Samaria (ancient city)

Samaria (Hebrew: שֹׁמְרוֹן, romanizedŠōmrōn; Ancient Greek: Σαμάρεια, Samareia; Arabic: السامرة, as-Samira) was a city in the historical region of Samaria that served as the capital of the northern Kingdom of Israel during the 9th and 8th centuries BCE.[1][2] Towards the end of the 8th century BCE, possibly in 722 BCE, Samaria was captured by the Neo-Assyrian Empire and became an administrative center under Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian rule. During the early Roman period, the city was expanded and fortified by Herod the Great, who renamed it “Sebastia” in honor of emperor Augustus.[3][4]

Achav palace 2.jpg
Iron Age palatial complex built by the Omride dynasty
Samaria (ancient city) is located in State of Palestine
Samaria (ancient city)
Shown within State of Palestine
Alternative nameالسامرة
LocationNablus Governorate, Palestinian territories
Coordinates32°16′35″N 35°11′42″E / 32.27639°N 35.19500°E / 32.27639; 35.19500Coordinates: 32°16′35″N 35°11′42″E / 32.27639°N 35.19500°E / 32.27639; 35.19500

The ancient city's hill is where the modern Palestinian village of Sebastia, which retains its Roman name, is located. The archeological site, subject to a shared Israeli-Palestinian control,[5] is located on the hill's eastern slope.[6]


Samaria's biblical name, Šōmrōn (שֹׁמְרוֹן), means "watch" or "watchman" in Hebrew.[7] The Bible derives the name from the individual (or clan) Shemer (Hebrew: שמר), from whom King Omri (ruled 880s–870s BCE) purchased the hill in order to build his new capital city (1 Kings 16:24).[8]

In earlier cuneiform inscriptions, Samaria is referred to as "Bet Ḥumri" ("the house of Omri"); but in those of Tiglath-Pileser III (ruled 745–727 BCE) and later it is called Samirin, after its Aramaic name,[9] Shamerayin.[10] The city of Samaria gave its name to the mountains of Samaria, the central region of the Land of Israel, surrounding the city of Shechem. This usage probably began after the city became Omri's capital, but is first documented only after its conquest by Sargon II of Assyria, who turned the kingdom into the province of Samerina.[11]


The archeological site is located in Area C, just east of Sebastia, Nablus

Samaria was situated north-west of Shechem, located close to a major road heading to the Sharon Plain on the coast and on another leading northward through the Jezreel Valley to Phoenicia. This location may be related to Omri's foreign policy. Strategically perched atop a steep hill, the city had a clear and good view of the nearby countryside.[12]


Iron AgeEdit

In the 9th and the 8th centuries BCE, Samaria was the capital of the northern Kingdom of Israel.[13] The earliest reference to a settlement at this location may be the town of Shemer, or Shamir, which according to the Hebrew Bible was the home of the judge Tola in the 12th century BC (Judges 10:1–2).[14]

Archaeological evidence suggests a small rural settlement existed in Samaria during Iron Age I (11-10th centuries BCE); remains from this period are several rock-cut installations, several flimsy walls, and typical pottery forms. Stager suggested to identify these remains with biblical Shemer's estate.[15] Remains from the early Iron Age II (IIA) are missing or unidentified; Franklin believes this phase consisted of merely an agricultural estate. A massive royal acropolis was built on the site during the late Iron Age II, including a casemate wall and a palatial complex considered one of the largest Iron Age structures in the Levant.[16] 

According to Israel Finkelstein, the first palace at Samaria, probably built by Omri (884–873 BCE), marked the beginning of the northern Kingdom of Israel's transformation into a more complex kingdom. A later urban transformation of the capital and the kingdom, he believes, was characteristic of the more advanced phase of the Omride dynasty, probably occurring during the reign of Ahab (873–852 BCE). Finkelstein also suggested that the biblical narratives surrounding the northern Israelite kings were composed either in Samaria or Bethel. After the fall of Israel during the 8th century, this information was brought to Judah, and later found its way into the Hebrew Bible.[16]

Towards the end of the 8th century BCE, possibly in 722 BCE,[17][18][19][20] Samaria was captured by the Neo-Assyrian Empire and became an administrative center under Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian rule.[21]

Classical antiquityEdit

Roman period columns from the Herodian city of Sebastia

Samaria was destroyed a second time by Alexander the Great in 331 BCE, and again by the Hasmonean king John Hyrcanus in 108 BCE.[22][better source needed]

The city was rebuilt by Herod the Great between the years 30–27 BCE.[23] According to Josephus, Herod expanded and renovated the city, bringing in 6,000 new inhabitants, and renamed it "Sebastia" in the emperor's honor (translating the Latin epithet augustus to Greek sebastos, "venerable").[22][24][better source needed]

In the BibleEdit

According to the Hebrew Bible, Omri, the king of the northern kingdom of Israel, purchased the hill from Shemer its owner for two talents of silver, and built on its broad summit the city to which he gave the name of Šōmrōn (i.e., Samaria), as the new capital of his kingdom, replacing Tirzah (1 Kings 16:24).[25] As such it possessed many advantages. Omri resided here during the last six years of his reign (1 Kings 16:23).

Omri is thought to have granted the Arameans the right to "make streets in Samaria" as a sign of submission (1 Kings 20:34).

It was the only great city of Israel created by the sovereign. All the others had been already consecrated by patriarchal tradition or previous possession. But Samaria was the choice of Omri alone. He, indeed, gave to the city which he had built the name of its former owner, but its especial connection with himself as its founder is proved by the designation which it seems Samaria bears in Assyrian inscriptions, "Beth-Khumri" ("the house or palace of Omri"). (Stanley)[26]

Samaria is frequently the subject of sieges in the biblical account. During the reign of Ahab, it says that Hadadezer of Aram-Damascus attacked it along with thirty-two vassal kings, but was defeated with a great slaughter (1 Kings 20:1–21). A year later, he attacked it again, but he was utterly routed once more, and was compelled to surrender to Ahab (1 Kings 20:28–34), whose army was no more than "two little flocks of kids" compared to that of Hadadezer (1 Kings 20:27).

According to 2 Kings, Ben Hadad of Aram-Damascus laid siege to Samaria during the reign of Jehoram, but just when success seemed to be within his reach, his forces suddenly broke off the siege, alarmed by a mysterious noise of chariots and horses and a great army, and fled, abandoning their camp and all its contents. The starving inhabitants of the city feasted on the spoils from the camp. As the Prophet Elisha had predicted, "a measure of fine flour was sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gates of Samaria" (2 Kings 6–7).


Plan of the Ostraca House.

Samaria was first excavated by the Harvard Expedition, initially directed by Gottlieb Schumacher in 1908 and then by George Andrew Reisner in 1909 and 1910; with the assistance of architect C.S. Fisher and D.G. Lyon.[27] Reisner's dig unearthed the Samaria Ostraca, a collection of 102 ostraca written in the Paleo-Hebrew Script.[28][29]

A second expedition was known as the Joint Expedition, a consortium of 5 institutions directed by John Winter Crowfoot between 1931 and 1935; with the assistance of Kathleen Mary Kenyon, Eliezer Sukenik and G.M. Crowfoot. The leading institutions were the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem, the Palestine Exploration Fund, and the Hebrew University.[30][31][32]

A palace regarded as one of the largest Iron Age structures in the Levant was discovered during this excavation.[16][33][7] Archeologists believe it was built during the 9th century BCE by the Omrides.[16] The palace, constructed of massive roughly dressed blocks, is comparable in size and splendor to palaces built at the same period in northern Syria. It was surrounded by official administrative structures on the west and northeast.[16] Six proto-Ionic capitals used as spolia discovered nearby may have originally adorned a monumental gateway to the palace.[16] According to Norma Franklin, there is a possibility that the tombs of Omri and Ahab are located beneath the Iron Age palace.[34]

Carved ivory pieces unearthed in ancient Samaria, Israel Museum

Excavations in the palace uncovered 500 pieces of carved ivory, portraying exotic animals and plants, mythological creatures, and foreign deities, among other things.[35][36] Some scholars identified those with the "palace adorned with ivory" mentioned in the Bible (1 Kings 22:39).[36] Some of the ivories are on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and in other locations across the world.[35]

In the 1960s, further small scale excavations directed by Fawzi Zayadine were carried out on behalf of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan.[37]

Recent eventsEdit

In August 2022, it was reported that Palestinians lit the area on fire while using burning twigs to purportedly clean the area. The fire damaged the archeological site. According to the report, it's unclear whether this was done intentionally.[5]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Bagnall, Roger S; Brodersen, Kai; Champion, Craige B; Erskine, Andrew; Huebner, Sabine R, eds. (2013-01-21). The Encyclopedia of Ancient History (1 ed.). Wiley. doi:10.1002/9781444338386.wbeah11208.pub2. ISBN 978-1-4051-7935-5.
  2. ^ "1 Kings 12 / Hebrew - English Bible / Mechon-Mamre".
  3. ^ Barag, Dan (1993-01-01). "King Herod's Royal Castle at Samaria-Sebaste". Palestine Exploration Quarterly. 125 (1): 3–18. doi:10.1179/peq.1993.125.1.3. ISSN 0031-0328.
  4. ^ Dell’Acqua, Antonio (2021-09-20). "The Urban Renovation of Samaria–Sebaste of the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE: Observations on some architectural artefacts". Palestine Exploration Quarterly. 154 (3): 221–243. doi:10.1080/00310328.2021.1980310. ISSN 0031-0328. S2CID 240589831.
  5. ^ a b Greenwood, Hanan (2022-08-10). "'State couldn't care less that Jewish heritage sites are being destroyed'". Retrieved 2022-08-10.
  6. ^ Burgoyne, Michael Hamilton; Hawari, M. (May 19, 2005). "Bayt al-Hawwari, a hawsh House in Sabastiya". Levant. Council for British Research in the Levant, London. 37: 57–80. doi:10.1179/007589105790088913. S2CID 162363298. Retrieved 2007-09-14.
  7. ^ a b Tappy, Ron E. (1992-01-01). The Archaeology of Israelite Samaria. Volume 1: Early Iron Age through the Ninth Century BCE. BRILL. doi:10.1163/9789004369665. ISBN 978-90-04-36966-5.
  8. ^ "This Side of the River Jordan; On Language", Forward, Philologos, 22 September 2010.
  9. ^ Singer, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "Samaria" . The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.
  10. ^ "Online Etymology Dictionary".
  11. ^ Mills, Watson E.; Bullard, Roger Aubrey, eds. (1990). Mercer Dictionary of the Bible. Mercer University Press. pp. 788–789. ISBN 9780865543737. Retrieved 31 May 2018. Sargon ... named the new province, which included what formerly was Israel, Samerina. Thus the territorial designation is credited to the Assyrians and dated to that time; however, "Samaria" probably long before alteratively designated Israel when Samaria became the capital.
  12. ^ Rocca, Samuel (2010). The fortifications of ancient Israel and Judah, 1200-586 BC. Adam Hook. Oxford: Osprey. pp. 28–29. ISBN 978-1-84603-508-1. OCLC 368020822.
  13. ^ Pummer, Reinhard (2019), "Samaria", The Encyclopedia of Ancient History, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, pp. 1–3, doi:10.1002/9781444338386.wbeah11208.pub2, ISBN 978-1-4443-3838-6, S2CID 241784278, retrieved 2021-12-22
  14. ^ Boling, R.G. (1975). Judges: Introduction, Translation, and Commentary. (Anchor Bible, Volume 6a), Page 185
  15. ^ Stager, Lawrence E. (1990). "Shemer's Estate". Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (277/278): 93–107. doi:10.2307/1357375. ISSN 0003-097X. JSTOR 1357375. S2CID 163576333.
  16. ^ a b c d e f Finkelstein, Israel (2013). The Forgotten Kingdom: the archaeology and history of Northern Israel. pp. 65–66, 73, 78, 87–94. ISBN 978-1-58983-911-3. OCLC 880456140.
  17. ^ Schipper, Bernd U. (2021-05-25). "Chapter 3 Israel and Judah from 926/925 to the Conquest of Samaria in 722/720 BCE". A Concise History of Ancient Israel. Penn State University Press. pp. 34–54. doi:10.1515/9781646020294-007. ISBN 978-1-64602-029-4.
  18. ^ Centre, UNESCO World Heritage. "Sebastia". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved 2022-02-26.
  19. ^ Pummer, Reinhard (2019-12-20). "Samaria". The Encyclopedia of Ancient History: 1–3. doi:10.1002/9781444338386.wbeah11208.pub2. ISBN 9781405179355. S2CID 241784278.
  20. ^ Hennessy, J. B. (1970-01-01). "Excavations at Samaria-Sebaste, 1968". Levant. 2 (1): 1–21. doi:10.1179/007589170790216981. ISSN 0075-8914.
  21. ^ Pummer, Reinhard (2019), "Samaria", The Encyclopedia of Ancient History, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, pp. 1–3, doi:10.1002/9781444338386.wbeah11208.pub2, ISBN 978-1-4443-3838-6, S2CID 241784278, retrieved 2021-12-22
  22. ^ a b Sebaste, Holy Land Atlas Travel and Tourism Agency.
  23. ^ Segal, Arthur (2017). "Samaria-Sebaste. Portrait of a polis in the Heart of Samaria". Études et Travaux (Institut des Cultures Méditerranéennes et Orientales de l'Académie Polonaise des Sciences). XXX (30): 409. doi:10.12775/EtudTrav.30.019. ISSN 2084-6762.
  24. ^ Josephus, De Bello Judaico (Wars of the Jews) i.xxi.§2
  25. ^ Omri, king of the 10 tribes of Israel, built the city and settled his men in the Old City, in accordance with the account relayed in the Hebrew Bible (1 Kings 16:24). Compare Josephus, Antiquities (Book viii, chapter xii, verse 5)
  26. ^ Easton, Matthew George (1897). "Samaria" . Easton's Bible Dictionary (New and revised ed.). T. Nelson and Sons.
  27. ^ Reisner, G. A.; C.S. Fisher, and D.G. Lyon (1924). Harvard Excavations at Samaria, 1908–1910. (Vol 1: Text [1], Vol 2: Plans and Plates [2]), Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press
  28. ^ Hebrew Ostraca from Samaria, David G. Lyon, The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Jan., 1911), pp. 136–143, quote: "The script in which these ostraca are written is the Phoenician, which was widely current in antiquity. It is very different from the so-called square character, in which the existing Hebrew manuscripts of the Bible are written."
  29. ^ Noegel, p.396
  30. ^ Crowfoot, J. W.; G.M. Crowfoot (1938). Early Ivories from Samaria (Samaria-Sebaste. reports of the work of the Joint expedition in 1931–1933 and of the British expedition in 1935; no. 2). London: Palestine Exploration Fund, ISBN 0-9502279-0-0
  31. ^ Crowfoot, J. W.; K.M. Kenyon and E.L. Sukenik (1942). The Buildings at Samaria (Samaria-Sebaste. Reports of the work of the joint expedition in 1931–1933 and of the British expedition in 1935; no.1). London: Palestine Exploration Fund.
  32. ^ Crowfoot, J. W.; K.M. Kenyon and G.M. Crowfoot (1957). The Objects from Samaria (Samaria; Sebaste, reports of the work of the joint expedition in 1931;1933, and of the British expedition in 1935; no.3). London: Palestine Exploration Fund.
  33. ^ Finkelstein, Israel (2011-11-01). "Observations on the Layout of Iron Age Samaria". Tel Aviv. 38 (2): 194–207. doi:10.1179/033443511x13099584885303. ISSN 0334-4355. S2CID 128814117.
  34. ^ Franklin, Norma (2007). "Tombs of the Kings of Israel". Biblical Archaeology Review. 33 (4): 26–34.
  35. ^ a b Biblical Archaeology Society Staff (2017). "The Samaria Ivories—Phoenician or Israelite?". Strata in Biblical Archaeology Review.
  36. ^ a b Pienaar, D. N. (2008-12-01). "Symbolism in the Samaria ivories and architecture". Acta Theologica. 28 (2): 48–68. hdl:10520/EJC111399.
  37. ^ Zayadine, F (1966). "Samaria-Sebaste: Clearance and Excavations (October 1965 – June 1967)". Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan, vol. 12, pp. 77–80

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit