In terms of material culture, the chronological limits of our period are marked by non-catastrophic historical events. Nevertheless, regarding the archaeology of Palestine, the Byzantine period thus defined is rightly regarded as a distinct period. The main transformation that Roman Palestine underwent, starting in 324 CE, when Palestine fell under the aegis of a philo-Christian emperor, was the christianization of the country - the change from Provincia Palaestina to Terra Sancta. This transformation gradually affected all facets of social life. Earlier, for some 200 years, Provincia Palaestina had been a remote province, with no special significance, on the eastern border of the Roman Empire. But in 324 CE, when Constantine the Great became sole Emperor of a christianizing Roman Empire, a new era began in the life of this province. From then on it officially became the Holy Land, whose holy places deserved a special attention on behalf of the central government - the land of religious aspirations for multitudes of believers who flocked in from the entire Christian world. This era came to an end in 640 CE, with the final conquest of Palestine by the Muslim Arabs. But even this conquest cannot be considered as a sharp turning point in all domains of material culture.
Unlike the much earlier periods, the one under discussion abounds in literary sources and inscriptions that should be taken into account when we try to interpret the mute archaeological data.
The landscape of the country underwent a transformation due to its christianization. This was achieved by establishing a network of holy places and embellishing them with churches and memorials. Enormous funds were invested in this in Palestine - by emperors, wealthy believers and local ecclesiastics - to take care of the spiritual as well as the corporal needs of the pilgrims, monks and local citizens. The Byzantine period was a period of economic prosperity in Palestine. The christianization of the country was also achieved by a great increase in Christian population and settlements, both in areas previously inhabited by the Jews, like the Judean Hills, and in desert regions, such as the Negev, which had been only sparsely inhabited previously.
Before proceeding, a few remarks are required regarding the geographical borders and administrative government of the Province. Until ca. 300 CE the Negev did not constitute a part of the Province of Palestine. It was a part of Provincia Arabia, which also comprised the main part of Transjordan. Only later, within the framework of the reforms of Diocletian, were the Negev, Southern Transjordan and Sinai detached from that province and attached to Provincia Palaestina. During the fourth century several reforms in the provincial administration took place and, by 409 CE, we have instead of a single large province, three smaller ones: Palaestina Prima, with Caesarea as its capital; Palaestina Secunda in the north, with Scythopolis as its capital; and Palaestina Tertia in the South, with Petra as its capital.
Each province was governed by a civil governor, while one military commander was responsible for all three provinces; he was Dux Palaestinae, residing in Caesarea. The Byzantine provincial government, like the imperial one, was very bureaucratic and centralized. Under the governor, there were various provincial offices and there was also a separate municipal administration in each major city. Administratively, each province was divided into many units, each comprising a city and its territory, but there were rural administrative units as well, centered on large villages and estates. The Church administration was organized in a similar manner, with a bishop (episcopos); the head of each unit, and a metropolises (the bishop of the civil capitals - Caesarea, Scythopolis and Petra) at the top of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. But Jerusalem - now Aelia, or Hierosolymma - claimed supremacy. The struggle came to an end in 451 CE, when Jerusalem was recognized by the entire Christian world as the fifth Patriarchate, next to Rome, Alexandria, Antioch and Constantinople, and Caesarea became subordinate to it.
Next, some ethnic considerations should be discussed. During the Byzantine period the Christians became a majority in the country. They grew in number mainly at the expense of the Gentiles, but the process of christianization of the pagans was gradual, enforced by law, the missionary zeal of the monks, and sometimes even by use of the army. The number of Christians was also augmented by immigration and settlement of pilgrims, monks and Arab tribes in a province that underwent economical and cultural prosperity. A cosmopolitan society was thus attained, mainly in Jerusalem and in the monasteries, introducing cultural influences from all over the Christian world. The dominant language was Greek, but Palestinian Syriac prevailed, mainly among the indigenous, rural population. Christians inhabited the previous pagan regions in the coastal plain, central Judea (from where the Jews had already been expelled by Hadrian) and the Negev (a former Nabatean territory).
But Christians were not the only element in the society. Jews lived in large rural areas in lower and upper Galilee, and in the Golan - within the confines of Palaestina Secunda. In the Galilean cities of Tiberias and Sepphoris the Jews constituted a majority, and Caesarea was another center of cultural Rabbinic activity. Synagogue remains were found in many of the coastal cities, as well as in southern Judea, in the Valley of Jericho and En Gedi, and in Transjordan (Gerasa). The Samaritans flourished in their rural land, with Mount Gerizim, overlooking Neapolis, as their religious center. They were influential both in Scythopolis and Caesarea. Arabs - nomads or semi-settled - were present in the semi-arid grazing lands. Some were christianized, while others adhered to.their pagan customs. Efforts were made to christianize all these ethnic groups and to convert the country into an entirely Christian land, but these efforts failed.
Byzantine Palestine experienced a tremendous growth of population, reaching levels never seen. Avi-Yonah gave a figure of 2.5 million inhabitants, while Broshi (1980), offering convincing arguments, estimates their number as 1 million at most. Both maximalists and minimalists agree that at that time there was a peak in the population of ancient Palestine; regions that had been sparsely populated became densely populated. The towns and farms of the Negev are the most outstanding example of this process. In the northern regions, the villages of the Golan were resettled after a period of desertion that had lasted more than 250 years - since their destruction in the first Jewish revolt against Rome (66-70 CE). Throughout Palestine wherever archaeological surveys were conducted, they consistently yielded the largest number of settlements and installations for the Byzantine period. This expansion is attested in the urban centers as well. Caesarea, Scythopolis and Jerusalem - the provincial and religious capitals of the country - during the Byzantine period reached their largest dimensions as Roman cities.
Some scholars have suggested that this florescence should be associated with some global climatic changes. Namely, that due to global processes, the Byzantine period was rainier and colder than the earlier, Roman period and the later, Arab period. The evidence for this is far from decisive. Moreover, from the literary sources we hear about periods of drought (the longest lasting five years, between 516-521 CE). If a climatic change did occur, it was on a minor scale - perhaps increasing the average yearly precipitation by not more than 50 mm and increasing only slightly the number of rainy days per annum. In any case, the prosperity and density of the Negev settlements should be attributed primarily to state encouragement and human labor, rather than to major climatic factors.
Before proceeding to talk about settlement patterns and aspects of architecture, several historical events that bear upon the archaeology should be mentioned. Until the Persian conquest of 614 CE, that lasted fourteen years, and the final conquest by the Arabs (633-41/2 CE), the Byzantine period was relatively peaceful, with no foreign forces crossing the country and causing damage on their way. This tranquility was interrupted by the following events: several local revolts of the Jews (351-3 CE) and the Samaritans (484, 495, 529, 556 CE), that were violently suppressed; local incursions of Saracens; a heavy plague in the winter of 541/2 CE; and two major earthquakes (in 363 and 551 CE). The reign of Julian the Apostate (361-3 CE), who caused disorder by trying to revive paganism and rebuild the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, was a short episode. Other sources of unrest, sometimes resulting in violence, were associated with Christian theological disputes in which the Palestinian church and monks were intensively involved.
The archaeological remains represent a large variety of settlement patterns: large cities (metropoleis), cities (poleis), towns (polichnai), large villages (komai megistai) and villages (komai/ktemata), farmsteads, military posts, monasteries, isolated holy sites enshrined by a church, annexed by an hostel or a monastery, road inns (mansiones), and road posts for changing of horses (mutationes/allagai). There was also a pastoral activity. The Onomastikon of Eusebius gives the names of many settlements and sites, classifying them according to their size and function (Thomsen 1903). A graphical representation reflecting internal hierarchy of settlements is to be found in the Madaba mosaic.
As in the Roman period and earlier, the city was the principal social organization within each province, demonstrating the main achievement in the domain of secular architecture. Two competing tendencies can be found in urban planning and architecture: continuity of the Roman tradition versus an introduction of non-classical trends.
After the reforms of Diocletian and Constantine, characterized by a tendency towards centralization and bureaucracy, the involvement of the imperial authorities - and later, of the Church - in city life increased, and the autonomy of the cities was further decreased. The boule (or curia, in the Latin) almost disappeared as a central institution, and the bouleutai (curiales), as a social hereditary class, lost their previous prestige and wealth, and decreased in number. People tried to escape the burden of curiales, on whom various liturgies, including tax collection for the central government, were imposed. Instead new classes took the lead, constituting the group of proteuontes/ principales (the leaders of the city) - the landlords (ktetores/possessores), who possessed large estates; the dignitaries (honorati), generally imperial officials or ex-officials, who got an imperial honorary title; the bishop and the church leaders. These classes were thus in charge of the election of the city officials (magistrates). These executive officials, nominated in the past by the boule from among its members, were replaced by non-bouleutes officers, whose nomination had to be approved by the central government. The authority of the civic organs in terms of taxation, jurisdiction and even their involvement in building projects decreased in comparison with that of the central government, or the bishop. Nevertheless, the cities remained political, social and religious centers: the upper classes resided there; in terms of provincial administration, the city still retained its authority over its territorium with regard to taxation and civil jurisdiction; and similarly, the bishop of each city had an ecclesiastical jurisdiction over his see - consecrating the priests, deacons and other clerics in the villages, and being in charge of all religious affairs therein. Actually, the bishop, more than any other citizen, was the most prominent individual in the society and in the civic government. He also took part in public building projects - not solely ecclesiastical ones - and in the election of the civic administration. The bishop and the imperial honorati were patrons of urbanism, initiating the construction of public buildings.
The poleis of Byzantine Palestine were the ones established as such in the Hellenistic and Roman periods. No new poleis were established during the Byzantine period, and only a few villages of the past were raised to a civic status, by becoming regional administrative centers. Greco-Roman architecture prevailed, but modifications and adaptations were enforced by the changing social attitudes and by the new religion. In terms of street engineering, order of magnitude, and quality of workmanship on decorative details such as capitals, there is a clear decline in comparison with those of the second century. A utilitarian, 'spontaneous' approach to urban planning, following the natural contours of topography, is more and more evident - mainly in the new suburbs, remote from the civic center, and in the smaller towns and villages. But the formal Roman orthogonal approach continued to prevail as well. All these processes can be demonstrated by the finds in Jerusalem/Aelia, and Beth Shean/ Scythopolis; - the religious center and the two provincial capitals of Palaestina Prima and Palaestina Secunda.
The cities were surrounded by walls and had civil public buildings. In terms of urban planning, the Roman standards still prevailed, expressed in broad colonnaded, or arcaded streets (appearing graphically in the depiction of all the cities - Jerusalem, Neapolis, Diospolis, Charachmoba, Eleutheropolis, Azotos on the Sea, Askalon, Gaza and Pelousion - on the Madaba Mosaic Map, where the walls and other public buildings, not only churches, are depicted as well). The two colonnaded streets of Jerusalem were extended southward under Justinian. In Caesarea, located in the coastal plain, the city plan retained its Roman, orthogonal layout, with paved colonnaded streets, equipped with sidewalks paved with mosaic floors, dividing the city into square insulae of about 90 x 80 m. A cardo found to the south of the Crusaders' city, has its level 1.5 m higher than the earlier Roman pavement. One east-west street at least was first paved at that time. In Scythopolis, topographical restrictions prevented a strict orthogonal plan in the entire area. The city center was renovated after the severe damage caused by the 363 CE earthquake. The renovation is attributed by inscriptions to Governor Flavius Tavius Ablabius (ca 375 CE), and other governors or dignitaries (honorati) of the city. 'Palladius Street' - a colonnaded street (stoa in one of the inscriptions) - was built later in the fourth century, and 'the Byzantine Shops Street' (or 'Silvanus Street') - an arcaded street (basilica in an inscription) - was built in the early sixth century. The main streets were 12-25 m wide, including the sidewalks, that in many instances were paved by mosaics and opus sectile floors, rather than by regular flagstones. In Sepphoris the Roman streets continued to be used and mosaic floors were laid in the sidewalks of the cardo by a local bishop.
Roman standards were also evidenced in the supplying of water by elaborate aqueducts and nymphea, and in the construction and maintenance of improved sewage systems under the paved streets. In Jerusalem the ancient lower level aqueduct, leading from Solomon Pools in the Hebron Hills, was maintained with care, as were many ancient pools. In Caesarea the water supply was augmented by the construction of the 'Lower Level Aqueduct'; a 1.8 m wide tunnel, built on the ground, with a vaulted roof, that could conduct 2500 m3 of water per hour - six times as much as the earlier, arcaded aqueducts. In Scythopolis the nympheum was renovated in ca. 400 by the provincial governor. It went out of use in the sixth century.
But city life was now a mixture of the Roman traditions of the past and new Christian concepts. The most important change that occurred in its landscape during the Byzantine period was the gradual disappearance of the pagan temples, that were either demolished or just deserted, and the prevalence of churches, whose numbers in each city exceeded the numbers of temples previously found there. In Caesarea a vast octagonal building, uncovered in recent years - perhaps the Martyrium of St. Procopius known from literary sources - took the place of the former Herodian temple dedicated to Augustus and Rome. This is the only Byzantine church excavated so far in Caesarea. The literary sources mention nine other churches and martyria in the city or in its immediate vicinity, none of which have been uncovered. In Scythopolis, the single church so far uncovered in the city center is of a circular plan, and is located on the top of the Tell. It was erected in the fifth century near the destroyed Roman Temple of Zeus Akraios. In Jerusalem, 25 churches in all were counted in the Corpus of Ovadiah 1970, and 6 more in the Supplements of Ovadiah and de Silva 1982- 84. The most important churches were the memoria, erected over holy sites, the most celebrated of which were the Golgotha and the Holy Sepulcher. The structures erected there by Constantine, in the center of the city next to the Cardo Maximus and the Roman forum, included a basilical cathedral, known as Constantine's Martyrium, the Anastasis, concentric in shape; a baptistery, and an episcopal palace. This complex constituted the religious and administrative center of the city. Many other churches were liturgical stations for solemn processions, headed by the archbishop, that made their way in the Christian feasts between the various holy sites. Such were the Church of Holy Zion, the Church of St. Mary at the Sheep Pool (Probatica), and the Church of Siloam, inside the city walls, and St. Stephen's Church, Gethsemane, Eleona, and the round Church of Ascension, outside the walls. Important monasteries were erected inside and outside the walls, and on the Mount of Olives.
The theaters and the amphitheaters were gradually abandoned. In Scythopolis the theater continued to be used until the end of the fifth century CE, though the amphitheater went out of use in the fourth century, and a new quarter was built in the fifth century along its northern wall. In Caesarea the theater had already gone out of use by the fourth century, as was probably the fate of the amphitheater. The outer cavea walls of the Roman theater were integrated in the eastern flank of the inner fortress or kastron, with its semicircular towers, that was erected in the sixth century near the governor's sea palace. The hippodrome retained its popularity until the sixth century. The chariot race was a popular entertainment, and the circus factions - the 'Greens' and the 'Blues' - also carried political, social and religious connotations.
In Scythopolis a public bath (thermae/demosion) was constructed at the beginning of the fifth century, preserving the best Roman standards. Another one is presently being exposed there. It is the largest of its kind uncovered so far (1993) in Israel. Another vast bath house is being exposed in Caesarea, several were excavated in Jerusalem, and one in Ashkelon. The Roman healing thermae of Hammat Gader were intensively reconstructed by the Empress Eudocia, and later by Anastasius.
The odeon of Scythopolis, that may have served in the past as an assembly hall for the city council, fell into disuse, perhaps with the disappearance of this institution - the boule. New institutions of public welfare, such as hospitals, poor-houses and soup-kitchens, monasteries and the palace of the bishop, were added to the urban landscape. The architects were skillful enough to introduce new qpes of civic buildings, such as the 'Sigma' - a semicircular colonnaded plaza with shops and taverns on its circumference - at Scythopolis, and the large public building uncovered recently in Sepphoris, comprising a basilical hall and an inner courtyard surrounded by rooms, including a reception hall or a triclinium. The entire building was embellished by magnificent mosaic floors, the one in the triclinium depicting scenes of celebration of the Nile's flood in Alexandria.
The Persian conquest was a trigger that intensified the processes of urban decline that had begun earlier - in the late sixth century - and continued later under the Muslim regime. The expansion of private businesses into public thoroughfare and plazas was no longer considered to be a major offense.
The house of prayer, in the spirit of the Jewish synagogue, became for all - Christian, Jews and Samaritans the main edifice of religious architecture. The pagan temples, housing the statues of gods and emperors, gradually disappeared. Among the Christians - mainly of Gentile origin - the veneration of idols was substituted by the veneration of icons, holy places and relics. An altar stood at the focal point of each church, and the ritual reached its culmination in an act of sacrifice. In the synagogues, on the other hand, it was the prayer and the reading in the Scriptures that constituted the ritual.
The principal means of christianizing the landscape of the country, influencing thus the conversion of its inhabitants, was by establishing a network of Holy Places and embellishing them with spectacular memorial churches. This was the policy of both emperors and bishops. A biblical, Christian geography was thus constituted, attracting multitudes of monks and pilgrims to admire these holy sites. Parish churches were erected in cities, towns and villages - to serve as houses of prayer and to fulfill other religious and social functions.
To date, about 300 churches are known in Israel, but their number was much larger, since every Christian village and monastery possessed at least one church, and there were several in each town or city.
Constantine and his mother Helena were the first to erect churches in Palestine. Earlier Christians did not have a prayer house with distinctive architectural features; their place of assembly was a domus ecclesia - a domestic building that was adjusted to serve this purpose. The erection of churches was a major domain of imperial enterprise. Four churches were erected by Constantine: the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, the Church of Abraham's Oak at Mamre, and the Eleona Church on the Mount of Olives. The first three were built on the sites of pagan shrines, thereby destroying them. Such was also the case with two other imperial churches: the first church of Gaza (407), and the church on the top of Mount Gerizim (484), the second being preceded by a Samaritan sacred place. Other Emperors and Empresses that were engaged in ecclesiastical building in Palestine include Eudoxia (Gaza), Eudocia (St. Stephen in Jerusalem and other churches), Zenon (Mt. Gerizim), Anastasius (St. John near the Jordan) and Justinian (the Nativity Church, the Nea in Jerusalem, the church of the holy bush at Sinai). But most churches were erected by wealthy patrons, both male and female, bishops and other members of the clergy, members of the congregation itself and leading townsmen and monks, as we can learn from the dedicatory inscriptions.
Architecturally, the local churches can be divided into four distinct types, according to their plan: basilicas (155 altogether in the Supplemented Corpus of Ovadiah and de Silva), chapels (93 altogether), churches of central plans (either circular, or octagonal), and churches of a cruciform plan. All these types (except the cruciform) were derived, with adaptations, from Roman prototypes - Roman civil basilica or palace basilica, Roman funerary architecture, or palatial reception halls. Only the cruciform type is a Byzantine innovation, first introduced by Constantine in his Church of the Apostles in Constantinople, where he was interred. Transept basilicas, like the trefoil Justinianean Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, or the Church of Loaves and Fishes at TaLkha, are variants of this type.
The orientation of the apse toward the east became a convention in Palestine since the foundations of Constantine. It appears that the earlier practice was to direct the facade, rather than the apse, to the east. This was the case with the 'House of St. Peter' in Capernaum, and with the pre-Constantinian Cathedral of Paulinus bishop of Tyre, described in detail by Eusebius. Such was also the orientation of almost all of the Constantinian foundations in Rome, and it prevailed in the West until 420 CE. The Constantinian basilica of the Holy Sepulcher compound is in accord with this early tradition, although the common explanation in this case is that the presence of the Sepulcher itself - to the west of the basilica - was the factor that determined its orientation. A similar dichotomy is to be found in the orientation of the Jewish and the Samaritan synagogues, as we shall see later.
In many instances a chapel was appended to the south or to the north of the basilica. It has been suggested that this chapel was the place where the deacon received the offerings of the faithful and wrote them down, and where the sacred elements were prepared, to be brought from there in a solemn procession to the main altar.
The cult of relics of martyrs and saints was another rite that took place in the church besides the daily prayers and the celebration of the Eucharist. Relics were generally held in a special stone or marble container, shaped like a tiny sarcophagus - a reliquiarium. Generally, the relics were placed under the main altar, but more than one saint could have been venerated in a single church and then one or both of the lateral rooms or apses, flanking the central apse, could have been used for this purpose. This is indicated by such finds as those discovered in Mamshit eastern church and in other churches of the Negev, and in Horvat Hesheq in Upper Galilee. In the lateral spaces the reliquiarium was put under an altar or in an elevated niche. In major sites of pilgrimage, and if the resources permined, an underground crypt was constructed under the bema, with two staircases leading down from the aisles. Such was the case in the rural church at Horvat Berachot to the north of Hebron and in the Northern Church at Rehovot-in-the Negev.
The baptismal rite was another function associated with the church. In a recent study, 53 baptismal installations found in 42 sites were explored. The baptisteries were always attached as a chapel or a room annexed to the body of the church. They were simple in shape, not independent buildings of octagonal or cruciform plan, and sophisticated architecture. The font was generally located near the eastern end of the baptistery. It may be either masonry built, or monolithic, either partially sunk into the floor, or standing on it. Nine basic types were defined, according to the shape of the font's interior rim: rectangular, hexagonal, semicircular, cruciform, mush- room-like, trefoil, circular, oval and quatrefoil. The most prominent types are the quatrefoil (21 fonts), mostly monolithic, with four variants, and the cruciform (10 fonts), mostly masonry built, with three variants.
The synagogue was the central institution in each Jewish village or town. To date, more than 100 synagogues have been explored. The Jewish synagogues were influenced by the contemporary sacral architecture - pagan in the Late Roman period and Christian in the Byzantine period. The Jews insisted on meeting the standards of the Gentiles, so that the Jewish house of worship would not be less attractive than theirs. On the other hand, the very adoption of the Roman civil basilica as a genre appropriate to serve as a prayer house was first adopted by the Jews, and only later by the Christians. Liturgical demands was another factor that dictated the shape of the Jewish synagogue and the introduction of changes in its layout. The most important liturgical prescription was that the direction of prayer should be toward Jerusalem.
In terms of their plan, Jewish synagogues demonstrate greater variety than the Christian churches. It seems that there was no central authority to impose a single specific plan everywhere. Regionality, conservatism, and inventiveness in accord with the liturgical restrictions were factors that determined the actual layout. The traditional classification of ancient synagogues is according to three types: 'early' or 'Galilean', 'transitional' - dated to the fourth-fifth centuries; and 'late' - dated to the fifth-seventh centuries. The two later types fall within the Byzantine period.
Excavations at the Galilean Synagogues of Meiron, Gush Halav, Horvat Amudim and Nabratein indicated that they are indeed the earliest type, but their date falls in the late third century, not in the second and early third, as had been assumed. (The Capernaum synagogue, the most elaborate in this group, was dated by its excavators to the late fourth-mid-fifth century. This date is debated by other scholars, though this is not the place to elaborate on this issue.) The sense of regional conservatism in this exclusively Jewish, rural region, is best expressed in the ashlar built synagogue of Meroth, erected in the late fourth-early fifth century and still preserving the features of the earlier Galilean synagogues: external decorations cut in relief and entrances in the south. These entrances were blocked only in the early seventh century, when new entrances were pierced in the northern wall. Yet there was neither an apse, nor any recess throughout its existence, just an inward protruding bema on which the Ark was standing.
The Golan synagogues (25 altogether, four of which have been excavated) reveal a Galilean (as well as southern Syrian) influence, although being erected in the fifth and sixth centuries - contemporary with the basilical, 'late' synagogues. Like the Galilean synagogues, their plan is basilical without an apse, they are ashlar built - at least in their facade - and decorated in stone cut reliefs, mainly on the door frames. Also like the Galilean type, the facade is generally directed to Jerusalem in the south. But there are instances where both the entrance and the direction of prayer were to the west, in accordance with the Transjordanian synagogue of Gerasa. Only in Qasrin - from its first phase in the late fourth-fifth century - was the entrance in the north. In none of the Golan synagogues was there any recess in the wall to place the Ark in; rather, it was placed on a raised platform or dais, projecting into the nave. Yet, several characteristics are typical to the Golan, differentiating this group from the Galilean synagogues: all have just a single door; only two rows of columns, none of which is heart shaped; and, with one exception, the columns stand on the floor rather than on pedestals.
The transitional features in the 'transitional' type are manifested in attempts to move the entrance to a wall perpendicular or opposite to the direction of Jerusalem, and to find a better architectural solution for the housing of the Torah Shrine or Ark, more elaborate than an aedicule flanking the main entrance. Rather than standing on a simple dais, the Ark was placed inside a special recess, or a niche - mainly rectangular - constructed in the side directed toward Jerusalem (Hachlili 1988). A mosaic floor, appearing already in the Galilean type-building at Horvat Amudim, dated to ca. 300 CE, is prevalent among the synagogues of this group, which include 'Severus' Synagogue' at Hammat Tiberias, and the synagogues at Husifah, Japhia and En Gedi. A distinct subtype in this group is the broadhouse, having no columns on the inside, and being entered from the east. To this subgroup belong the late-fourth to early-fifth century synagogues of Eshthemoa and Horvat Susiya in southern Judea, but other types existed there as well, so that the broadhouse cannot be considered as the exclusive Judean type.
The 'late' type synagogue resembles the Christian basilica in its plan, decorations and furnishing. The apse - where the Torah Shrine is located, standing on a raised bema, surrounded by a chancel screen - is aligned toward Jerusalem, while the entrance is in the opposite wall. The decorations are intemal, consisting mainly of magnificent mosaic floors. To this group belong the synagogues of Beth Alfa, Jericho, Naaran, Nirim, and Maiumas of Gaza.
In several cases, like in Qasrin and Meroth, a Torah school - Beth Midrash - was annexed to the synagogue.
Excavated sites number about seven. Others are known from the literary sources). Samaritan synagogues are aligned with their facade or their rear wall toward Mount Gerizim. The recently excavated fourth-fifth century synagogues of el-Khirbe and Khirbet Samra, show a unique plan, never encountered before. They are rectangular halls, entered through a single door and roofed by a vault. The longitudinal walls are therefore ca. twice as thick as the short ones. Stone benches are built along the walls. It appears that the Samaritan synagogues underwent later a development similar to the Jewish synagogues in terms of the final prevalence of the Christian basilical type, and the introduction of an apse for the placement of the Ark. The sixth century synagogue of Beth Shean is basilical in plan, with two colonnades and an apse which is facing away from Mount Gerizim. The plan of the Zur Nathan (and Ramat Aviv?) synagogues was similar, except that a small apse in the rear wall faced eastward - towards Mount Gerizim.
As in earlier periods, burial in underground, rock-cut tombs was still common. There were also subterranean public burial halls (Polyandria). The burial places were shaped like shelves or troughs, arranged along three walls of the chamber, sometimes in arched niches (arcosolia). Large cemeteries of tombs dug in the ground were found in the Negev towns - those around Rehovot were thoroughly surveyed. In such cemeteries there is no indication that the place allocated for burial was determined by family relationship. This reality seemingly reflects a society of new settlers, without deep family roots at a particular site.
Interment within or in proximity to a church, like in the case of the northern church of Rehovot-in-the-Negev, was another factor that dictated the location of the burial place Interment in a church was considered a great privilege, reserved for pious members of the congregation - and for the wealthy ones. In many churches tombs were cut under the floor, and marked with a burial inscription. Burial in monumental mausolea, or large, decorated sarcophagi were not as popular as before. Coemeteria (roofed burial halls), like the Constantinian ones at Rome, were not found in Israel.
Aspects of artistic creativity
In architectural decoration there is a clear shift from the extrovertial to the internal. Wall and floor mosaics were the main medium of artistic expression. Wall mosaics are known mainly from the literary sources, especially from the descriptions of two churches at Gaza by the local, sixth-century rhetor Choricius. The apse mosaics in the Justinianean church at St. Catherine Monastery at Sinai represent the metropolitan art of Constantinople. Two frescoes preserved therein depict Abraham sacrificing Isaac, and the sacrifice of Jeptah, but there are other more fragmentary finds, both from churches, synagogues and tombs. The wall and floor mosaics take the place of the former decorated entablature and stone reliefs. This process is evident in churches, synagogues, and in the urban landscape. Churches and synagogues were similarly decorated, sometimes by the very same school of artists, but symbols of religious significance made the difference. The polichrome compositions were figurative, floral or geometric. The layout of the various compositions is generally simple, consisting of separate panels or 'carpets', each depicting a single composition.
The biblical injunction against graven images, that prevailed in Judaism during the early Roman period, had already faded by the second and third centuries. Jewish art abounds with figurative representations, since the ancient fear of idolatry no longer dominated. Biblical figurative scenes include the binding of Isaac (Beth Alfa), Daniel in the lion's den (Naaran, Horvat Susiya), Noah's Ark (Gerasa), and King David as Orpheus (Maiumas of Gaza). The zodiac wheel with Helios in the center - a purely pagan motif - was depicted in Hammat Tiberias, Beth Alfa, Naaran, Husifah and presumably also at Horvat Susiya synagogues. Its exact meaning and significance among the Jews, whether magical, astrological or cosmic/ astronomical, is not yet clear. This motif was not found in any church and, generally, Christian mosaic pavements lack any pagan motifs - even the representation of the human figure is uncommon. Figures are represented as two dimensional, without ground line or background - seeming to float in space. The story of Jonah was depicted in a church at Beth Govrin, and the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes was laid down at Tabkha. No additional scenes from the Old or New Testaments are known on mosaic pavements; rather they were depicted on wall mosaics which have since perished (except in Sinai).
The Torah Ark, flanked by two menorot is a common Jewish motif, as seen at Beth Alfa, Naaran, Hammat Tiberias and Horvat Susiya. The two motifs may also appear separately, and in Samaritan synagogues. Most interesting are mosaic floors containing only literary inscriptions, like the one in Rehov synagogue in the Beth Shean valley, depicting a Rabbinic halakhic text, or those at En Gedi synagogue, the content of which seemingly represents the zodiac wheel, mentioning the names of all the symbols. Scriptural quotations are common on pavements of churches.
A popular composition, in synagogues and churches alike, consists of an intertwining vine-trellis emerging from an amphora, forming medallions in which various birds, animals, vignettes, or vessels are depicted. An almost intact mosaic floor of this kind was uncovered recently in a church at Beer Shema/Birsama (Kh. el Far). It was suggested that these floors were laid by a Gazaean school of mosaic artists, but its distribution reaches the regions of Beth Govrin (Eleutheropolis) and Jerusalem. 'Peopled' scrolls of acanthus leaves were popular as border strips.
Opus sectile floors, of geometric design, are less common. They appear in public buildings and on sidewalks, as well as churches. Other decorations included carved capitals, and reliefs on lintels, chancel screen panels and screen posts. They were made of local limestone, or of imported marble, mainly grey Proconnesian. The cross was the most prominent Christian symbol since the second half of the fourth century. Its depiction on mosaic floors is quite rare, though not unknown. An edict of Theodosius II of 427 CE prohibited the inclusion of Christian symbols in the floor. Nevertheless, this cannot be considered as a universal termsnus ante quem for mosaic floors displaying crosses.
The ultimate victory in the Byzantine period of the oriental approach to the representational arts was brilliantly demonstrated by Avi-Yonah in the case of Palestine. This approach always existed as a sub-classical trend, side by side with the main stream of the Greco-Roman art. This oriental triumph is evident in Byzantine art everywhere - not only in provincial and popular art, but in official imperial art as well. The art is conceptual, rather than illusionistic. Its characteristic features are frontality, stylization, ignoring of proportions and horror vacui. The same is true in all domains of artistic creativity - both monumental and minor, and in all media, such as carved ivory or bone, woodcuts, textiles, metal work, numismatics, etc.
The manufacture of Christian souvenirs for pilgrims was an important source of income in the various Loca Sancta. Of a special artistic significance are the lead ampules, depicting in low relief various christological scenes. It was suggested that these ampules, produced in Jerusalem, were miniature representations of scenes depicted in the apse mosaics of the principal churches of the Holy Land. Some of the icons preserved in St. Catherine Monasteq in Sinai are pre-seventh century.
More than in terms of technology, agriculture reached its peak during the Byzantine period in terms of exploitation of all tillable lands. Larger areas of the hilly regions of Judea, Samaria, and Galilee were covered by terraces. The most significant plants were cereals, lentils, olives for oil and mainly grapes for wine. Mills, operated by water power, are preserved near the dam where the lower aqueduct to Caesarea starts. The water, conducted by a channel, exerted power on the mill by falling down through a chimney. This was an innovation of the Byzantine period. The oil presses were of two major types: the older type, known already in the Hellenistic period, where one end of the press-beam was laid in a deep recess inside the wall, and heavy stone, each weighing less than 100 kg, were attached to the other end; and a newer type, where the pressing power was obtained by means of a stationary wooden screw anchored to a heavy monolith, several tons in weight. Nice examples of both types were excavated in Qedumim (Samaria) and in Karkara (Upper Galilee).
A well-preserved farmstead was excavated in Horvat Aqav (Mansur el-Aqab) at Ramat Hanadiv, near Caesarea. The Byzantine estate, designed as a rural villa (villa rustica), was an approximately square building (22 x 24 m), with a central courtyard flanked on three wings by a storeroom, two stables and a wine-cellar, all roofed by barrel vaults. The living quarters were on the second floor. At a distance of some 50 m to the southwest was a screw-operated wine-press.
The transition to mass production is best revealed in the agricultural estate excavated recently to the north of Ashkelon, in an area covered by post-Byzantine dunes (like many other areas in the northwestern Negev and the coastal plain). The buildings uncovered consist of several large oil and wine-presses, two-story warehouses of a basilica! plan for the storing of the products, kilns for the production of the jars - the so-called 'Gaze and Ashkelon jars', in which the oil and wine were exported, and ponds for the artificial breeding of fish. A private, but large, bath-house was another component of this estate. A survey conducted along the coastal plain from Ashdod to Gaza, and even farther to the southwest, revealed a large number of such estates with similar installations. The agricultural regime of the Negev is to be viewed in this larger context.