Sepphoris PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stephen Langfur
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In 1st Jewish revolt
Jewish and Gentile
Lower city

The lower city of Sepphoris, the Nile mosaic, and the aqueducts
In the 2nd century AD, Sepphoris spread over a large area below the acropolis to the east. This part of the city is laid out in the Hippodamic pattern: the streets run either parallel or perpendicular to one another, forming regular squares or insulae.  The north-south street was called the "cardo" ("hinge"), while the east-west street was the "decumanus." The pavement, of hard white limestone, was rutted in the course of time by cart wheels.



At one place on the street, someone carved the main Jewish symbol of antiquity: the seven-branched candelabrum. (The Star of David came much later.)


Heading south on the cardo, we find a large modern structure sheltering what must have been a big public building in the 5th century AD. It is full of well-preserved mosaic floors, whose designs range from abstract to figurative. One of these celebrates a year when the flooding of the Nile reached 17 cubits, about 25 feet. Why, one wonders, the Nile? No one knows, but this is not unique. The mosaic at the Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha is full of Nile scenes. Josephus mentions a belief that the Tabgha springs were an offshoot of the Nile, but there aren't any springs at Sepphoris. Perhaps the mosaic artist came with a catalogue of proposals, and the town council chose this. Yet the presence of special drainage channels in this room and the main hall lead the archaeologists to think that people may have conducted a festival here, pouring water on the floor. (A bathhouse was next door to the north.) The Nile could have been chosen for its fame as a water source. Or here is another alternative: a high flood level meant prosperity for Egypt, the effects of which might have been felt as far as Galilee.

The enlargement of Sepphoris increased its water requirements, and Roman engineering provided an answer. Aqueducts were built to the lower city from two small springs on higher ground about 3.5 miles to the west. Less then a mile away, the engineers found a soft geological formation, out of which they dug a reservoir 200 meters long, enough for 10,000 cubic meters of water.

From the fifth century, the Christian community grew. West of the cardo, across from the Nile house, are the remains of a basilica, one of several. Sepphoris lasted beyond the Byzantine period into the early Arab era, but then, for reasons that are still unknown, it declined until its rebirth as the Arab village of Saffuriya.