Synagogue Archaeology in the Greco-Roman World
LEONARD VICTOR RUTGERS University of Utrecht
If you were strolling in the city center of Sardis, a prosperous town in Asia Minor, during the mid-fourth century you would inevitably happen upon a magnificent synagogue. This synagogue (Fig. 4.1) had been constructed as part of a larger building complex that also housed the city's gymnasium. Visitors to Apamea in Syria would also soon find their way to the synagogue. It was prominently located on the main street, only a few yards from the main intersection of the town. While on their way to the theater, people who walked down the main thoroughfare of Stobi, a major urban center in Macedonia (in the former Yugoslavia), could not fail to notice that one of the imposing facades lining the street belonged to a synagogue of considerable proportions. In Philippopolis (Plovdiv, in present-day Bulgaria) excavations have revealed only part of the town's layout, yet they have revealed enough to show that amid the buildings that have come to light so far, the synagogue was situated off the forum, or central square. In Edessa (southern Turkey), too, a synagogue once existed in the very center of this historic city. Its location explains how this building, in which Edessa's Jewish community must have taken considerable pride, could become an easy prey for zealous Christians, who destroyed it in the early fifth century C.E.
Although Diaspora synagogues were not always located in such prominent positions as those of Sardis, Apamea, Stobi, Plovdiv, and Edessa, it is clear that by the third century C.E. synagogues could be found in every corner of the Greco-Roman world. To date, we know of the existence of at least 150 such synagogues in places that are as far apart as Dura Europos on the Euphrates in Syria, Elche in southeastern Spain, Intercisa in Hungary, and H+̇amman Lif in Roman North Africa. Given the extent of the Jewish