Emmaus-Nicopolis

Early Roman period (37 BC-70 AD)

Nothing is known about the history of Emmaus during the reign of Herod. Emmaus is mentioned by Flavius Josephus only in connection with social disorders caused by the death of the king.

In 4 BC Jewish rebels destroyed a detachment of Roman soldiers in the vicinity of Emmaus. The Roman legate of Syria, Varus, having been called to assist the governor of Judea, Sabinus, suppressed the revolt in the country and set fire to Emmaus:

“Athronges, a person neither eminent by the dignity of his progenitors, nor for any great wealth he was possessed of, but one that had in all respects been a shepherd only, and was not known by anybody, yet because he was a tall man, and excelled others in the strength of his hands, he was so bold as to set up for king. This man thought it so sweet a thing to do more than ordinary injuries to others, that although he should be killed, he did not much care if he lost his life in so great a design. He had also four brethren, who were tall men themselves, and were believed to be superior to others in the strength of their hands, and thereby were encouraged to aim at great things, and thought that strength of theirs would support them in retaining the kingdom. Each of these ruled over a band of men of their own; for those that got together to them were very numerous. They were every one of them also commanders, but when they came to fight, they were subordinate to him, and fought for him, while he put a diadem about his head, and assembled a council to debate about what things should be done, and all things were done according to his pleasure. [… ]

They once attacked a company of Romans at Emmaus [Ἐμμαοῦντα], who were bringing corn and weapons to the army, and fell upon Arius, the centurion, who commanded the company, and shot forty of the best of his foot soldiers, but the rest of them were affrighted at their slaughter, and left their dead behind them, but saved themselves by the means of Gratus, who came with the king’s troops that were about him to their assistance. […] And now Judea was full of robberies, and as the several companies of the seditious lighted upon any one to head them, he was created a king immediately, in order to do mischief to the public. They were in some small measure indeed, and in small matters, hurtful to the Romans, but the murders they committed upon their own people lasted a long while.

As soon as Varus was once informed of the state of Judea by Sabinus’ writing to him, he was afraid for the legion he had left there, so he took the two other legions (for there were three legions in all belonging to Syria), and four troops of horsemen, with the several auxiliary forces which either the kings or certain of the tetrarchs afforded him, and made what haste he could to assist those that were then besieged in Judea. [...]

All along this march nothing escaped them, but all places were full of fire and of slaughter. Emmaus [Ἐμμαοῦς] was also burnt by Varus’ order, after its inhabitants had deserted it, that he might avenge those that had there been destroyed. From thence he now marched to Jerusalem…”

Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 17, 10, 7-9, translated by W. Whiston, the original text is here, see also Jewish War 2, 4, 3.

Emmaus is reduced to a small village as a consequence of the devastation of 4 BC. Several decades later, in the first century AD, the Gospel of Luke 24: 13 (see below) still refers to Emmaus as a village (κώμη), see also: FAQs about Emmaus, question 4

A Jewish tomb from the 1st c. AD at Emmaus

The following dialogue between the Jewish sage, Hillel the Elder, and a donkey driver, appearing in a collection of Jewish legends, called Avot de Rabbi Nathan (version B, ch. 27), must also have happened at the beginning of the 1st c. AD:

“A story is told about a donkey driver who came to Hillel the Elder. He said to him: ‘Rabbi, see how we are better off than you [Babylonians], for you are put to great trouble with all this travelling when you ascend from Babylon to Jerusalem, but I go forth from the entrance of my house and lodge in the entrance to Jerusalem’. He waited a bit and then said to him: ‘For how much would you rent me your donkey from here to Emmaus [מיאם, אמאום]?'


He answered: ‘A denarius’. ‘How much to Lod?’ He answered: ‘Two’. ‘How much to Caesarea?’ He answered: ‘Three’. He said to him: ‘I see that, in so far as I increase the distance [to be travelled], you increase the price’. He answered: ‘Yes, price is according to distance’. He said to him: ‘And should not the reward for my own feet be [at least] the equivalent of a beast’s feet?’ This is what Hillel used to maintain: ‘According to the painstaking, the reward’...”

Avot de Rabbi Nathan B, A. Saladrini, trans., Leiden, 1975, see the original Hebrew text here

This text shows that Emmaus was located halfway between Jerusalem and Lod (Lydda), at a significant distance from Jerusalem (about 30 km, 19 miles, 160 stadia). The price of a journey to Emmaus was equal to the daily wages of a labourer (one denarius).


Coin minted under Valerius Gratus,

the Roman Procurator of Judea (15-26 AD),

found at Emmaus


About 30 AD Jesus appeared after His Resurrection to two of his disciples on the way to Emmaus, explaining the Scriptures to them. They recognized him at the breaking of the bread at Cleophas’ house at Emmaus:

“On the same day, two of Jesus’ followers were walking to a village called Emmaus [Ἐμμαοῦς], about (one hundred and) 60 stadia from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about all these things that had taken place. While they were discussing and analysing what had happened, Jesus himself approached and began to walk with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him. He asked them, ‘What are you discussing with each other as you’re walking along?’ They stood still and looked gloomy. The one whose name was Cleopas answered him, ‘Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who doesn’t know what happened there in the past few days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ They answered him, ‘The events involving Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet, mighty in what he said and did before God and all the people, and how our high priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and had him crucified. But we kept hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel. What is more, this is now the third day since these things occurred.

Painting by Jacopo Pontormo, 16th century (The Uffizi Gallery, Florence)

Even some of our women have startled us by what they told us. They were at the tomb early this morning and didn’t find his body there, so they came back and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who were saying that he was alive. Then some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said. However, they didn’t see him.’

Then Jesus told them, ‘O, how foolish you are! How slow you are to believe everything the prophets said! The Messiah had to suffer these things and then enter his glory, didn’t he?’ Then, beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them all the passages of Scripture about himself. As they came near the village where the two men were headed, Jesus acted as though he were going farther. But they strongly urged him, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the daylight is nearly gone.’ So he went in to stay with them. While he was at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed it, broke it in pieces, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they knew who he was. And he vanished from them. Then they asked each other, ‘Our hearts kept burning within us as he was talking to us on the road and explaining the Scriptures to us, didn’t they?’ They got up right away, went back to Jerusalem, and found the eleven disciples and their companions all together. They kept saying, ‘The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon!’ Then the two men began to tell what had happened on the road and how they had recognized him when he broke the bread in pieces.”

Gospel according to St. Luke, chapter 24: 13-35, International Standard Version, see the original Greek text here

According to the following ancient Gospel manuscripts: uncial (majuscule script) manuscripts: א (codex Sinaiticus),Θ, Ν, Κ, Π, 079 and minuscule manuscripts: 158, 175, 223, 237, 420, the distance between Jerusalem and Emmaus, specified by St. Luke, is approximately 160 stadia (about 19 miles, 30 km), which corresponds to the location of Emmaus-Nicopolis (For the list of the manuscripts see: M.-J. Lagrange, Evangile selon saint Luc, Paris, 1921, p. 617; Nestle-Aland, Novum Testamentum Graece 28, Stuttgart, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012, p. 287).

Page from the Codex Sinaiticus, containing chapters 23 and 24 of the Gospel of Luke (British library).

Codex Sinaiticus, the Gospel of Luke, chapter 24, verse 13, mentioning 160 stadia between Jerusalem and Emmaus .

The same distance of 160 stadia can be found in ancient translations of the Gospel into Latin (some manuscripts of the Vetus Latina and the best manuscripts of the Vulgate), in Aramaic (Palestinian Evangeliarium) and in Armenian. Most existing ancient manuscripts of the Gospel have the variant of 60 stadia (about 12 km, 7 miles), apparently as a result of a centuries-aged tendency which existed among the scribes to correct the distance, in order to simplify the understanding of the text (see: FAQs about Emmaus, #2)

Roman milestones at the road to Emmaus (close to Sha'ar Ha-guy junction)

Discontent with Roman control continued to grow among the Jews and led to an uprising in 66 A.D., which developed into a war for independence. During the uprising, the Jewish military commander John the Essene was entrusted with the governance of the toparchy, which consisted of the territories of Lydda (Lod), Joppa (Jaffa) and Emmaus:

“They also chose other generals for Idumea [...]. Nor did they neglect the care of other parts of the country, but Joseph the son of Simon was sent as general to Jericho, as was Manasseh to Perea, and John, the Essene, to the toparchy of Thamna; Lydda was also added to his portion, and Joppa, and Emmaus [Ἀμμαοῦς]...

Flavius Josephus, Jewish War 2, 20, 4, translated by W. Whiston, see the original Greek text here;

This text shows us that during the 1st c. AD, the village of Emmaus lost its role as an administrative centre. For the question of toparchies see also: FAQs about Emmaus, Question 4

The Emperor Nero sent a military commander, named Vespasian along with 60.000 soldiers to quell the rebellion in Judea in 67 AD. During the suppression of the Jewish revolt, Vespasian posted the Vth Macedonian Legion at Emmaus in 68 AD, and built a fortified camp to control the strategic crossroads that connected Jerusalem with other parts of Judea:

“At the beginning of the spring [Vespasian] took the greatest part of his army, and led it from Caesarea to Antipatris, where he spent two days in settling the affairs of that city, and then, on the third day, he marched on, laying waste and burning all the neighbouring villages. And when he had laid waste all the places about the toparchy of Thamnas, he passed on to Lydda and Jamnia, and when both these cities had come over to him, he placed a great many of those that had come over to him [from other places] as inhabitants therein, and then came to Emmaus [Ἀμμαοῦντα] , where he seized upon the passage which led thence to their metropolis, and fortified his camp, and leaving the fifth legion therein, he came to the toparchy of Bethletephon.

Vespasian

He then destroyed that place, and the neighbouring places, by fire, and fortified, at proper places, the strong holds all about Idumea, and when he had seized upon two villages, which were in the very midst of Idumea, Betaris and Caphartobas, he slew above ten thousand of the people, and carried into captivity above a thousand, and drove away the rest of the multitude, and placed no small part of his own forces in them, who overran and laid waste the whole mountainous country, while he, with the rest of his forces, returned to Emmaus [Ἀμμαοῦν], whence he came down through the country of Samaria, and hard by the city, by others called Neapolis (or Sichem), but by the people of that country Mabortha, to Corea, where he pitched his camp, on the second day of the month Desius [Sivan]…”

Flavius Josephus, Jewish War 4, 8, 1, translated by W. Whiston, see the original text here.

Burial stones of the soldiers of the Vth Macedonian Legion were found in the region of Emmaus (at Latrun). This confirms that Flavius Josephus was referring to Emmaus of Ayalon valley in his text Jewish War 4, 8, 1 (see: Ephemeris Epigraphica, Vol. V, 1884, p. 620, see here; P. M. Séjourné, Nouvelles de Jérusalem, RB 1897, p.131,see here; Ch. Clermont-Ganneau, Archaeological Researches in Palestine during years 1873-74, London 1899, vol. 1, pp. 468-469, see here; B. Bagatti, Guida al Museo Flagellazione, Gerusalemme, 1939, pp. 137-138, see here, see also the second picture below; E. Michon, Inscription d’Amwas, RB 1898 p.p. 269-271, see here; J. H. Landau, Two Inscribed Tombstones, Atiqot, v. XI, Jerusalem, 1976, see here, see also the first picture below; CIIP, vol. IV, part 1, Berlin/Boston, 2018, pp. 468-473, see here).

P(ublius) OPPI [...f(ilius)] CAMILIA...CIO RAVE[n(n)a] MILES LEG(ionis) [V] MAC(edonicae) OPTIO VIXIT AN(N)OS XXX MILITA(vit) ANNOS VIIII. H(ic) S(itus) E(st). H(eres) F(ecit).

“Publius Oppius, son of..., of the tribe of Camilia, ...cio, of Ravenna, soldier of the Vth Macedonian Legion, of the rank of optio, lived 30 years, served nine years, is buried here. (His) heir made (this tombstone)”.

(Tombstone of a Roman legionary found at Latrun near Emmaus, on display at the Hecht museum, Haifa, courtesy of Israel Antiquity Authority)

C VIBIUS FIRMUS MILE(es) LEG(ionis) V MAC(edonicae)

> (= Centuria) POLLIONIS BENEFICIARIUS MILITA(vit)

ANNIS XIIX VIXIT ANNIS XXXX I H(ic) S(itus) E(st)

SACCIA PRIMIGINIA CONIUGI SUO F(aciendum) C(uravit)

“Caius Vibius Firmus, soldier of the Vth Macedonian Legion, from the Pollio’s centuria, beneficiarius, served 18 years, lived 40 years, is buried here. Saccia Primiginia made (the sepulchre) for her spouse.”

(Epitaph of a Roman legionary, discovered near ‘Amwas in 1897, on display at the Flagellazione museum in Jerusalem. Photo: Garo Nalbandian).

C4933T

Hill of the Roman military camp at Latrun (today's Yad Leshiryon tank museum), view from the east.

Having been informed about the death of the Emperor Nero which took place on June 9, 68 AD, Vespasian suspended his campaign and waited for the outcome of the struggle for the throne. At the end of June of 69 AD, he resumed hostilities and pacified the whole of Judea, except Jerusalem and three other fortresses. Proclaimed Emperor on July 1, he went to Rome, leaving his son Titus with the troops in order to seize and destroy Jerusalem and to bring the Jewish rebellion to an end.

Titus

In 70 AD Titus summoned the 5th Legion from Emmaus to make it participate in the siege of Jerusalem:

“ … Titus, when he had gotten together part of his forces about him, and had ordered the rest to meet him at Jerusalem, marched out of Caesarea. He had with him those three legions that had accompanied his father when he laid Judea waste, together with that twelfth legion which had been formerly beaten with Cestius, which legion, as it was otherwise remarkable for its valour, so did it march on now with greater alacrity to avenge themselves on the Jews, as remembering what they had formerly suffered from them. Of these legions he ordered the fifth to meet him, by going through Emmaus [Ἀμμαοῦς] and the tenth to go up by Jericho, he also moved himself, together with the rest, besides whom, marched those auxiliaries that came from the kings, being now more in number than before, together with a considerable number that came to his assistance from Syria…”

Flavius Josephus, Jewish War, 5, 1, 6, see the original text here.


Emmaus is mentioned 17 times by Flavius Josephus, without any explanation about its geographical position, which means that the reader was expected to understand the geographical reference. It can thus be deduced, that in the 1st c. AD there was only one place called “Emmaus” in the Jerusalem area. (Concerning the village of Ha-Motza, 30 stadia away from Jerusalem, whose name is rendered as “Emmaus” in the medieval manuscripts of Jewish War, see: FAQs about Emmaus #3.