule.
On their floor a burnt destruction layer was exposed, dated by a burnt coin to the Bar Kokhba revolt. Thus, in a violent destruction, came the end of the village.
- South rooms
On the south side of the complex are a set of rooms (T23,T15-T22). Room T22 served as a stable during the reconstruction between the great revolts.
Fly over the site with this YouTube video:
Names of the site:
- Ethri, Itri – based on an ostracon that was unearthed here bearing the name “‘Ethri”.
- Caphetra, or: Kefar Ethra – name according to Josephus Flavius (War IV:9:9)
- Kh. Umm Suweid – Arabic name, meaning: ruins of “mother of the buckthorns”. Buckthorns are thorny bushes that grow on the hill.
- Horvat Ethri—A Jewish Village from the Second Temple Period and the Bar Kokhba Revolt in the Judean Foothills BOAZ ZISSU,Bar Ilan University and AMIR GANOR,Israel Antiquities Authority. Highly recommended article!
- The Late Roman-Period Settlement at Horvat ‘Ethri, Judean Shephelah – Boaz Zissu, Amir Ganor, Ruth E. Jackson-Tal and Eitan Klein (Academia.edu, p/o Ashkelon archaeology; pdf. pp. 161-204, Hebrew, 2020)
- Hike to Horvat Ethri (ynet, Hebrew)
- Rock-Cut Hiding Complexes from the Roman Period in Israel Boaz Zissu and Amos Kloner (2009)
- Cassius Dio, Roman History
- Boaz Zissu academic papers
* Internal – sites nearby:
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This page was last updated on Nov 19, 2021 (Add link)