Posts Tagged ‘Rome’

Aphek and the Importance of Location

July 25, 2013

The other day, we spent a bit of time at Tel Afek, the site of…Aphek, also called Antipatris.

Ottoman Fortress at Tel Afek

Ottoman Fortress at Tel Afek

Biblically, we first see Aphek as one of the cities taken by the conquest and given to the tribe of Asher. By this time, it was already old, having been controlled by Egypt for quite some time. In I Samuel 4, the Philistines were encamped at Aphek when they routed Israel’s army and took the Ark of the Covenant as spoil. Despite the fact that that incident ended rather unpleasantly for them, they again set up base there to fight the Israelites–though, for some reason, the princes of the Philistines protested against David’s presence in their army.

Egyptian Palace at Tel Afek

Egyptian Palace at Tel Afek

History tells us that Herod would eventually receive Aphek as part of his kingdom, which he expanded, adding a Roman forum and cardo through the city. He renamed it Antipatris, after his father. It was thus to ancient Aphek that the chief Roman captain of the Antonia, Claudias Lysias, spirited Paul away when the Jews made their assassination plot against him (Acts 23).

The Roman Cardo at Tel Afek

The Roman Cardo at Tel Afek

But why was Aphek so hotly contested? From its foundation in the Chalcolithic Period (4500-3000 BC) to the Ottoman empire, it is clear why it was a popular piece of real estate. Located at the headwaters of the Yarkon River, Aphek sat on a strategic point where the coastal routes–including the Via Maris–were blocked by the Yarkon and its surrounding swampland, and funneled through a narrow pass towards Megiddo and the Jezreel Valley. Whoever controlled Aphek controlled the pass and any trade or armies moving through it.

Via Maris Funneled by Aphek (A BIBARCH™ Photo courtesy of High Top Media™. Copyright ©1997 High Top Media™. All Rights Reserved.)

Via Maris Funneled by Aphek
(A BIBARCH™ Photo courtesy of High Top Media™. Copyright ©1997 High Top Media™. All Rights Reserved.)

And, as a side note, the local donkey population at Tel Afek is also worth viewing. They are as curious about you as you are of them.

Citizen of the Local Donkey Population

Citizen of the Local Donkey Population

Avenches: A Rainy Day with Swiss Romans

October 4, 2012

Switzerland is a beautiful country, with rolling hills blending into majestic, wild mountains. The farmland is fertile and the climate in the lowlands is temperate, dotted with clear lakes and glacier-fed rivers. And with such mountains surrounding the country, the passes become strategic. Put all of these features together in an area, and you have the perfect location for a conquering nation to establish a colony.

Such as the Romans.

Around 500 BC, a tribe of Celts, the Helvetii, settled in Switzerland. In 58 BC, a young, upwardly-mobile Roman general named Julius Caesar conquered the Helvetii and absorbed the tribe into the empire. As germanic tribes invaded Helvetica and began posing a threat to this northern territory, Augustus Caesar (27-14 BC) sent the Helvetians back home to defend the borders. A city was established named Aventicum (after the goddess Aventica), which expanded as Tiberius (14-37 AD) sent more support to the northern borders. The city thrived and swelled with a population of around 20,000 under Claudius (41-54 BC), who established a trade route through the area. Tacitus tells us it was the capital of Helvetica in 69 AD, thanks to Vespasian, who grew up in Aventicum and made it a Roman colony.

Rome She Wolf

Roman She-Wolf in the Roman Museum, Avenches

This was a typical Roman city, with all the normal features: two theaters, baths, an imperial cult temple, a temple to Mercury, a forum, a geometric residential area, aqueducts–all tucked behind a protective Roman wall featuring 73 watchtowers. Gladiators fought in the amphitheater against each other, bears, wolves, and lynxes. People lived and died, their families building memorials to the dead. All the difference was, instead of building with glistening marble, they mostly used native limestone and Bündner schist (black rock with white quartz found in the Alpine region).

Golden Bust Emperor Marcus Aurelius Avenches

Golden Bust of Marcus Aurelius Found at the Imperial Temple in Avenches

When Rome fell, Germanic tribes moved in. The walls were repaired in Medieval times and more towers were built. Eventually, the Latin name took on a French flavor and became Avenches. Today, it is about 1 1/2 hours from Bern. The ruins are open to the public and the artifacts are displayed in the Medieval tower-turned-museum that overlooks the amphitheater.

Roman Theater Avenches Aventicum

Roman Amphitheater in Aventicum

Thus, on a drizzly, cloudy day, we took a train and found ourselves in the little town of Avenches. First was the museum, which gave us a great insight into the daily life of “northern Romans.” There were three particularly interesting finds: The gold bust of Marcus Aurelius (ca. 80 AD) from the temple and the remains of a statue of Agrippina the Elder, Augustus’ granddaughter, Tiberius’ adopted granddaughter, Germanicus’ wife, and mother of a den of vipers, including Emperor Caligula (37-41 AD, guy tried to make his horse a consul) and Empress Agrippina the Younger, wife of Claudius and mother of Nero. The last is a funerary stele dedicated to Pompeia Gemella,the “educatrix of the emperor.” Many historians believe this “emperor” was none other than Titus, who would go on to level Jerusalem in 70 AD before being crowned emperor. Much of Aventicum’s later success is ascribed to the tender feelings Titus had for his hometown and childhood nurse, Pompeia.

Pompeia Gemella Stele Titus educatrix

Stele Dedicated to Pompeia Gemella, Nurse to an Emperor

To get to the ruins, one must hike through plowed fields and cow pastures. But they are there and are splendid. The watchtower in the wall has been repaired and one of the city’s 5 aqueducts is visible. The amphitheater is still used for events, and baths are being excavated and repaired. And if you go on a rainy day, you will leave thoroughly soaked, and completely satisfied from contemplating historic ruins…all by yourself.

Cigognier Imperial Temple Aventicum

Roman Wall and Aqueduct Aventicum

The Repaired Roman Wall and Aqueduct