Abstract: The Temples of Omrit: the Long and Intriguing Life of a Sanctuary


The lecture presents the final results and interpretations of the temenos excavations (1999 – 2011) at the archaeological site of Omrit in northern Israel. The sanctuary underwent multiple phases of construction and remodeling. In the beginning, it was a small, rural sanctuary, designated as the Early Shrine, set among the rolling hills of the Golan Heights.  It consisted of a highly ornate, partially gilded pseudo-peripteral Corinthian temple sitting within a walled temenos. Long stretches of the wall itself were found still standing with its coat of colorful frescoes and rosettes rendered in stucco relief intact. The doors of the sanctuary seemed to have remained locked and closed but a small window provided visual access to the temple for passersby and travelers trekking along the intercity roadway connecting the coastal settlement of Tyre and the inland city of Damascus.

The small sanctuary was short lived and replaced by a new temple and temenos in about 20 BCE. The new building, Temple One, also a pseudo-peripteral Corinthian temple, was five times the size of its predecessor and seemingly imitated the architecture and decorative features of the Early Shrine though on a grander scale. Thankfully, the builders did not completely destroy the earlier sanctuary, but simply concealed it beneath and within the foundations and podium of the new temple.

And then some destructive force hit Temple One near the end of the 1st century CE and caused it to partially collapse.  The damage inspired a remodeling phase which resulted in a new peristyle temple, designated Temple Two. Its builders dismantled the wreckage of Temple One and came across the remains of the Early Shrine. They were impressed and while repairing and building new foundations the builders themselves and other interested patrons piously sacrificed in and around the earlier remains and protected them from further destruction.  Temple Two followed current architectural fashions of the large temenos temples of the Roman East, for example those at Baalbek and Palmyra, yet it too looked back to the Early Shrine and repeated some of its architectural features.

The lecture examines the changes in temple architecture through multiple phases of building and remodeling in light of the actions and decisions made by the temples’ architects, patrons and users.

Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:


Overman, J. Andrew and Daniel N. Schowalter. 2011. The Roman Temple Complex at Horvat Omrit : An Interim Report. BAR International Series 2205. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Overman, J.A., D.N. Schowalter and M.C. Nelson. 2011. Horbat ‘Omrit – 2009, Preliminary Report. Hadashot Arkheologiyot – Excavations and Surveys in Israel, Vol. 123. http://www.hadashot-esi.org.il/report_detail_eng.aspx?id=1638

Overman, J.A., D.N. Schowalter and M.C. Nelson. 2007. Horbat ‘Omrit 2007. Hadashot Arkheologiyot – Excavations and Surveys in Israel, Vol. 119. http://www.hadashot-esi.org.il/report_detail_eng.aspx?id=729&mag_id=114

Overman, J.A., J. Olive and M.C. Nelson. 2003. “Discovering Herod’s Shrine to Augustus: Mystery Temple Found at Omrit.” BAR March/April 29:2, 40-67.

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