Byzantine Monastery Unearthed in Beit Shemesh, Israel

IMG_0528 ~As reported by Haaretz, archaeologists have uncovered what appears to be a major Byzantine-era monastery during pre-construction excavations at Beit Shemesh, Israel.

In an exciting development, the excavation includes “extraordinary mosaics” covering the floors of the church. These mosaics include some figures and motifs that seem to be very unique to the area.

Archaeologists said they found a major early Christian church, based on the discovery of extraordinary mosaics, crucifixes and iconic Christian architecture at a site in the central Israeli town of Beit Shemesh.

Based on the ceramic finds and coinage, the church was probably built in the 4th century C.E., and survived – even expanding, it seems, into a whole monastery complex – for about 300 years, through to the 7th century.

The monastery was used for 300 years, but apparently abandoned in the 7th century. Almost certainly its decline was directly due to the Muslim conquest of the area, roughly contemporaneous with its decline. However, it is suggested that the decline was not due to persecution per se by the Islamic conquerors, but rather by the monastery’s removal from the Byzantine sphere of economic influence and – critically – the financial support of the empire.

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Byzantine Istanbul 1: The Column of Constantine

IMG_2734 ~Probably my favorite thing about Istanbul is the historic surroundings. You can’t swing a street cat without hitting something several centuries old (not that you would). My fascination with all things Byzantine is well-fed in Istanbul, which, having been the center of the Roman/Eastern Roman/Greek/Byzantine Empire for more than a millenium, has more than its fair share of Byzantine wonders.

In this series of posts, I will catalog and explain these sights. It is my goal to find the remnants of Byzantine Constantinople in Turkish Istanbul. There is much left to find, but not all of it is out in the open.

Today, I will write about one of the oldest Byzantine sites in the city, the Column of Constantine. In fact, it would be hardly proper to call anything about the empire “Byzantine” when this column was built in 330. Its purpose was the commemoration of the founding of Nova Roma, the new Rome, and its elevation to the new capital of the Roman Empire, not yet split into eastern and western parts and still thoroughly Roman in character. Still, the raising of this column marked a new era in the Roman Empire with the shifting of power to the East, and as such is very significant to the Byzantinist.

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