Overview: Beth Shean (Bet-shan, Bet Shean, Beth Shan, Bet She'an) -- the Old Testament name for this site. Scythopolis is what it was called in New Testament times. It subsequently became the capital city of the Decapolis (ten cities) and was the only one on the west side of the Jordan.

Details: Located 17 miles (27 km) south of the Sea of Galilee, Beth Shean is situated at a strategic junction of the Harod, Jezreel, and Jordan Valleys. Surrounded by fertile land and having an abundance of fresh water from the adjacent springs of Mt. Gilboa, this place has been long inhabited. The excavation of Beth Shean has become an Israeli national park.

Below is a model of what the Roman city of Scythopolis would have looked like based on archaeological discovery. The numbering is provided for reference in later photos.

Quick summary:
1 - The heart of old city of Beth Shean and a sacred pagan temple area even in Roman times.
2 - The amphitheater
3 - The coliseum
4 - The market/shops area (covered).

Note the grass covered mound beyond the Roman city ruins (as #1 in model photo).
The heart of ancient Beth Shean. The three hundred-foot high tell is the highest in Israel.

Beth Shean was the center of Egyptian rule in the northern part of Canaan during the Late Bronze Period. Monuments with inscriptions from the reigns of Seti I and Ramses II were found, plus a life-size statue of Ramses III and many other Egyptian inscriptions.

The city is mentioned a number of times in the Old Testament. For example, the fall of King Saul to the Philistines at Gilboa:

1 Samuel 31:8-13 The next day, when the Philistines came to strip the dead, they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. 9 They cut off his head and stripped off his armor, and they sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines to proclaim the news in the temple of their idols and among their people. 10 They put his armor in the temple of the Ashtoreths and fastened his body to the wall of Beth Shan. 11 When the people of Jabesh Gilead heard of what the Philistines had done to Saul, 12 all their valiant men journeyed through the night to Beth Shan. They took down the bodies of Saul and his sons from the wall of Beth Shan and went to Jabesh, where they burned them. 13 Then they took their bones and buried them under a tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and they fasted seven days. (NIV) [Also 2 Samuel 21:12]

Beth Shean was part of the territory originally given to the tribe of Manasseh when Israel returned to the promised land at the time of Joshua.

Joshua 17:11 Within Issachar and Asher, Manasseh also had Beth Shan... (NIV)

The fact that Beth Shean was referenced as a city even at this early time showed that it was already a significant landmark, a fact verified by the aforementioned early Egyptian presence.

Though given to an Israeli tribe, archaeology and Scriptures imply that they did little to control or take over the city.

1 Chronicles 7:29 Along the borders of Manasseh were Beth Shan, Taanach, Megiddo and Dor, together with their villages. (NIV)

Judges 1:27-28 But Manasseh did not drive out the people of Beth Shan or Taanach or Dor or Ibleam or Megiddo and their surrounding settlements, for the Canaanites were determined to live in that land. 28 When Israel became strong, they pressed the Canaanites into forced labor but never drove them out completely. (NIV)

Remember that at the death of King Saul (1 Samuel 31:8-13) the Philistines were said to control the city. It was not until the time of Solomon's kingdom that Beth Shean was ruled directly by Israel (at least for a time).

1 Kings 4:7-12 Solomon also had twelve district governors over all Israel, who supplied provisions for the king and the royal household. Each one had to provide supplies for one month in the year. 8 These are their names: Ben-Hur — in the hill country of Ephraim; 9 Ben-Deker — in Makaz, Shaalbim, Beth Shemesh and Elon Bethhanan; 10 Ben-Hesed — in Arubboth (Socoh and all the land of Hepher were his); 11 Ben-Abinadab — in Naphoth Dor (he was married to Taphath daughter of Solomon); 12 Baana son of Ahilud — in Taanach and Megiddo, and in all of Beth Shan next to Zarethan below Jezreel, from Beth Shan to Abel Meholah across to Jokmeam... (NIV)

During the Biblical silence of the inter-testament period, the Greco-Roman city of Scythopolis was founded in 250 B.C. encompassing the area of ancient Beth-Shean.


By New Testament times, Scythopolis was the capital of the Decapolis (ten cities). It was the only one located on the west side of the Jordan river. As such it is referenced in New Testament passages, especially concerning the ministry of Jesus:

Matthew 4:24-25 News about him [Jesus] spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them. 25 Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him. (NIV)

Mark 5:18-20 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed [with many demons, named Legion] begged to go with him. 19 Jesus did not let him, but said, "Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you." 20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed. (NIV)

Mark 7:31-35 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis . 32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man. 33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man's ears. Then he spit and touched the man's tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, "Ephphatha!" (which means, "Be opened!"). 35 At this, the man's ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly. (NIV)

At the time of the Great Revolt against Rome (66-73 A.D.), many Jewish cities rebelled against their Roman rulers, but the Jewish residents of Scythopolis decided they could trust their non-Jewish neighbors. They remained unarmed and were brutally massacred at the hands of their neighbors. The entire city was destroyed in October of 749 A.D. by a massive earthquake, leaving spectacular ruins to be found in modern times.


The Roman coliseum (as #3 in model photo). Here gladiators fought their battles and people were
thrown to the lions. In the later persecutions of Christians, many would have been put to death here.


A drainage channel (sewer) runs beneath the basalt paved main street of the city. [As #4 in model photo]
The center stones cover this channel.

Excavations have revealed a remarkable city, one which incorporated all the 'glory of Rome' and the best of Hellenistic culture. A typical Roman cardo, or main commercial thoroughfare, connected the upper city with the forum, marketplace, Roman bathhouse, and theater.

See write-up in photo above this one regarding the Sigma

Ruins of the shops that lined the market area. Note the intricately tiled walkways.

The Roman amphitheater theater dominated the city. The excavated theater is still in use today. While the acoustics are still amazing, enabling a speaker to be easily heard at upper levels, they would have been even better in ancient times. Copper containers full of water originally were placed in special locations (see photo below) where they would act to amplify the sound. The containers were removed after the destruction of the city, as they would still have great value.



The 7000 seat theater (as #2 in model photo).
Notice that the upper levels were destroyed and have not been rebuilt.

The outside, rear, entranceway of the Roman coliseum at the base of the upper level.