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Greek Inscription Found in Beit She’an Sheds Light on Town and Its Samaritans

A Greek inscription found recently in Beit She’an by archaeologists from Hebrew University sheds new light on the status of a prominent Samaritan family that lived there, and on the date of the construction of the town’s magnificent commercial street.

Beit She’an was the central city of northern Israel under the Romans and was known at the time by its Roman name of Scythopolis. It later became the capital of what was known as the Second Palestine under Byzantine rule.

The inscription is one of only a few archaeological finds ever uncovered in Israel that talk about people who have been known until now only from historical texts of the period.

The eight-line inscription was etched into a large stone block about 3.5 feet wide, which sat atop an archway that was part of a stone portico lining the front of a row of shops along the main thoroughfare of Byzantine-era Beit She’an. The portico collapsed during the severe earthquake that shook the town in the year 749.

The inscription was discovered during restoration efforts along the main street, when the collapsed portico’s stones were raised. The restoration is one phase of an extensive, years-long archaeological dig being conducted on the site, under the supervision of Professor Gideon Foerster and Professor Yoram Tsafrir of the Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology.

The inscription tells of the construction of the portico between 500 and 515, with funds provided by Byzantine Emperor Anastasius. Initiators of the project are given as the brothers Salustius and Silvanus, the sons of Arsenius, all jurists from the city of Scythopolis.

Silvanus, known from historical sources as the owner of substantial properties and also a high city official, was a member of an important Samaritan family with close ties to the Byzantine emperors of those days.

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