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 inside 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, 1280, see the original text here;
translation: Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 2, Vol. 2, N.Y., 1891, p. 343.
With this text in mind, some authors of the 20th century following F. de Saulcy (Numismatique de la Terre Sainte, Paris, 1874, p. 172-175, see here), 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). (see: Vincent & Abel, Emmaüs, Paris, 1932, p.322-323, see here; W. Eck, D. Kossman, Emmaus Nikopolis: Die städtische Münzprägung unter Elagabal und angebliche Inschriften für diesen Kaiser, ZPE, 2016, p. 223, note 1, see here).
Most Byzantine authors date the renaming of Emmaus to Nicopolis to the 3rd c. AD (see below). This opinion is confirmed by the fact that two documents from the 2nd c. AD, Peutinger Table and Ptolemy’s Geography, refer to Emmaus-Nicopolis as Amauante and Emmaus (Emmaunta) respectively (see: I. Roll, The Roman Road System in Judea, Cathedra 1983, Jerusalem & Detroit, p.144, see here, see also the article Emmaus by Louis Pirot in : Dictionnaire de la Bible, Supplément, Paris, 1934, vol. 2, column 1054, see here).
Emmaus (Amauante) upon the Peutinger Table (2nd c. AD), XVIIII (19) miles away from Jerusalem (Hierusalem, Helya), "Weltkarte des Castorius genannt die Peutinger'sche Tafel", K. Miller, ed., Ravensburg, 1887-1888
A fragment of a map, based upon Ptolemy’s "Geography". Emmaus is shown under the name of Emmaunta.(Printed in 1482 by Lienhart Hol, Boston Public Library).
Rabbi Jochanan ben Zakkai
A collection of the Jewish comments on the Law Mekhilta de Rabbi Ishmael (Mekhilta for the Book of Exodus), tractate Bahodesh A, describes the difficult 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 ben 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, see the original text here
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 died 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, see the original text here; Strack & Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch, München, 1924, 1989, v. II, p. 270, the translation is ours.
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, see the original text here , ספר הישוב" ירושלים, תרצ"ט" , v.1, p.5
Due to the presence of a Roman garrison in the late 1st c. AD at Emmaus, the first Roman bathhouse was probably built here in the same period. In a parallel version (Version A) of the text mentioned above, Avot de Rabbi Nathan, version B, ch. 29, the Greek word demosit (public baths) appears instead of the word Emmaus. (The location of Emmaus of Rabbi Eleazar ben Arach is subject to debate. Some believe that it is referred here to the hot springs of Tiberias, also known as “Hammat” and “Emmaus” in the ancient Jewish literature. See: Vincent & Abel, Emmaüs, Paris, 1932, p.280-284, see here).
The event mentioned in the Mishnah, tractate Keritot, 3.7 also belongs to the end of the 1st century. We learn about a cattle market at Emmaus, where important personalities of the time used to meet:
“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...’ ’’
Mishnah, tractate Keritot, 3.7, see the original text here , the translation is ours,
"ספר הישוב", ירושלים, תרצ"ט , v.1, p.5
In 132-135 AD under the Emperor Hadrian, a new Jewish revolt, led by Bar Kochba, broke out against the Romans 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 one of the centres of Jewish resistance to the occupation. At Al-Aqed hill (in the Canada park, near Emmaus) arrowheads belonging to the Jewish rebels, as well as a mobile mint were found in a system of caves and grottoes.
Ventilation hole belonging to the system of grottos at Al-Aqed hill ("Canada" park)
See: H. Hizmi, M. Haber, E. Aharonovich, From the Maccabees to Bar Kokhba: Evidence of Fortification and Revolt at Khirbet el-'Aqd. The Results of the Renewed 2012 Excavations in: New Studies in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and its Region, Volume VII, 2013, pp. 6-24, see here.
The following text from the Midrash Rabbah for the Book of Lamentations (1, 48) 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 Beth-El of Judea. He said, ‘Whoever attempts to escape from one of them will be captured in another and vice versa’...”
Midrash Rabbah for the Book of Lamentations (1, 48), ספר הישוב", ירושלים, תרצ"ט" , v.1, p.47 ,
see the original text here, the translation is ours.
The presence of a Roman military garrison at Emmaus in 132-135 AD is confirmed by a stone that was found here with the inscription: “Cohors VI Ulpia Petraeorum, Sixth Ulpian Cohort of Petrians” (Latrun Monastery collection). About this inscription, see: Vincent & Abel, "Emmaüs", Paris, 1932, p.324-325, 427, see here; Abel, RB 1924, "Amouas", see here; CIIP, vol. IV, part 1, Berlin/Boston, 2018, pp. 466-467, see here.
From an archaeological point of view, the Jewish period of Emmaus’ history 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, a year after the death of a person, 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.
Jewish ossuaries from Emmaus
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.
Sextus Julius Africanus, a Christian of Roman origin, a scientist, a writer, and a former officer of the Roman army lived and worked at Emmaus between 220-230 AD. It seems unlikely that Julius Africanus would have been an isolated Christian at Emmaus so we can suppose that a Christian community already existed within the area.
According to Byzantine historians, Julius Africanus led a delegation of Emmaus residents to the Roman emperor Elagabalus asking him to assign this location the status of polis (a city). The request was granted, and Emmaus was renamed Nicopolis - City of Victory:
“In Palestine Nicopolis, which previously used to be called Emmaus, was founded as a city, the labour of the embassy on its behalf being undertaken by Julius Africanus, the writer of the ‘Chronicle’.”
Eusebius of Caesarea, Chronicle, 250th Olympiad (events of 221 AD), the text of 325 AD,
PL XXVII, 479, see the Latin text here, the translation is ours.
“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, 710, see the original text here, the translation is ours.
“In 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; Greek text edited by C. de Boor, Neue Fragmente des Papias, Hegesippus und Pierius in bisher unbekannten Excerpten aus der Kirchengeschichte des Philippus Sidetes, TU 5.2 (1888), p. 169, see here, the translation is ours.
Julius Africanus restored and decorated the town; the first church was probably built here at this time. According to later sources, Julius Africanus was the governor or even the bishop of Emmaus:
“Nicopolis, formerly Emmaus, was elevated to the rank of city, following the deputation in this regard by her governor, Julius Africanus, who wrote the Chronicles.”
Chronicon Paschale, 223d Olympiad, a 7th c. Byzantine chronicle; PG XCII, 657, see the original text here, the translation is ours.
“Africanus the Happy, Bishop of Emmaus, wrote a Commentary on the New Testament and a Chronicon.”
Abdisho bar Berika (Ebedjesu), Metropolitan of Nisibis and Armenia, Index of Biblical and Ecclesiastical Writings, Part 3, the text of 1298 AD;
the translation published at: http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/abdisho_bar_brika_syriac_writers_01_text.htm).
Rich archaeological evidence of the Roman city of Nicopolis has been found in the area of Emmaus. At a small distance to the north of the Byzantine basilica, a Roman bathhouse, dating to the 3d c. AD, was excavated. (see: Mordechai Gichon, The Roman Bath at Emmaus: Excavations in 1977, in: Israel Exploration Journal, Vol. 29, No. 2 (1979), p. 177ff, see here, M. Gichon, The Bath-house at Emmaus, BAIAS 1986-1987, see here ). 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. The water supply system of Nicopolis, including two aqueducts of the 3-5th c. AD were found at Ayalon-Canada park (see: Y. Hirschfeld, A Hydraulic Installation in the Water-Supply System of Emmaus-Nicopolis, IEJ 1978, p. 86-92, see here).
Roman bathhouse at Emmaus (3d c. AD, rebuilt during the Byzantine period)
Roman mosaic found near the bathhouse at Emmaus, courtesy Prof. Mordechai Gihon
Roman tomb at Emmaus (Park Canada-Ayalon)
installations at Emmaus
Several types of coins minted in Emmaus-Nicopolis about 220 AD, bearing an effigy of the Emperor Elagabalus, are known to the science (see: F. de Saulcy, Numismatique de la Terre Sainte, Paris, 1874, p. 175; Hill G. F., Catalogue of the Greek Coins of Palestine, London, 1914, p. 170; Hamburger L., Die beiden Palästinensischen Münzstätten Nikopolis Emmaus, Frankfurt, 1899, p. 8; W. Eck, D. Kossman, Emmaus Nikopolis: Die städtische Münzprägung unter Elagabal und angebliche Inschriften für diesen Kaiser, ZPE, 2016):
On the reverse side of this coin, Jupiter of Heliopolis is depicted, which indicates that the cult of this god was introduced by the Romans to Nicopolis.
On the reverse side of this coin there is an eagle within a wreath with spread wings below the legend: NEI / KOΠO / ΛIC (Nicopolis).
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 sceptre.
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, see here; K.-H. & Luisa Fleckenstein, Emmaus-Nicopolis Ausgrabungen 2001-2005, Novum Publishing, 2010, see here).
Roman period objects, found at Emmaus
Fragments of a statue of an eagle, made of Jerusalem stone, discovered during the diggings of 1924 in 'Amwas. According to L.-H. Vincent, the statue dates back to the 2nd-3d c. AD, it was situated at a gable of a building. (Vincent & Abel, "Emmaüs", Paris, 1932, pp. 104-105, 110, 175-177, illustrations 47, 50, 80, see here).
The reconstruction of the statue
by L.-H. Vincent
The fact that Nicopolis was venerated as the New Testament Emmaus by early Christians is confirmed by the authoritative manuscripts of the Gospel of Luke, indicating the distance of about one hundred sixty stadia (30 km, 19 miles) between Emmaus and Jerusalem (see: The Early Roman period; FAQs about Emmaus, question 2).
Another important indication of the ancient Christian veneration of Emmaus-Nicopolis is the Onomasticon of Eusebius, the Bishop of Caesarea, a true geographical dictionary of the Bible, written between 295-325 AD. (About the dating of Onomasticon see: T. D. Barnes, The Composition of Eusebius’ Onomasticon, JThS 26 (1975), p.412-415; Greville Freeman-Grenville, Foreword to The Onomasticon, published by “Carta”, Jerusalem, 2003).
Here is what it says about Emmaus:
“Emmaus, whence came Kleopas in Luke’s Gospel. The same is now Nikopolis, a famous city of Palestine.”
Speaking of other towns and villages of the Holy Land, Eusebius indicates their relative location to Nicopolis which gives us an additional proof about the site of the biblical Emmaus:
“Ailōn (Joshua 19, 43). A city of the lot of Dan, set aside for Levites. The village is Alous near Nikopolis…
Bethoron (Joshua 10, 10). Thither Joshua pursued the kings. It fell to the sons of Joseph, that is Ephraim. And there are two villages about twelve miles from Jerusalem on the road to Nikopolis. One is called Upper Bet-Horon, where Solomon lived, which is set aside for Levites…
Beroth (Joshua 9, 17; 18, 25). Below Gabaon. It is now a village near Aelia 7 milestones away on the way to Nicopolis…
Bethsames (Judges 1:33). A priestly city of the tribe of Benjamin, and even now it is ten milestones from Eleutheropolis eastwards to Nikopolis…
Gazer (Joshua 10, 33). The lot of Ephraim, set aside for Levites. And Joshua besieged it, killing its king. Solomon also built here. It is now called Gazara, a village of Nikopolis four milestones from it in the north…
Esthaol (Joshua 19, 41). The lot of Dan, where Samson died. Even now it is ten milestones from Eleutheropolis northwards on the way to Nikopolis…
Saraa (Joshua, 15, 33). A village within the borders of Eleutheropolis towards the north, about ten milestones away on the way to Nikopolis… ”
Onomasticon by Eusebius of Caesarea, G. S. P. Freeman-Grenville, trans., Jerusalem, 2003, see also: Das Onomastikon der Biblischen Ortsnamen, mit der lateinischen Übersetzung des Hieronymus, E. Klostermann, ed, Leipzig, 1904. see the original text here.
About the identification of the biblical Emmaus by Eusebius, see also: FAQs about Emmaus, Question 6