Emmaus during the Late Roman Period
(70 AD-324 AD)
Jerusalem was completely destroyed by the Romans in the summer of 70 AD. Its inhabitants were either killed or sold into slavery. The vanquished Judea became a province of the Roman empire. The Byzantine historian of the 5th c. AD, Sozomen of Gaza, connects the renaming of Emmaus to Nicopolis (“City of Victory”), with the fall of Jerusalem:
"The name of Nicopolis was given to this place by the Romans after the conquest of Jerusalem and the victory over the Jews."
(Sozomen, "Ecclesiastical History", Book V, ch. 21, PG LXVII, 180). With this text in mind, some authors of the 20th century following F. de Saulcy, "Numismatique de la Terre Sainte", Paris, 1874 (see here), p.172-175, attributed Roman coins of the 1st and 2nd c. AD bearing the minting "Nicopolis" to Emmaus-Nicopolis.
A coin minted at Nicopolis under Marcus Aurelius (161-180)
These coins, however, may have been minted at Nicopolis of the Lesser Armenia (in Asia Minor). Most Byzantine authors date the renaming of Emmaus into “Nicopolis” by the 3rd c. AD (see below). (See: Vincent & Abel, "Emmaus", Paris, 1932, p.322-323).
This opinion is confirmed by the fact that maps from the Roman period, Peutinger Table (reflecting the situation of the 2nd c. AD) and Ptolemy’s map (drawn between 87 and 150 AD), refer to Emmaus-Nicopolis as "Amauante" and "Emmaunta" respectively (see: M. Delcor, Peutinger (Table de), Dictionnaire de la Bible, supp. VII, Paris, 1966, p.p. 1021-1022; I. Roll, "The Roman Road System in Judea", Cathedra 1983, Jerusalem & Detroit , p.136; I. Finkelstein, "Tabula Peutingeriana", PEQ, 1978-79, p. 27-34).
A fragment of Ptolemy's map (2nd c. AD), where Emmaus is shown under the name of Emmaunta
A fragment of the Peutinger Table, a map from the 2nd c. AD, where Emmaus appears under the name Amauante.
A collection of the Jewish comments for the Law "Mekhilta de Rabbi Ishmael" (Mekhilta for the Book of Exodus), tractate Bahodesh A, describe the hard situation of the Jewish people after the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple by the Romans:
"Once Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai was going up to Emmaus in Judea (depending from manuscripts: מאוס, מעון יהודה, מעים) and he saw a girl who was picking barleycorn out of the excrements of a horse. Said R. Johanan ben Zakkai to his disciples: 'What is this girl?' They said to him: 'She is a Jewish girl.' 'And to whom does this horse belong?' 'To an Arabian horseman,' the disciples answered him. Then said R. Johanan b. Zakkai to his disciples: 'All my life I have been reading this verse and I have not realized its full meaning: 'If thou know not, O thou fairest among women,' etc. (Song of Songs 1:8) - you were unwilling to be subject to God, behold now you are subjected to the most inferior of the nations... You were unwilling to pay the head-tax to God, 'a beka a head' (Ex. 38:26); now you are paying a head-tax of fifteen shekels under a government of your enemies. You were unwilling to repair the roads and streets leading up to the Temple; now you have to keep in repair the posts and stations on the road to the royal cities...'"( Mechilta d’Rabbi Ismael, H. S. Horovitz, ed., Jerusalem, 1970, p. 203)
Following the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai gathered his disciples in Yavne, where he founded an Academy whose purpose was to enable Judaism to persist in these new circumstances. Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai finished his life in the village of Berur Hail ca. 72 AD . The Jewish tradition has preserved the following story:
"Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai had five disciples, and as long as he lived they sat before him. When he died, they went to Yavne. R. Eleazar ben Arach, however, joined his wife at Emmaus (אמאוס), a place of good water and beautiful aspect. He waited for them to come to him, but they did not come. As they failed to do so, he wanted to go to them, but his wife did not let him. She said, 'Who needs whom?' He answered, 'They need me.' She said to him, ' In the case of a vessel [containing food] and mice, which goes to which? Do the mice go to the vessel or does the vessel come to the mice?' He listened to her and remained there until he forgot his learning… "(Midrash Rabbah for Ecclesiastes 7: 15; Strack & Billerbeck, “Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch”, München, 1924, 1989, v. II, p. 270)
The same story is mentioned in the collection of Jewish legends, "Avot de Rabbi Nathan" (B), ch. 29:
"Why did he (rabbi Eleazar ben Arach) not attain fame for learning? Because when they left Jerusalem, (each of) them said: 'Where shall I go?' Now he said: 'Let us go to Emmaus (מאוס), a beautiful town whose waters are sweet'. His name did not become famous for learning. But those who said: 'Let us go to Jamnia, a place where people love the Torah, a place where scholars are numerous, attained fame for learning'".(«Avot de-Rabbi Nathan B», A. Saladrini, trans., Leiden, 1975, p.167-168;"ספר הישוב" ירושלים, תרצ"ט, v.1, p.5)
Due to the presence of a Roman garrison at the end 1 c. AD at Emmaus, the first Roman baths were built here, probably, in the same period. In a parallel version (Version A) of the text mentioned above, "Avot de Rabbi Nathan", version B, ch. 29, instead of the word "Emmaus" appears "demosit", which in Greek means "public baths."
Roman bathhouse at Emmaus (3d c. AD)
(The location of Emmaus of Rabbi Eleazar ben Arach is subject to debate, some believe that this was the place of the hot springs near Tiberias, on the shore of the sea of Kinnereth in Galilee, also known as Hammat and Emmaus in the ancient Jewish literature, see Vincent & Abel, op. cit. p.280-284).
The event mentioned in the Mishnah, tractate “Keritot”, 3.7 also belongs to the end of the 1st century:
"Rabbi Akiba said: 'I asked Rabban Gamaliel and R. Joshua in the market of Emmaus (אמאוס , in the parallel texts in Talmud, depending on manuscripts: ,אימאום ,עימאוס ,מימוס ,אימאוס ,אימעום ,מעאוס ,אימוס עימאום ,עימעיס ,עימאום ) where they went to buy a beast for the wedding-feast of the son of Rabban Gamaliel…'"(Vincent & Abel, op. cit., p. 408;"ספר הישוב" , op. cit., p.5)
The references to Emmaus in the rabbinic litterature show that the Jewish tradition knows only one place with such a name in Judea throughout the history.
In 129 AD "Nicopolis (Emmaus) and Caesarea were destroyed by an earthquake" (St. Jerome, "Chronicle", PL XXVII, 618)
In 132-135 AD under the Emperor Hadrian, a new Jewish revolt broke out against the Romans (led by Bar Kochba) as a result of the prohibition of circumcision and of the construction of a pagan city of Aelia Capitolina on the site of Jerusalem.
During this uprising, Emmaus became a centre of Jewish resistance to the occupation. At Al-Aqed hill (in the “Canada” park, near Emmaus), arrowheads belonging to the Jewish rebels were found in a system of caves and grottoes.
Ventilation hole belonging to the system of grottos at Al-Aqed hill
The following text from the “Midrash Rabbah” for the book of "Lamentations" (1, 45) speaks of the extermination of the Jewish population in the area of Emmaus after the suppression of the Bar-Kochba revolt:
"Hadrian the accursed set up three garrisons, one in Hamta (חמתא), a second in Kefar Lekatia, and the third in Bethlehem of Judea. He said, 'Whoever attempts to escape from one of them will be captured in another and vice versa'..." ("ספר הישוב" op. cit., p. 47). (We can see from this text, that among Jews, Emmaus continued to bear its non-hellenized name, "Hamta", "hot spring", see also Midrash "Zuta" Song of Songs at 6, 8, (see above, the Old Testament period).
The fact of the presence of a Roman military garrison at Emmaus in 132-135 AD is confirmed by a stone that was found with the inscription: "Cohors VI Ulpia Petraeorum", "Sixth Ulpian Cohort of Petrians" (in the collection of the Latrun Monastery). About this inscription, see: Vincent & Abel, op. cit., p.324-325, 427; Abel, RB 1924, "Amouas".
From the point of view of archaeology, the Jewish village of Emmaus is represented by numerous tombs discovered in the area, in form of grottoes with niches for corpses ("kukhim"), carved in the rock. The entrances to the tombs used to be closed with big round stones. Inside the tombs stone ossuaries and funerary urns were discovered. According to the Jewish tradition which existed in 1st c. BC-1st c. AD, after a year from the date of death, the bones were placed in these urns in anticipation of the resurrection of the deceased. Sometimes these ossuaries were decorated with carvings. For example: a large ossuary, which is found in the collection of Latrun Monastery, is decorated with two palm trees, symbols of eternal life.
For all the mentions of Emmaus in the ancient rabbinic literature see:
Strack & Billerbeck, "Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch", München, 1924, 1989, v. II, p. 270; "ספר הישוב", עורך ש' קליין, ירושלים, תרצ"ט, v.1, p. 5-6 and 47-48, as well as: K.-H. Fleckenstein, M. Louhivuori, R. Riesner, "Emmaus in Judäa", Basel, 2003, p. 40-86.
After the suppression of the uprising of 135 AD, The Samaritans and the Romans settled in Emmaus. Concerning the archaeological and written testimonies about the Samaritan presence at Emmaus during the Roman and Byzantine periods, see the Byzantine period.
In 220-230 AD a Christian of Roman origin, a scientist, writer and former officer of the Roman army, Julius Africanus, lived and worked at Emmaus. Apparently, Julius Africanus was not an isolated Christian, a Christian community existed already at Emmaus.
← Julius Africanus
According to the Byzantine historians, Julius Africanus led a delegation of Emmaus residents to the Roman emperor Elagabalus asking him to assign to this village a status of the city ("polis"). The request was granted, and Emmaus was renamed into "Nicopolis" - "City of Victory":
"Julius Africanus, whose five volumes On Chronology are yet extant, in the reign of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (Elagabalus), who succeeded Macrinus, received a commission to restore the city of Emmaus, which afterwards was called Nicopolis…" (St. Jerome, "De Viris Illustribus", ch. 63, the text of 393 AD; PL XXIII, 673)
his letter to Aristide, Africanus wrote splendidly about the apparent
discrepancy in the genealogy because of the generations which are found in the
evangelists Matthew and Luke. Africanus was from Emmaus, a village of Palestine,
toward which Cleopas and his companion went and which, afterwards, having
received the right of being a city at the time of Africanus’ deputation, took
the name Nicopolis." (Philip
of Side, text of 430 AD; Vincent & Abel, op. cit., p.413 )
"Africanus the Happy, Bishop of Emmaus, wrote a Commentary on the New Testament and a Chronicon." (Abd Yeshua, Metropolitan of Nisibis and Armenia, “Index of Biblical and Ecclesiastical Writings”, Part 3, the text of 1298 AD; taken from the internet)
In the area of Emmaus rich archaeological evidence of the Roman city of Nicopolis has been found. At a small distance to the north of the Byzantine basilica a building of the Roman thermae, dating from the 3d c. AD, was excavated in 1978 by the archaeologists of the Tel-Aviv University ( See: M. Gichon, "Roman Bath-houses in Erez-Israel", Qadmoniot 11, 1978, p. 37-53). In the area of the Byzantine church and nearby, in the "Canada" park, numerous tombs and oil and wine presses from the Roman period have been discovered. In 1975, at "Canada" park there was found the water supply system of Nicopolis, including two aqueducts of the 3-5th c. AD ( See Y. Hirschfeld, "A Hydraulic Installation in the Water-Supply System of Emmaus-Nicopolis", IEJ 1978, p. 86-92).
Roman tomb at Emmaus (“Canada” park)
Roman-Byzantine Aqueduct at Emmaus (“Canada” park)
An inscription found at Emmaus, mentioning the name of the Emperor Elagabalus preserved at Latrun Monastery can be dated with the 3d c. AD (see: Vincent & Abel, op. cit., p.p.258 and 429, drawing 109).
Greek inscription from Emmaus: "Under Emperor Antoninus..." (?)
(Latrun Monastery collection)
Several types of coins minted in Emmaus-Nicopolis about 220 AD, bearing an effigy of the Emperor Elagabalus, are known to the science (de Saulcy, "Numismatique de la Terre Sainte", Paris, 1874, p. 175 (see here); Hill G. F. "Catalogue of the Greek Coins of Palestine", London, 1914, p. 170; Hamburger L. "Die beiden Palästinensischen Münzstätten Nikopolis Emmaus", Frankfurt, p. 8):
On the reverse side of this coin, Jupiter of Heliopolis depicted, which indicates that the cult of this god existed in Nicopolis, brought here by the Romans (see: Emmanuel Friedheim, "Quelques remarques sur l’introduction du culte de Jupiter Héliopolitain à Emmaüs-Nicopolis à l’époque romaine", RB 2002 - v. 109-1, p.101-108).
within a wreath with spread wings below the legend:
On the reverse side of this coin there is an eagle
NEI / KOΠO / ΛIC
On the reverse side of this coin appears the city goddess (Nike) in a four-columned temple with an
arched lintel, placing right foot on an uncertain object and holding a small bust (?) and a scepter.
Roman milestones at the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus,
the inscription mentions the Emperor Maximinus who ruled in 235-238 AD (found
near Sha'ar Ha-guy junction)
During the excavations around the Byzantine church of Emmaus numerous Roman period items were found: coins, glass, ceramic oil lamps, and jewellery. See: K.-H. Fleckenstein, M. Louhivuori, R. Riesner, "Emmaus in Judäa", Basel, 2003.
Roman period objects, found at Emmaus
The fact that Nicopolis from the most ancient times was venerated by Christians as the New Testament Emmaus is confirmed by high quality ancient manuscripts of the Gospel of Luke, indicating the distance of about one hundred sixty stadia (30 km) between Emmaus and Jerusalem (see the early Roman period and question 2).
Another important indication of the ancient veneration of Emmaus-Nicopolis as the New Testament Emmaus is the "Onomasticon" of Eusebius, the Bishop of Caesarea, a true geographical dictionary of the Bible, written between 295-325 AD (about dating of "Onomasticon" see T. D. Barnes, "The Composition of Eusebius’ Onomasticon", JThS 26 (1975), p.412-415; G. S. P. Freeman-Grenville, "Foreword" to "The Onomasticon", published by "Carta", Jerusalem, 2003).
is what the "Onomasticon" says about Emmaus (90:15-17):
of other towns and villages of the Holy Land,
Eusebius indicates their location relatively to Nicopolis, so there is left no
doubt about the position of Emmaus: