The siege and battle of Gamla are described in detail by Josephus (War 4.1-83). Elsewhere (Life 11, 24, 35, 37, 58-61, 71-2; War 2.20.6) Josephus tells of the prelude to these events: how Gamla was initially loyal to the Romans because it was in the hands of Agrippa II; how it turned rebellious under the influence of the refugees flowing in; how Josephus helped the inhabitants fortify the city and how Agrippa besieged it. He also tells of the skirmish between him and Sylla, general of Agrippa II, who tried to block the roads leading from Galilee to the Golan, and especially to Gamla. In the following pages I will attempt to assess the events at Gamla during the Revolt, as reported by Josephus and filtered through the archaeological evidence. 1
To consider the events at Gamla in light of the archaeological discoveries, a brief discussion on the identification of the site is in order, as this question has not yet been fully discussed in English (Syon 1995; contra Bar-Kochva 1976). The passage in War provides the key for the identification of the site, which “moved around” between several sites in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The previously accepted identification of Gamla with the site of Tel ed-Dra', in the Rukkad river-bed, now on the border of Israel with Syria, was proposed by Konrad Furrer in 1889. 2 This identification was based on the presumed preservation of the name Gamla in the name of the nearby village Jamleh, plus two faulty assumptions. One was that Tarichaeae, which is, according to Josephus, “across from Gamla on the far side of the lake, ” is at the southern extremity of the Sea of Galilee, at the modern site of Beth Yerach. The second was that across from Gamla should mean on the same geographical latitude. Tarichaeae is now identified with certainty at Magdala, on the northwest shore of the lake, and Josephus can hardly be credited with familiarity with geographical latitudes in the first century C.E. Gustav Dalman later “corroborated” Furrer's identification, based on a visit to the site (Dalman 1911).