Discovery of Roman theater in the north brings new perspective

A newly exposed Roman theater in northern Israel has changed the way archaeologists understand the site. 

A large Roman theater has been discovered at an archaeological excavation run by the University of Haifa at Sussita (Hippos) in Israel’s northern Golan Heights region.

The theater is located outside the walls of the ancient city, leading researchers to believe it was mainly used for religious rites rather than as an entertainment venue.

“The excavations outside the city over the past few years are falling into place like in a detective story,” said Dr. Michael Eisenberg of the University of Haifa, who is in charge of the team working at Sussita.

Eisenberg presented the findings Monday during the annual conference of researchers at the university’s Zinman Institute of Archaeology.

“First we found a mask of Pan, then the monumental gate leading to what we began to assume was a large public compound—a sanctuary,” he said. “And now, this year, we find a public bathhouse and theater in the same location, both facilities that in the Roman period could be associated with the god of medicine Asclepius or with gods of nature such as Dionysus and Pan.”

Eisenberg explained how these findings suggest that a large sanctuary lay outside the city walls, which changes everything researchers previously knew about Sussita.

“If our hypothesis is correct, it is quite possible that thousands of visitors to the theater came not to see the latest show in town, but to take part in rituals honoring one of the gods of the Greco-Roman pantheon,” he said.