A Provincial Palace (Praetorium) in Tiberias? The Archaeological Finds and the Evidence of the Literary Sources
Keywords:Tiberias, praetoria, palatial mansions, conventus circuit, assize city
The large building (ca. 2500 sq. m.) of interest in this article is located in the southern civic center of the old city of Tiberias. It is symmetrical in plan, a basilical hall oriented east–west served as its core, and it has been dated to the third or fourth century CE. Underneath, in a deeper layer, the remains of an earlier structure, dated to the first or second century CE, came to light. Due to its elaborate decorations, typical of Herodian times, the prevalent opinion is that these are the remains of the palace of Herod Antipas, the founder of Tiberias, that later served Agrippa I. If this is indeed the case, then after the Herodian dynasty ended with the death of Agrippa II (100 CE), this Herodian property came into the possession of the Roman provincial regime. In the early third century, Tiberias became a Roman colony, the seat of the great rabbinic academy and the Jewish patriarch. Rabbinic and Roman literary sources indicate that three emperors (Hadrian, “Antoninus,” and Diocletian) visited the city and that it was frequented regularly by Roman officials including the governor of Judea-Palestina, who held assizes that handed down death sentences there. Hence, Tiberias was an “assize city” in the judicial circuit system (conventus) of the Roman governor, who also served as the supreme judge. Accordingly, it is suggested that the palatial building of interest in this article was a praetorium—a provincial residential and administrative complex and not just an elaborate private mansion.