Set on a rock plateau above the Sea of Galilee, Sussita (also known also as Hippos-Sussita) was a major city in Roman and Byzantine times. It was first settled in the Hellenistic period, yet in the Roman times it became a member of a treaty of ten Romanized cities called Decapolis. In 2019, The Watchman representative Raj Nair and I reviewed the site, focusing on its links to the Christianity.
Sussita and the New Testament
Sussita is not mentioned by name in the New Testament, but it was a member of the Decapolis league. The Deca-polis (Greek for Ten-Cities) was a political treaty of ten cities, all pagan, that were developed and supported by the Romans. Accordingly, Sussita a sophisticated water system, a grid of street around a main avenue (Decumanos), a bath house, a theatre, and more. Sussita continued to thrive in Christian times, and at least four churches were erected in the city in the Byzantine period.
Sussita may have been referred to by Jesus during his Sermon on the Mount. Preaching on a hill somewhere near Capernaum, among others, Jesus stated, “A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.” (Mathew 4:15). It is possible that he pointed to Sussita, which is perched on a hilltop, to reffering to this statement.
During a different encounter, Jesus cured a person who was possessed by demons. He casted them into swine, making them ran with madness into the waters of the Sea of Galilee, and drown.
Since swine herders are also mentioned in the story (Matthew 8:33), it had to take place in the non- Jewish area around the Sea of Galilee. The site of the swine miracle is identified at Kursi, which is right next to Sussita. If so, perhaps Sussita is “the city” where the swine herders reported on the event.
Sussita has been excavated for more than 20 years by an expedition from Haifa University. Until 1967, Sussite was at the border with Syria. To this day, signs along the path to the site warn you of mines. The road leading to its eastern entry is not officially open, but people use it anyway. Especially in the spring months, a visit to the site is worth every effort. Carpets of blossoming flowers bloom in and around the site. And the view of the Sea of Galilee is simply breathtaking.
PS. While editing this post, I ran across a photo that reminded me when I visited Sussita with another TV production! Back in 2009 (I think) I brought The Naked Archaeologist, Simcah Jacobici, to the site. Unfortunately, the episode is not available on Youtube or Vimeo, but it can be watched for a fee on certain websites.