1. "Banias and the Roman Near East"
2.  "A Brief History of Caesarea Philippi/Banias"
3.  Conferences


"Banias and the Roman Near East:  An Analysis of the Socio-cultural Institutions of Roman Banias from the Late First Century BC to the Fifth Century AD"

by Judd Burton

            In macrocosmic terms, the Roman Empire must be understood as a multicultural social and political entity.  Its diversity is manifest in the historical record, and that evidence prompts slow and deliberate consideration.  Likewise, it should come as no great surprise to us that the ethnic and cultural diversity should be illustrated at the microcosmic level.  Often, by examining the city within Roman territory as a unit of the Roman machine, one may discern the mechanics of a properly (at least proper in the mind of Roman imperial administrators) functioning and satisfactorily administrated community.  The Roman Empire is filled with examples and exceptions, and the Roman Near East had its own particular version of these ideal cities.  The waning of the first century BC was a temporal venue for the incubation of numerous Near Eastern cities which took on a distinctly Roman character, at least in matters of allegiance and patronage.  One such city entered upon the Roman stage bearing the name of Paneas, or modern Banias, an appellation conveying its regional curiosity, the Cave of Pan.[1]

            Indeed, it is religion that turns the eyes of the Roman Empire to Banias, as the Cave of Pan and the growing shrine subsequently become the pride of the city.  From a historical standpoint, however, it is quite safe to say that Banias is nearly invisible until the Roman era.  The site was little more than a simple shrine to Pan (Paneion) until the advent of Herod the Great’s public works projects in the region.[2]  Like other developing cities in the region, and the Roman Near East, Banias had many more Greek traits than it did Roman ones, persuading the use of the apt, if not somewhat ambiguous, Greco-Roman categorization.  It will be made clear that one of the keys to understanding Banias in the period was that Greco-Roman often meant the Roman way of being Greek.  Banias was an ethnically diverse city, as I shall discuss in the following pages.  For now, it is sufficient to note that Greeks, Romans, Itureans, Jews, and regional Semitic peoples called Banias home.  If, then, such cultural diversity was present at the site during the period of the Roman Empire, certain ethnographic and historical problems become evident, such as to what extent was Banias Roman?  And as such, how and where did Banias fit within the Roman Imperial schema?  To the degree that artifacts, documents, and inscriptions relate information at the institutional level, one may demonstrate that Banias had levels of Romanization.

            In order to understand Banias’ niche within the Roman Empire a somewhat unorthodox methodology and theoretical orientation is necessary.  While Banias was increasingly well known in the centuries of the Roman Empire, its voice should by no means be construed as a shout.  In order to hear the voices of those who established, administrated, and lived in Banias, the historian must become a sort of ancient ethnographer, an anthropologist.  The sources and inscriptions and archaeological record all represent a select group of informants with something crucial to illustrate regarding the structure of their society and its place in the Empire.  The informants are relatively few and we cannot, this side of history, choose with great accuracy those who represent a core, but we must treat them as such for they have some very interesting things to say.  As anthropologist Clifford Geertz observed “Great informants make great anthropologists,” and likewise great anthropology (or history in this instance).[3]  In this case, I rely on well-informed informants—residents, landowners, priests, and even Flavius Josephus—for the making of a historical narrative with an ethnographic tenor, as our focus is on one community and its relation to a larger socio-political venue.  This approach will allow for a more accurate analysis of how Banias existed within the Roman plan.

            The overall narrative of this history of Banias is one that is still forming.  Scholars such as archaeologist Andrea Berlin, archaeologist Vassilios Tzaferis, and religious scholar John Wilson and several other prominent academics have all lent their expertise to the mystery of Banias.  Essentially, Banias’ pre-Roman history is sketchy at best.  We do know of Greek administration of the region but the city itself is a phenomenon of the Roman period.  In 63 BC, Pompey leads the Roman conquest of the area, and in particular, divides the Iturean kingdom, of which Banias was part, into four districts.  It afterwards passes under the administration of local Iturean and Greek rulers ending with the Iturean king Zenodorus.[4]  With the death of Zenodorus, Roman favor fell upon the Herodians and Augustus gave administration of the region to them.[5]

            It is here that the story of Roman Banias truly begins, on the steps of the Augusteum built by Herod near the Paneion in 19 BC.[6]  However, before investigation can proceed, we must familiarize ourselves with the people of the Banias region.  In fact, ethnicity is the first key to understanding the Roman nature of Banias.  A survey of the people of Banias begins with its natives, most likely the Itureans.  The Itureans were a group of semi-nomadic Aramaic tribes ranging over a large area in the Near East, with a heartland in the Beka’a Valley.  The Itureans developed into dynasts during the Seleucid period in order to strengthen political unity against an ever-changing political dynamic in the region.[7] Jews too, while not in great numbers, resided in the territory.  Phoenicians and Canaanites comprise the other major groups of Semitic peoples either travelling through or residing within the region of Banias.[8]  Such ethnic groups long dominated the cultural landscape of Banias, surviving beyond the Roman era.  However, with the advent of Alexander the Great, Semites were joined quickly by the Greeks.  Under the Greeks, Banias gained a name, and a shrine at the yawning cave for which it was so famed in antiquity.[9]  Nearly two centuries of Hellenic influence left an indelible mark on the region, though the shrine was little more than a country chapel.  The Romans, as aforementioned, first came with the general Pompey, and in greater numbers after the transference of territory to Herod the Great in 21 BC.  Banias can only be said to have ever had a minimal Roman population, and an only slightly larger Latinized segment of local society.  Nonetheless, Banias and its people became a component in the Roman imperial equation.

            Several personal names from inscriptions provide further clues to the ethnic and cultural spectrum of Roman Banias.  Roman names such as Marcellinus, Victor, Valerius Hispanus, Agrippa, Marcus, Agrippias, Agrippinus, Agrippine, Domne, Marcius, Lucius Flaccus, Lucius Nonius Marci filius Splenididus, Marionas (son of Publius), Aristo, Quadratus (also named Marcellus son of Selamanes, Ulpias Priscus, and L. Septimus Octavius all occur in inscriptions at Banias dating from the first and second centuries AD.  The proliferation of Roman names reflect possibly a degree of Romans in residence, but certainly connote the local tradition of more than a century of loyalty to the Herodians.  The most likely scenario is that some of these men were Itureans serving as auxillaries, but the slight possibility exists for veterans of the Roman army residing at Banias as well.[10]  Not surprisingly, a number of Greek names also turn up in the epigraphical evidence.  Melas, Theophilos, Lysimachus, Alexandros Cyrillos, and Maronas all appear in various inscriptions.  The strong probability exists that Greek stock from the Seleucid era remained in the area, and accounts for Greek names at the site.[11]  However, Semitic names also appear in Hellenized form, as in the case of Marinos, son of Publisu Aristo, and the names Selamanes, Taia, and Silas.[12]  The picture that forms from the names is one of ethnic diversity, and certainly, a population that has experienced a degree of Romanization.

            After the people themselves, the various names for Banias during the Roman era also speak to its affiliation with Rome.  The first name which illustrates this connection is Caesarea Philippi.  Herod’s son, Philip II, became ruler (tetrarch) of the northernmost territory of his father’s old kingdom, which the Romans had divided into three regions, one allotted to each of Herod’s sons.  “Philip built Caesarea near the sources of the Jordan, in the district of Paneas,” as Josephus tells us.[13]  Philip began constructing his capital in 3 BC, and the name is an obvious tribute to Augustus, and later Tiberius (when Philip embellishes the city), in his choice of ‘Caesarea.’  As the capital, Caesarea Philippi served as a visible link between the Herodians and the Roman emperor.  In an effort to pander to Rome, Agrippa I, Philip’s cousin and successor (and friend to Caligula), changed the name of Caesarea Philippi to Neronias in 61 AD, in honor of then Emperor Nero.  Josephus relates “At this time King Agrippa enlarged Caesarea Philippi, and renamed it Neronias in honor of Nero.”[14]  That name, however flattering of Nero and reassertive of the city’s loyalties, fell out of use in 68.  The name would change yet again to Paneas or Caesarea Paneas, an epithet and token of its allegiance which it retained for the remainder of the Roman era.

            Political organization at Banias is primarily Hellenistic, which ironically also illustrates its Roman character.  Cities in the Roman Near East typically did adopt Hellenic government, especially given pre-imperial traditions of Hellenism.  In its existence as Caesarea Philippi—as with subsequent incarnations—Banias was Greek in basic city structure, conforming to the  “polis” or “poleis” (poliV/poleiV) model.[15]  Josephus, St. Matthew, and St. Mark provide us with clues regarding the municipal arrangement of the city.  From both the aforementioned expansion by Philip, and literary sources, one may infer the general size of Banias. Josephus clearly took Banias to be a city of some importance when recounting that “Philip had also built Paneas, a city at the fountains of the Jordan, he named it Caesarea.”[16]  The authors of the gospels expand on this subject by illustrating the urban and sub-urban aspects of Banias.  Each passage addresses the mission of Jesus and his disciples in the region of Caesarea Philippi.  Matthew is the most general in describing their environs, stating that “Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi.”[17] Here the author uses “mere” (merh) from the word for “part” or “region” (meroV), to suggest part of a larger district.[18]  Mark is more specific in conveying that “Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi.”[19]  The word for “villages” in this passage is from “kome” (kwmh), meaning “village” or “small town.”[20]  Mark’s phrasing implies a commercial network of agrarian villages connected to an urban center.  While Banias may test the limits of the “polis” model, it nonetheless adheres to a generally Greek municipal model.[21]  Noted historian of the Roman Near East Fergus Millar noted that the distinction between “polis” and village is not always a clear one, but the Hellenic model pervaded the region, and it is significant that Banias found its political and cultural expression in the rubric of the Roman Empire.  Dense networks of villages in the Roman Near East typified the area, and Banias fit neatly into that scheme.[22]

            The Greek nature of Banias’ arrangement and clustering is evident, but its internal urban layout is undeniably Roman.  Despite some limitations from geography, such as the cliff face on the north side and rivers cutting along the west and south sides, city planners and engineers organized public buildings along the typical Roman street grid as terrain allowed.  Archaeologists have uncovered the colonnaded Cardo Maximus, paved with basalt, as well as the Decumanus, running from east to west.[23]

            Individuals who have left epigraphic evidence bring city functions at Banias into sharper focus.  For instance, an inscription with a provenience of ten meters above the Court of Pan near a niche, clarifies the composition of city government.

                        Agrippas, son of Markos, archon, in the year 223, having

                        received divine instructions in a dream, dedicated the goddess

                        Echo, together with Agrippias,his spouse, and Agrippinos and

                        Markos and Agrippas, bouletai, and Agrippine and Domne

                        their children.[24]

There are two notable features in this religious dedication which indicate the Greek nature of Banias’ government.  First, there is a clear connection, if not profound loyalty, to the old Herodian dynasty, which suggests that some of that bloodline remained among the local elite.  Secondly, and more importantly, there is mention of two very specific city offices, those of “archon” (arcon), the chief magistrate, and “bouletai” (bouletai), the town councilors.[25]  In essence, the offices of mayor and his advisors are present in the dedicatory inscription.

            The city also appears to have been well-accommodated with a number of municipal services.  These included piping and waterworks underneath the city, fed by nearby springs and rivers.  The first impression of Banias must have been stark and memorable as one could hear the roar of the river as well as the spouting of water from fountains and waterworks.  While these functioned well enough for persons living in the city proper, and for public monuments such as fountains, persons living in the surrounding villas and sub-urban areas acquired water at great expense.  This curious fact may seem ironic given the proximity of water, however, most outlying residences were above the topography of nearby water sources.  Aqueducts piped in water from the springs of Mount Hermon, and patrons received water through an intricate system of ceramic and lead pipes, complete with an ancient metering system for accurate billing.[26]

The Herodian territory in Palestine and Syria comprised a client kingdom, loyal to Rome and her policies.  For the duration of the first century AD, the client kingdom structure formed the political bedrock of Herodian administration.

                        Caesar [Augustus] bestowed his country, which was no small

                        one, upon Herod; it lay between Trachon and Galilee, and

                        contained Ulatha, Paneas,and the country round about.  He

                        also made him one of the procurators of Syria,and

                        commanded that they should do everything with his


Herod received the territory to establish order to a region beset by raiders, a feat the Romans were all too willing to oblige.[28]  Thus began the client kingdom of Herod the Great, particularly the portion which would pass to his son Philip.  The Roman Imperial trust engendered in Herod’s family passed to Philip and as tetrarch Philip controlled Gaulinitis, Trachinitis, Batanea, and Paneas.  The Greek cities of the Decapolis were directly under the control of Philip from Banias, whose administration of the regions belied Roman input and influence.[29]  The dependent client kings (ethnarchs and tetrarchs) were direct links between Roman authority and ruled territories.  Rome depended on these entities for tribute, military support when needed, and loyalty, and in return she bestowed favor.[30]  However, the client kingdom system vanished with the death of Agrippa II, and after 105, the last of the Nabatean client kingdoms ended.  Thereafter, frontier concerns dictated that more formal control be employed on the far reaches of the Roman Empire.[31]  Herodian territory in the north  (including Banias), vacillated between provincial and tetrarchial status for the second half of the first century, only to become part of the province of Syria (approximately AD 100), and later Syro-Phoenicia in the second century.[32]

            With the establishment of local politics, the regional economy was free to develop.  Banias was fortunate in its location on the highway between Tyre and Damascus.  Goods continually passed through the city center on the east-west thoroughfare, allowing Banias to control the traffic and make a profit at the same time.[33]  In addition, the fertile fields around the city and abundant water supply created an ideal agro-pastoral economy.  Farmers could cultivate wheat in the temperate climate as well as the distinctive red-colored rice found in the nearby Huleh Valley.  A host of other produce including walnuts, sesame seeds, and Damascene plums contributed to the health of the economy.  Herders raised sheep and goats in the region, no doubt giving regular thanks to Pan at his shrine.[34]

            Agropastoralism was certainly not the only element of Banias’ economy.  An inscribed weight found in unstratified debris from the western portion of Banias tells the story of a marketplace economy.  The inscription reads “A third of the local libra.  (Under the authority of) Marinos”[35]  The weight dates to approximately AD 100, to the period following the incorporation of Banias into the province of Syria.  Our informant is one Marinos and is most likely the agoranomos, the elected official who controlled order in the marketplace.  The name Marinos is common and appears frequently in various inscriptions from Palestine and Phoenicia.[36]

            Banias also minted its own coins at various times during its history.  This fact is evident from the bounty of numismatic data recovered from the site to date.  The Banias mint manufactured coins during the time of Philip II, throughout the second and third centuries, and the remainder of the Roman era punctuated by a gap in the numismatic data between the early fifth and later sixth centuries AD.[37]  Many coins depict religious imagery and dedicatory iconography, yet another mechanism with which to curry Roman favor.  Such currency production speaks to a stable and respected economy.[38]

            As for other manufacturing, we may infer a wide range of professions.  Skilled artisans were necessary for the production of buildings and other public works.  Carpenters, masons, idol makers, clothiers, and other laborers must have taken part in the regional economy, given the evidence for a monitored marketplace.  More specialized individuals, such as physicians also called Banias home, given the shrine to Asclepius in Banias.   An inscription by a local physician is telling in this case:

                        To Heliopolitan Zeus, the father, for the salvation of our lords

                        the emperors,Quadratus, also named Marcellus son of

                        Selamnes, physician, dedicated(this statue of) Asclepius,

having made a vow, with his wife and children.Year 65 (AD


The dedicant is a physician from the region of Banias, offering a statue of Asclepius.  Other occupations such as potters are also well-attested.  The Court of Pan provided great need for votive offerings and ritual meals, which in turn necessitated the use of ceramics.[40]

            Property distribution in the city and amongst the local landowners seems to have been partitioned by boundary stones, which were common in the Near East.  There are two boundary stones bearing note in this instance.  One bears an inscription reading “Marker designating the boundary between the Sanctuary of Pan and the city.”It marked the estate boundary between the temple of Pan and the territory of the city of Banias proper.[41]  Another boundary stone found near Banias bears a Greek inscription which not only illustrates the role of such stones, but connects it to the reign of Diocletian.  It reads “Diocletian and Maximian, august Caesars, and Constantius and Maximian, Caesars, have ordered (this) stone to be set up to define the boundary of the farm adjoining the villa of Chresimianos (placing the work) under the care of the censitor.”[42]  A proliferation of stones in the Golan, dated to 297 when they were surveyed, suggests that land taxation in the Banias region increased during Diocletian’s reign.[43]  These features are congruent with Diocletian’s tax reforms beginning that year, which levied taxes at a higher rate throughout the empire.

The overall picture of the economy is one of vibrancy.  The hardships of the Diocletian era are exceptional.  A healthy economy is good for stable tribute and taxes, which is very Roman, and Banias had a stable economy.

            Social organization at Banias appears to be typical of the region, and stratified due to the range of economy present.  We have already seen the parade of the Herodian dynasts during the first century AD, from Philip to Agrippa II, who were representative of the ruling class.  Also, as epigraphic evidence has shown, the ruling aristocracy during Banias’ provincial history shared ties with the Herodians.  The names of the ruling class and local bureaucracy during the second and third centuries AD reflect connection with the Herodians, not Greeks who descended from the Seleucids.  A significant number of Banias residents must have been small landowners, businessmen, and civil servants.  Ground surveys at Banias and the surrounding area reveal villas with elaborate mosaic floors and plaster walls, testifying to the regional wealth of the upper and middle classes.  It is also clear that tenants would have been necessary to carry out the labor of agropastoralism on the farmland outside Banias.  The combination of ruling aristocracy and a diverse market economy created a stratified society at Banias, with an as yet undetermined ethnic dispersal amongst the three tiers.[44]

Without a doubt, religion is the central feature of Roman Banias.  Indeed Banias has taken several of its names from its patron deity Pan, including Paneas, Caesarea Paneas, and Banias.  In many ways, religion is the entire reason for the existence of Banias.  Certainly, Herod chose the site with that in mind, building a city around an existing shrine (to Pan).  Like so many elements of Banias, the religion is Greco-Roman and therefore syncretistic.  The shrine to Pan, a large gaping cave, is central to the religious history of Roman Banias.  It had been known to the Greeks and well-established by the time Augustus ceded the region to Herod the Great in 21 BC.[45]  Pan’s country shrine—the Paneion—was actually a gaping cave in the side of the red cliffs of Banias.  Numerous inscriptions mention Pan and his priests at Banias.  In the year 148, one epigraph reads “For Pan and the Nymphs, Victor, son of Lysimachos dedicated her a likeness in stone of Hermes, child of Maia, son of Zeus, having made a vow together with his children.”[46]  “The priest Victor, son of Lysimachos, dedicated this goddess to the god Pan, lover of Echo” reads another from the same priest.[47]  A priest of Pan identifies himself as Valerios in a dedication in the year 178:  “… Valerios Hispanos, priest of the god Pan…”[48]  Pan’s cult survived and prospered the entire Roman era, becoming more urban and cosmopolitan with each century, only dying out by the beginning middle of the fifth century.[49]

The most demonstrably Roman attribute of religion at Banias was the emperor cult.  Most Roman of all buildings would have been the Augusteum, which Herod the Great built.

            So when he [Herod] conducted Caesar to the sea, and was

            returned home, hebuilt him a most beautiful temple, of the

            whitest stone, in Zenodorus’s country,near the place called

            Panlure….Herod adorned this place, which was already avery

            remarkable one, still further by the erection of this temple,

                        which he dedicated to Caesar.[50]

The Augusteum remained central to Roman religion at the site, although it was most likely converted to accommodate the addition of Heliopolitan Zeus during the reign of Marcus Aurelius.[51]  Inscriptions abound which invoke the health of the emperors, and also mention other gods.  Consider the following, the completion of Valerios’ dedication:

                        For the preservation of our lords, the Emperors, Valerios

                        Hispanos, priest of the god Pan, (dedicated) the Lady

                        Nemesis and her shrine which was made by cuttingaway the

                        rock underneath, with an iron fence. Year 180 in the month

                        of Apellainos.[52]

In the Roman period, there is a pronounced connection between Nemesis and the Roman state and its games.  The following example also illustrates allegiance to Rome.

                        To Heliopolitian Zeus and to the god Pan who brings victory, 

                        for the salvation of our lord Trajan Caesar, with his entire

                        house Maronas son of Publisu Aristo has dedicated this holy



This marble inscription mentions Trajan by name, and therefore dates to his reign from 98 to 117.  A later inscription in Latin intones the good health of the emperor: “For the good fortune of the Emperor [M(arcus) Aur(elius) An]toninus Aug(ustus), son of the Emperor Ant(oninus) Aug(ustus).”  Scholars have concluded that the emperor in the inscription is Elagabalus, and dates to his reign between 218 and 222.[54]

A veritable procession of Greek and Roman deities gathered at the Court of Pan during

The days of the Roman Empire.  Deified emperors, Hermes, Zeus, Apollo, Maia, Nemesis, Echo, Tyche, Asclepius, and various Nymphae each had shrines and temples in Banias over the centuries.  A vigorous and active religious life including priests and supplicants is well attested in the archaeological record by a corpus of ceramic votives and other offerings.[55]        

            Christians and Jews were also present at Banias.  The first half of Roman administration was less than ideal for both groups, but there religions were generally tolerated well.  After the advent of Constantine and the Christianization of the empire, the Christian community at Banias grew and enjoyed elevated status, though not to the exclusion of the pagan traditions which continued throughout the duration of Roman Banias.[56]

As the ancient informants relate their cultural artifacts to us, one final aspect of Banias society bears note in the argument for its Roman traits.  The military seems little more than subtext in the story of Banias, however, it is an important part of the history of the site.  Rome had an obvious military interest in the Near East in general, as ten of the 33 legions were stationed in various locations in that portion of the empire.[57]   The military chapter of Banias’ history is one of the most puzzling narratives, and an incomplete one at best.  The verifiable presence of the Roman army at Banias in the form of a colony or garrison would add depth to Banias’ Roman nature, but such evidence is speculative.  Even if this is the case, there are still literary and epigraphic sources which suggest that the Roman army and auxiliaries were part of the Romanization of Banias.

Banias was a city born out of conflict.  Augustus charged Herod with bringing order to the region by quelling rebellious tribes such as the Itureans, which he did.[58]  The first Roman military presence in the region, however, was Pompey and his army, arriving in the Levant in 66 BC, and quickly establishing the province of Syria, while the Itruean kingdom eventually passed to Herod in later decades.[59]  It is unlikely that any Roman garrison was stationed at Banias during the first century BC and the first half of the first century AD, as the armies of Herod and his heirs performed military functions.  However, Roman military presence becomes more marked with the First Jewish-Roman War.  When Titus and Vespasian began their campaign, they passed through Banias amiably, a testament to the city’s allegiance to Rome.

But Vespasian, in order to see the kingdom of Agrippa, while the king persuaded himself so to do, (partly in order to his treating the general and his army in the best and most splendid manner his private affairs would enable him to do, and partly that he might, by their means, correct such things as were amiss in his government,) he removed from that Cesarea which was by the sea-side, and went to that which is called Cesarea Philippi and there he refreshed his army for twenty days, and was himself feasted by king Agrippa, where he also returned public thanks to God for the good success he had had in his undertakings.[60]


He continues:


            Now at the same time that Titus Caesar lay at the siege of Jerusalem, did Vespasian go on board a merchantship and sailed from Alexandria to Rhodes; whence he sailed away ,in ships with three rows of oars; and as he touched at several cities that lay in his road, he was joyfully received by them all, and so passed over from Ionia into Greece; whence he set sail from Corcyra to the promontory of Iapyx, whence he took his journey by land. But as for Titus, he marched from that Cesarea which lay by the sea-side, and came to that which is named Cesarea Philippi, and staid there a considerable time, and exhibited all sorts of shows there. And here a great number of the captives were destroyed, some being thrown to wild beasts, and others in multitudes forced to kill one another, as if they were their enemies.[61]


Josephus also relates that Titus returned in order to celebrate his triumph and parade his Jewish captives, even throwing them into the arena to fight other men and beasts as well.[62]  While it is tempting to hypothesize that some veterans of the Roman army retired at Banias, that is not altogether clear at this stage.  The only definite conclusion is that this display of hospitality to Titus and Vespasian was visible evidence of where Banias’ allegiance lay. 

            The Herodian heirs continued to wield considerable influence with Rome, and were able to operate a modestly independent foreign policy.  However, they were always careful to mobilize their resources in favor of Roman causes.  In another display of military allegiance to Rome, Agrippa II sent some 2000 cavalry and 2000 infantry and archers, recruited from the region, to Jerusalem to fight on the Roman side.[63] With the death of Agrippa II in 93, Banias and the Herodian tetrarchy passed into the jurisdiction of the province of Syria.  In 193 Rome split the province into Syria-Cole and Syro-Phoenicia, with Banias becoming part of the latter.[64] 

            There are some pieces of epigraphic evidence which bear note in this context.  One is incised on a marble plaque in Latin: “To L(ucinius), Nonius, son of Marcus, of the tribe of…Splendidus, prefect of the…cohort, tribune of the military cohort of Thracians…,…centurion of the latter cohort dedicates this to his patron.”[65]  The dedicant is a prefect of an unknown military cohort, and tribune of the Cohors (I) Militaria Thracum.  The provenience of the plaque is the shrine of Pan, which is logical since Pan was worshipped regularly by soldiers.  He was most likely the commander of an equestrian unit.  Military cohorts were rare and known lists of them from Syria and Judea contain only one unit of that type, identified with a “T”:  I Militaria Thracum.  This unit was only in Syria in 88 and 91, and last appears in the region in a diploma of Syria-Palestina in 139, which gives us some temporal context.  As a whole, this individual’s characteristics are congruent and acceptable for an auxiliary cohort, a venue in which centurions were often local perigrini.  This inscription is important because it reflects a stage when the unit was based in the vicinity of Banias, perhaps transferred back to the region to ensure ease of assimilation as the area became part of the province of Syria.[66]

            The abundance of Roman names in inscriptions has been discussed already.  Yet, within the rubric of military analysis, the question arises: why were there so many Roman personal names at Banias?  Currently there is no conclusive evidence for a settlement of Roman veterans at Banias.  It is, however, safe to conclude from Latin inscriptions, that these epigraphs, occurring in the first and second centuries especially, should be assigned to men of the region who served in the Roman army and thereby underwent a degree of Latinization.[67]

 For the remainder of Banias’ history during the Roman era, the military is little more than understood as a legionary an auxiliary presence in the region, in addition, of course, to aristocratic forces.   However, the region remained strategically important to Rome as was part of the Eastern frontier.  The student of Roman history is quite familiar with the increasing obsession for securing the borders of the empire during the ensuing centuries.

With a survey of the Romanization of Banias, we now return to our original and central questions.  To what degree is Banias Roman?  How does Banias function within the larger context of the Roman Empire?  As for the first question, I have largely answered that query in detail.  The second question, which I now address, requires the integration of those details into Roman Imperial expectations.

If the aforementioned details are taken in context and compositely, then the general answer to the question of Banias’ place in the Roman Empire rests on its allegiance to Rome.  Throughout its history, whether pagan or Christian, it had little difficulty with loyalty to the Roman Empire.  As we have seen, Herod the Great sets the precedent by currying favor with Augustus, gaining the Iturean kingdom, and building an Augusteum near the Paneion.  His son Philip  honored Augustus by dubbing the city Caesarea Philippi.  Agrippa I briefly changed the name to Neronias in honor of Nero.  His welcome of Titus and Vespacian also speak volumes to the love for Rome on the part of Herodians.  Later inscriptions supplicating for the health and fortune of emperors, and the emperor cult itself illustrate the connection to Roman spirituality.  And while Banias was Hellenistic in its structure, it bore a Roman visage and a reputation for Roman favor. Allegiance to Rome is the most demonstrably “Roman” aspect of Banias, and remained so until Banias passed from Roman to Byzantine control during the fifth century.

Though Banias was not a Roman colony proper, it has all the signs of a colonized region.  The colonialism under which Banias thrived bears a striking resemblance to the short-lived American imperial colonies of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  In this scenario a degree of autonomy was allowed so long as the colonized countries, such as Guam, Cuba, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico, adhered to American policy and norms.  Likewise, Banias generally obeyed Roman policy, and was therefore able to prosper. 

If Banias appears inconspicuous and quiet amidst other cities in the Roman Near East, and other parts of the empire, it is due to the fact that it had a longevity invested in the well-being of its residents.  Her rulers did more than keep the peace with Rome, they sought her blessings.  In summation, Banias is in many ways the model Roman provincial city.  Her institutions and population display the cultural and religious tolerance engendered in Roman policy.  She made few waves, and that pacific trait was most agreeable with Roman administrators, who more and more, looked to ensure stable frontiers.  Banias was one less city to worry about, and this made her valuable to the Roman Empire.  While the religious history of Banias makes the town and region unique, it is the collective social history that makes it typical.  Banias is a microcosm of the Roman Empire (the Roman Near East in particular) with its diversity, multiculturalism, and allegiance to Rome, and as such deserves additional attention and research.

[1]  Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 15.10.13.

[2]  Ibid., Wars of the Jews, 1.21.3.

[3] Clifford Geertz, After the Fact:  Two Countries, Four Decades, One Anthropologist (Cambridge:  Harvard, 1995): 61.

[4] Jacov Ma’oz, “A Brief History of Banyas from the Third Century BCE through the Fifteenth Century CE,” Unpublished Report: 3; see also Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 15.360.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Josephus, Ant., 15.10.3.

[7] John Wilson, Caesarea Philippi: Banias, The Lost City of Pan (London: I.B. Tauris, 2004): 7.

[8]  Wilson, Caesarea Philippi, 1-2.

[9]  Ibid.,  3.

[10] Benjamin Isaac, “Inscriptions from Banias,” Unpublished Report, 21-2.

[11] Isaac, “Inscriptions,” 22.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Josephus, War, 2.167-69

[14] Ibid., Ant., 20:211.

[15]  A.N. Sherwin-White.  Roman Law and Roman Society in the New Testament (Oxford: Oxford University, 1963): 127.

[16] Josephus, Ant. 18.1.

[17]  Matthew 16:13.

[18] Barbara Aland et al, The Greek New Testament (Munster: United Bible Societies, 1994): 61, glossary 113-4.

[19]  Mark 8:27.

[20] Aland, Greek New Testament, 151, glossary 105.

[21]  Sherwin-White, Roman Law, 133.

[22]  Furgus Millar, The Roman Near East: 31 BC-AD 337 (Cambridge:  Harvard University, 2001): 16-18.

[23]  Wilson, Caesarea Philippi, 52.

[24]  Isaac, “Inscriptions from Banias”, 4; see also Ioannes Franzius, Corpus Inscriptionum Graecum, V. 3 (New York:  Hildesheim, 1977): 244, number 4539.

[25]  Isaac, “Inscriptions from Banias,” 4.

[26]  Wilson, Caesarea Philippi, 53-4.

[27]  Josephus, Ant. 15.10.13.

[28]  Ma’oz, “Brief History of Banyas,” 72.

[29]  Millar, Roman Near East, 41-3.

[30]  Ibid., 41-2; see also Ma’oz, “Brief History of Banyas,” 58-9.

[31]  Sherwin-White, Roman Law,  136.

[32]  Millar, Roman Near East, 51-61; for absorption by Syria, see Tacitus, Annals, 12.23.1.

[33]  Ma’oz, “Brief History of Banias,” 69.

[34]  Wilson Caesarea Philippi, 53.

[35]  Isaac, “Inscriptions from Banias,” 20.

[36]  Ibid.

[37]  Andrea Berlin, “The Archaeology of Ritual:  The Sanctuary of Pan at Banias/Caesarea Philippi,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 315 (August 1999): 41.

[38]  Wilson, Caesarea Philippi, 13, 40.

[39]  Isaac, “Inscriptions from Banias,” 5.

[40]  Berlin, “The Archaeology of Ritual,” 36-41.

[41]  Isaac, “Inscriptions from Banias,” 20; see also SEG 32, no. 1499.

[42]  B.W. Bacon, “A New Inscription from Upper Galilee,”  American Journal of Archaeology  11.3 (September 1907): 316-17.

[43]  Wilson, Caesarea Philippi, 49; see also Ma’oz, “Brief History of Banyas,” 14.

[44]  Wilson, Caesarea Philippi, 51-3.

[45]  First mentioned as Paneion in Polybius, Histories, 16.18.2 and 28.1.3.

[46]  Isaac, “Inscriptions from Banias,” 1; see also CIG 4538b, 1179.

[47]  Ibid., 2; see also CIG 4538.

[48]  Ibid., 3; see also CIG 4537.

[49]  Berlin, “The Archaeology of Ritual,” 41-3.

[50]  Josephus, Ant. 15.10.3.

[51]  Wilson, Caesarea Philippi, 44.

[52]  Isaac, “Inscriptions from Banias,” 3; see also CIG 4537.

[53]  Ibid., 10-11.

[54]  Ibid., 12.

[55]  Berlin, “The Archaeology of Ritual,” 27-42.

[56]  Berlin, “The Archaeology of Ritual,” 27-43.

[57] Millar, Roman Near East, 3.

[58] Ibid., 40.

[59] Ibid., 27-30.

[60]  Josephus, War, 3.9.7.

[61]  Ibid., 7.2.1.

[62]  Ibid., 7.3.1.

[63]  Millar, The Roman Near East, 71-2.

[64]  Ibid., 296-7.

[65]  Isaac, “Inscriptions from Banias,” 7.

[66]  Ibid., 7-9.

[67]  Isaac, “Inscriptions from Banias,” 21-2.


"A Brief History of Caesarea Philippi/Banias"

by Richard Gottheil and Samuel Krauss

Caesarea Philippi (Banias) was an nncient city of northern Palestine. According to the investigations of Gesenius, Raumer, and Robinson, this was the original site of the place Baal-gad,—i.e. where Gad was worshiped as the god of fortune (Isa. lxv. 11)—or of Baalhermon (I Chron. vi. 23). In Israelitic times the place was called "Dan," and the image made by Micah was worshiped here. Here, too, Jeroboam I. set up the golden calf. Not far distant was the place Tarnegola, which the Rabbis mention as being on the northern boundary (Tosef., Sheb. iv. 10; Yer. Sheb. 36c; Yer. Dem. 22d; Sifre, Deut. 51; Targ. Yer. ii. on Num. xxxiv. 15). Its name is probably connected with the idol Tarnegol ("fowl"), though other places of Palestine (Sepphoris and Phrugitha, for instance) were also called after birds. The place is also said to be identical with the Biblical Leshem (Josh. xix. 47) or Laish (Judges xviii. 29; Meg. 6a; Tan., Re'eh, 16). This, however, is very improbable. But Cæsarea Philippi is certainly identical with Paneas (Πανέας, Πανιάς, Παναίς), frequently mentioned by Greek as well as rabbinical authors (Josephus, "Ant." xv. 10, § 3; Eusebius, "Hist. Eccl." vii. 17; Sozomen, v. 21; Pliny, "Historia Naturalis," v. 15; Cedrenus, p. 305); the rabbinical writers indeedchiefly use the name "Paneas" (, also ; see the Talmudic dictionaries). But Πανείας is the name of the grotto sacred to Pan, on the neighboring mountain Panion (Philostorgius, vii. 3; compare Targ. Yer. Num. xxxiv. 11); hence, the significance of the place as the seat of a cult is preserved in the name, from which it follows that Paneas was originally inhabited by Syrian or Greek pagans. Ptolemy (v. 15, § 21) includes it in Phenicia.

At the time of Herod the region of Πανιάς belonged to a certain Zenodorus (Zenon), after whose death (20 B.C.) Augustus presented it to Herod ("Ant." xv. 10, § 1; "B. J." i. 20, § 4). The domain of Zenon, together with some other districts, was taxed 100 talents ("B. J." ii. 6, § 3). Herod erected a magnificent temple in honor of Augustus in the vicinity of the grotto of Pan ("Ant." xv. 10, § 3; "B. J." i. 21, § 3); and Herod's son, the tetrarch Philip, transformed the place into an important city, calling it Καισάρεια, also in honor of the emperor ("Ant." xviii. 2, § 1; "B. J." ii. 9, § 1). But coins of the city are extant, dating from an independent and earlier era (about 3 B.C.). The Galilean Cæsarea was called Καισάρεια ἡ Φλίππου(Matt. xvi. 13; Mark viii. 27), to distinguish it from the Judean Cæsarea, while the rabbinic sources call it = Kesrion, in contradistinction to = Kesri; but as these sources are uncritical, the distinction is not always observed. The rabbinic sources state also that the designation "Paneas" continued in use.

It is indeed a question whether Paneas and Cæsarea were not two separate cities built near together. An ancient source (Mek. to Ex. xvii. 14 [ed. Friedmann, p. 55b]) mentions Kesrion as being situated below Paneas, from which it follows that they were two distinct cities. The name "Paneas" continued to be used to such an extent that through its form "Pania" the variants "Pamiya," "Apamiya," and "Aspamiya" () became current among the Rabbis; but these must be strictly separated from similar names.

After the death of Philip the city was for a time under Roman jurisdiction; then in the hands of Agrippa I.; again under Roman governors; and, finally, it passed into the hands of Agrippa II. (53 C.E.), who called it Νερωνιάς, in honor of Nero ("Ant." xx. 9, § 4). This name, which is found on some coins, soon fell into disuse. At the time of the Jewish war the population was mostly pagan (Josephus, "Vita," xiii.). Vespasian and Titus spent their holidays there, and arranged games and festivals ("B. J." iii. 9, § 7; vii. 2, § 1).

From the second century the city is called Καισάρεια Πανίας (Ptolemy, v. 15, § 21; viii. 20, § 12), both by writers and on coins. But among the native population "Paneas" was probably the name chiefly used, and this form prevails in rabbinic writings as well as in those of the church fathers, and has been preserved under the form "Banias" to the present day. According to a legend the patriarch, and the most eminent among the Jews of Paneas appeared before Diocletian, who hated the Jews (Gen. R. lxiii. 8).

The city is important to Christianity as being one of the places visited by Jesus. It was the site of an old Christian monument (Eusebius, "Hist. Eccl." vii. 18), and was made a bishopric. It is also mentioned during the Crusades. At present the village of Banias contains about fifty miserable houses or huts, built within the ancient castle wall.

  • Boettger, Lexikon zu Flavius Josephus, p. 71;
  • Neubauer, G. T. p. 237;
  • Schürer, Gesch. 3d ed., ii. 158;
  • Krauss, Lehnwörter, ii. 537.

"Pan of Many Faces," Podium Presentation, Popular Culture Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico, February 2010
"Christ at Banias," Podium Prsentation, Texas Classical Association Conference, University of Texas, Austin, Texas, November 2010

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