Beit Ras

Beit Ras

Ancient name: Capitolias
  • Project name:

    Beit Ras (Capitolias): an archaeological project

  • Type of site:

    Ancient city; area of industrial activity

    Location:

    Jordan
    Near the city of Irbid (ancient Arbela) in northern Jordan
    Biblical region of Gilead, between the rivers Arnon and Jarmuk

    Dating:

    – Roman period (1st–4th century AD)
    – Byzantine period (5th–6th/7th century AD)
    – early Islamic/Umayyad period (7th–8th century AD)
    – early medieval period (Abbasid, Fatimid and Ayyubid periods, 9th–half of 13th century AD)

Most interesting finds:

– city defense wall (2nd–8th? century AD)
– winery (6th–7th century AD)
– area of industrial activity (installations connected with the production of wine, pottery and glass objects, as well as cisterns: Byzantine and Umayyad periods)
– architectural elements from the nearby church which had probably been destroyed by the Persians (AD 614)

History of research:

Investigated by the PCMA mission in:

2014–2016

Type of research:

geophysical survey, excavations

Directors:

Jolanta Młynarczyk (Institute of Archaeology, University of Warsaw)

Co-operating institutions:

– Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology, University of Warsaw
– Institute of Archaeology, University of Warsaw
– Department of Antiquities of Jordan

Additional information:

Archaeological excavations of the site began in the 1980s (C.J. Lenzen, Joint Excavation Project, with the participation of the Yarmouk University, Irbid and the Department of Antiquities of Jordan). The Polish mission started its research at the site in 2014 (electrical resistivity survey); in the following seasons (2015, 2016), archaeological excavations were conducted in two separate areas.

Description of the site and research:

At the site of the present-day town of Beit Ras there existed in antiquity the city of Capitolias, founded probably in the 1st century AD. In the Roman, Byzantine and early Islamic periods, from the 1st to the 8th century AD, Capitolias was among the most important towns of Syro-Palestine. Ancient sources mention that it belonged to the so-called Decapolis, a group of cities of Graeco-Roman character. Today, the area of Capitolias is covered with modern architecture, with the exception of a small part directly to the west of an imposing Roman-period theater (built in the 2nd century AD and undoubtedly functioning until the end of the Byzantine period), lying on the northern slope of the plateau occupied once by the ancient city and now by the modern town.

Since there were no structures in this area (only an olive grove), it was possible to gain knowledge about the last accessible part of ancient Capitolias, which functioned – in a different form and under a new name (Beit Ras) – until the late medieval period.

In one of the trenches, a mosaic-paved stone basin was found. It was divided into compartments by low walls and belonged to a winery. According to Arabic literary sources from the 6th–8th century, Beit Ras – Kapitolias was famous in the Byzantine and early Islamic periods for the wine it produced. The winery was established most probably in the Byzantine period (6th century?), but broken fragments of amphorae found nearby indicate that wine must have been produced in the vicinity at least until the half of the 8th century.

Not far from the winery basin, a rock-cut cistern was found, dating probably to the 6th century AD. It was in use for several centuries, as attested by the presence of fragments of early medieval pottery from the 9th–10th century AD. A fragment of a marble slab from the chancel screen of the church, remains of which are partially visible on the edge of the plateau above the winery, was found among the reused stone elements used in the casing of the cistern. An even more unique find from the winery basin, coming undoubtedly from this very church, was a miniature bronze spoon used probably for administering communion. Other elements of the church furnishings found nearby included a small marble column from the chancel and a fragment of a large marble tray. These discoveries confirm the earlier suggestions that the church had been destroyed, most probably during a Persian raid in the first quarter of the 7th century,

During the excavations, a 4-m-long section of the city defense wall, marking the northern limit of Capitolias, was also discovered. Fragments of pottery vessels found nearby prove that it was built in the Roman period, not later than the 2nd century AD. In the area adjoining the wall on the city side fragments of clay installations (production ovens?), as well as metal, glass(?) and pottery wasters were discovered. These finds point to the industrial character of this part of the town, not only in Byzantine times but also in the earlier (Roman) period.

The urbanization of this part of Capitolias ended probably in AD 749 with the catastrophic earthquake, after which the area was used only as a source of building material and grazing land. Rock-cut water cisterns (of Byzantine, or maybe even Roman origin) were used for several centuries, probably until the medieval period, for agriculture and pasture.

Project bibliography:

Burdajewicz, M. (w druku). Glass finds from Beit Ras, ancient Capitolias of the Decapolis. Recent Discoveries. Annual of the Department of Antiquities in Jordan

Młynarczyk, J. (w druku). Archaeological investigations in Beit Ras, ancient Capitolias, 2015: Preliminary report. Annual of the Department of Antiquities in Jordan

Burdajewicz, M. (2017). Glass finds from Beit Ras, ancient Capitolias (Jordan). Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean, 26/1, 665–692

Młynarczyk, J. (2017). Beit Ras (Capitolias): an archaeological project 2014–2016. Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean, 26/1, 473–504

Selected bibliography of the site:

Al-Shami, A.J. (2005). A new discovery at Bayt Ras/Capitolias – Irbid. Annual of the Department of Antiquities in Jordan, 49, 509–519

Lenzen, C.J. (2003). Ethnic identity at BeitRas/Capitolias and Umm al-Jimal. Mediterranean Archaeology, 16, 73–87

Lenzen, C.J. (2002). Kapitolias – Die vergessene Stadt im Norden. In A. Hoffmann and S. Kerner (eds), Gadara – Gerasa und die Dekapolis (pp. 36–44). Mainz am Rhein: Philip von Zabern Verlag

Lenzen, C.J. (1995). From public to private space: Changes in the urban plan of Bayt Rās/Capitolias. In Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan V (pp. 235–239). Amman

Lenzen C.J. (1990). Beit Ras Excavations: 1988–1989, Chronique archéologique. Syria, 67, 474–476

Lenzen, C.J. and McQuitty, A.M. (1988). The 1984 survey of the Irbid/Beit Ras Region. Annual of the Department of Antiquities in Jordan, 32, 265–269

Lenzen, C.J. and Knauf, E.A. (1987). Beit Ras/Kapitolias. A preliminary evaluation of the archaeological and textual evidence. Syria, 64, 21–46

Lenzen, C.J., McQuitty, A.M., and Gordon, R.L. (1986). Tell Irbid and Beit Ras excavations 1985. Annual of the Department of Antiquities in Jordan, 29, 151–159

Peeters, P. (1939). La passion de S. Pierre de Capitolias (+ 13 janvier 715). Analecta Bollandiana, 57, 299–333

Schumacher, G. (1890). Northern ‘Ajlun. London: Palestine Exploration Fund

Gallery:

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