(Ar., Majdal), site located on the western shore of the
Sea of Galilee, 3 km (2 ml.) north of Tiberias
and 5 km (3 ml.) south of Capernaum (32º49´ N,
35º31´E; map reference 198 x 247) and identified as ancient
Migdal by its Arabic name.
No remains of city walls have yet been
found at the site, but its borders are known on
three sides: to the east, the Sea of Galilee; to
the south, a cemetery; and to the west, the mountains.
It seems that it was a small town in the
early Hellenistic to Byzantine periods, also called Tarichea (“salted fish”)
and Migdal-Nunia (“the fish tower”)—names that reflected the main occupation
of its citizens—fishing. An underwater survey carried out by Ehud
Galili for the Israel Antiquities Authority in 1991 raised the
possibility that the town was named after a tower built
in the water, south of the town, with natural rock
as its base.
Magdala was a Jewish town founded in the Late Hellenistic
(Hasmonean) period. The town came under siege and a heavy
battle was fought there during the First Jewish Revolt against
Rome, when Titus attacked it from the Sea of Galilee
(Josephus, War 3.10.3). According to Josephus, six thousand people were
killed. The town is known later, in Christian tradition, as
the birthplace of Mary Magdalene, a follower of Jesús (e.g.,
Mt. 27:56). The town survived the Roman defeat of the
Jews, and its name appears a few times in Jewish
sources (J.T. Ber 9.3, Meg. 3.1; B.T.Yoma 1.2, see also
largest excavations at the site were carried out by Franciscans,
directed by Virgilio Corbo (1976), in 1971-1973 and 1975-1976. Five
levels were unearthed. The first features a well-designed building (9
x 7m) called a mini-synagogue by its excavators. It is
a one-room structure, with a flight of steps the excavators
interpreted as benches. On three sides of the rectangular building,
three rows of pillars 33 cm in diameter and with
Doric capitals were arranged in a U shape, with heart-shaped
pillars in the corners. The excavators identified two floors, one
above the other, with a fill about 30 cm deep.
They dated the first floor to the first century BCE
and the later floor to the first century CE. Water
canals around the walls support Ehud Netzer’s identification of the
building as a springhouse, rather than a very small and
of the structure a group of pools and a water
tower are dated to the Early-Late Roman period. The installations
are connected to the spring that supplied water to the
town. To the north an “urban villa” was excavated, and
to the south a large building with twenty-four rooms and
a large “piazza” adorned with pillars. These elements point to
a well-designed small town in the Roman period. According to
the excavators, the eastern side of the town was badly
damaged during the Jewish Revolt.
It is possible that the shipwreck found in
the Sea of Galilee close to Magdala and dated to
the first century CE is also a relic of that
war. The boat was found not far from the location
of the town’s ancient quay; both inside and near the
quay a few arrowheads and a typical first-century CE cooking
pot and oil lamp were recovered by Shelley Wachsmann.
A small salvage excavation
carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority in 1991, directed
by Hana Abu-Uqsa (1993), uncovered the remains of a private
building whose floors held storage jars, cooking pots, and assorted
small finds. The earliest coins, as in the Franciscan excavations,
are Hasmonean. It seems that the building was damaged during
the First Revolt but was later rebuilt and remained in
use until the second century. A Byzantine monastery was excavated
at the site, which, as at neighboring Tiberias, demonstrates the
social change that took place in formerly Jewish Galilee in
the Byzantine period.
A few hundred meters south of the site, a number
of decorated sarcophagi were unearthed that date to the third-fourth
centuries CE. A hoard of 188 bronze coins minted in
different cities was found nearby as well in 1973 (Meshorer,
Abu-Uqsa, Hana. ‘´Migdal.” Excavations and
Surveys in Israel 13 (1993): 28. Corbo, Virgilio. “Cittá romana
di Magdala: Rapporto preliminare dopo la quarta campagna di scavo,
1975” In Studia Hierosolyrnitana in onore del P. Bellarmino Bagatti,
vol. I, Studi archeologici, edited by Emmanuele Testa, pp. 355-378.
Studium Biblicum Franciscanurn, Collectio Maior; 22. Jerusalem, 1976.
“Piazza e villa urbana a Magdala.” Studium Biblicum Franciscanum/Liber Annus
28 (1978): 232-240. Corbo Virgilio. “´La rnini-synagogue de Magdala.” Le
Monde de la Bible, no. 57 (1989): 15.
“Alcuni osservazione sulla ceramica di Magdala.” In Studia Hierosolyrnitana in
onore del P. Bellarmino Bagatti, vol. I, Studi archeologici, edited
by Emmanuele Testa, pp. 338-354. Studium Biblicum Franciscanurn, Collectio Maior;
22. Jerusalem, 1976. Manns, Frédéric. “Magdala dans les sources littéraires."
In Studia Hierosolyrnitana in onore del P. Bellarmino Bagatti, vol.
I, Studi archeologici, edited by Emmanuele Testa, pp. 307-337. Studium
Biblicum Franciscanurn, Collectio Maior; 22. Jerusalem, 1976.
Meshorer, Ya’acov. “A
Hoard of Coins From Migdal.” ‘Atiqot 11 (1976): 54-71. Schneider,
A. M. The Church of the Multiplying of the Loaves
and Fishes at Tabgha on the Sea of Gennesaret and
Its Mosaics. London, 1937. Translation of the original German edition
Stefanski, Y. “Migdal.” Excavations and Surveys in Israel
5 (1986): 71. Discusses the ancient town´s northern border.
Shelley. The Excavations of an Ancient Boat in the Sea
of Galilee (Lake Kinneret). ‘Atiqot vol. 19. Jerusalem, 1990.