Archaeological sites in Bâniâs


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Banias (or Paneas; Greek: Πανειάς; Arabic: بانياس الحولة‎; Hebrew: בניאס‎) is an archaeological site by the uninhabited former city of Caesarea Philippi, located at the foot of Mount Hermon (Ba'al-Hermon, Arabic: جبل الشيخ‎, Jabal esh-Shaiykh, Hebrew: הר חרמון‎, Har Hermon) in the Golan Heights. The site is 150km north of Jerusalem and 60km southwest of Damascus. The city was located within the region known as the "Panion" (the region of the Greek god Pan), and is named after the deity associated with the grotto and shrines close to the spring called "Paneas".

The temenos (sacred precinct) included a temple, courtyards, a grotto and niches for rituals, and was dedicated to Pan. It was constructed on an elevated, 80m long natural terrace along the cliff which towered over the north of the city. A four-line inscription at the base of one of the niches relates to Pan and Echo, the mountain nymph, and was dated to 87 CE.

In the distant past, a giant spring gushed from a cave set in the limestone bedrock, to tumble down the valley and flow into the Hula marshes. Currently it is the source of the Nahal Hermon stream. Whereas the Jordan River previously rose from the malaria-infested Hula marshes, it now rises from this spring and two others at the base of Mount Hermon. The flow of the spring has decreased greatly in modern times. The water no longer gushes forth from the cave, but only seeps from the bedrock below it.

Pagan associations

Alexander the Great's conquests started a process of Hellenisation in Egypt and Syria that continued for some 1,000 years. Paneas was first settled in the Hellenistic period. The Ptolemaic kings, in the 3rd century BC, built a cult centre there. Panias is a spring, known also known Fanium, named for the Arcadian Pan, the Greek god, a goat-footed god of victory in battle [creator of panic in the enemy], isolated rural areas, music, goat herds, hunting, herding, and of sexual and spiritual possession. It lies close to the fabled 'way of the sea' mentioned by Isaiah. along which many armies of Antiquity marched. Paneas was certainly an ancient place of great sanctity, and when Hellenised religious influences began to overlay the region, the cult of its local numen gave place to the worship of Pan, to whom the cave was therefore dedicated. The pre-Hellenic deity associated with the site was variously called Ba'al-gad or Ba'al-hermon.

In extant sections of the Greek historian Polybius's history of 'The Rise of the Roman Empire', a Battle of Panium is mentioned. This battle was fought in 198 BC between the Macedonian armies of Ptolemaic Egypt and the Seleucid Greeks of Coele-Syria, led by Antiochus III. Antiochus's victory cemented Seleucid control over Phoenicia, Galilee Samaria and Judea until the Maccabean revolt. It was these hellenised Seleucids that built a pagan temple dedicated to Pan at Paneas.


Herodian city

Upon Zenodorus's death in 20 BC, the Panion (Greek: Πανιάς), which included Paneas, was annexed to the Kingdom of Herod the Great. Herod erected a temple of 'white marble' in Paneas in honour of his patron. In 3 BCE, Philip II (also known as Philip the Tetrarch) founded a city at Paneas, which became the administrative capital of Philip's large tetrarchy of Batanaea, encompassing the Golan and the Hauran. In his Antiquities of the Jews, Flavius Josephus refers to the city as Caesarea Paneas; the New Testament as Caesarea Philippi, to distinguish it from Caesarea Maritima on the Mediterranean coast. In 14 CE Philip II named it Caesarea (in honour of the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus) and 'made improvements' to the city. His image was placed on a coin issued in 29/30 CE to commemorate the city's foundation. This was considered as idolatrous by Jews, but followed in the Idumean tradition of Zenodorus.

On the death of Philip II in 33 CE the tetrachy was incorporated into the province of Syria with the city given the autonomy to administer its own revenues.

In 61 CE, king Agrippa II renamed the administrative capital Neronias in honour of the Roman emperor Nero, but this name was discarded several years later, in 68 CE. Agrippa also carried out urban improvements

During the First Jewish–Roman War, Vespasian rested his troops at Caesarea Philippi over July 67 CE, holding games for a period of 20 days before advancing on Tiberias to crush the Jewish resistance in Galilee.

Gospel association

In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus is said to have approached the area near the city, but without entering the city itself. While in this area, he asked his closest disciples who men thought him to be. Accounts of their answers, including the Confession of Peter, are to be found in the Matthew, Mark, and Luke, as well as in the Gospel of Thomas.

In the Gospel of Mark, they replied that Jesus was thought to be John the Baptist, Elias, or some other prophet, although Saint Peter gave his own view and confessed his belief that Jesus was the messiah (Christ). Jesus predicted his destiny, for which Peter rebuked him. In Matthew, Peter's expression of belief that Jesus was the Messiah is the occasion for Jesus designating him as the rock on which the Church was to be built. In Luke, the site where this is said to have occurred is located near Bethsaida, after the Sermon on the Mount, and Peter affirms his belief Jesus is 'the Christ of God'. In all three gospels, the apostles are asked to keep this revelation as secret.

A woman from Paneas, who had been bleeding for 12 years, is said to have been miraculously cured by Jesus. According to tradition, after she had been cured, she had a statue of Christ erected.


On attaining the position of Emperor of the Roman Empire in 361 Julian the Apostate instigated a religious reformation of the Roman state, as part of a programme intended to restore its lost grandeur, pagan character and strength. He supported the restoration of Hellenic paganism as the state religion. In Paneas this was achieved by replacing Christian symbols. The history ofSozomen contains a description of the circumstances surrounding the replacement of a statue of Christ:

'Having heard that at Casarea Philippi, otherwise called Panease Paneades, a city of Phoenicia, there was a celebrated statue of Christ, which had been erected by a woman whom the Lord had cured of a flow of blood. Julian commanded it to be taken down, and a statue of himself erected in its place; but a violent fire from the heaven fell upon it, and broke off the parts contiguous to the breast; the head and neck were thrown prostrate, and it was transfixed to the ground with the face downwards at the point where the fracture of the bust was; and it has stood in that fashion from that day until now, full of the rust of the lightning.'


In 635 Paneas gained favourable terms of surrender from the Muslim army of Khalid ibn al-Walid after it had defeated Heraclius’s forces. In 636 a, second, newly formed Byzantine army advancing on Palestine used Paneas as a staging post on the way to confront the Muslim army at Yarmuk.

The depopulation of Paneas after the Muslim conquest was rapid, as its traditional markets disappeared. Only 14 of the 173 Byzantine sites in the area show signs of habitation from this period. The hellenised city thus fell into a precipitous decline. At the council of al-Jabiyah, when the administration of the new territory of the Umar Caliphate was established, Paneas remained the principal city of the district of al-Djawlan (the Golan) in the jund (military Province) of Dimshq (Damascus), due to its strategic military importance on the border with Filistin (Palestine).

Around 780 CE the nun Hugeburc visited Caesarea and reported that the town 'had' a church and a great many Christians, but her account does not clarify whether any of those Christians were still living in the town at the time of her visit.

The transfer of the Abbasid Caliphate capital from Damascus to Baghdad inaugurated the flowering of the Islamic Golden Age at the expense of the provinces. With the decline of Abbasid power in the tenth century, Paneas found itself a provincial backwater in a slowly collapsing empire, as district governors began to exert greater autonomy and used their increasing power to make their positions hereditary. The control of Syria and Paneas passed to the Fatimids of Egypt.

At the end of the 9th century Al-Ya'qubi reaffirms that Paneas was still the capital of al-Djawlan in the jund of Dimshq, although by then the town was known as Madīnat al-Askat (city of the tribes) with its inhabitants being Qays, mostly of the Banu Murra with some Yamani families.

Due to the Byzantine advances under Nicephorus Phocas and John Zimisces into the Abbasid empire, a wave of refugees fled south and augmented the population of Madīnat al-Askat. The city was taken over by an extreme Shī‘ah sect of the Bedouin Qarāmita in 968. In 970 the Fatimids again briefly took control, only to lose it again to the Qarāmita. The old population of Banias along with the new refugees formed a Sunni sufi ascetic community. In 975 the Fatimid al-'Aziz wrested control in an attempt to subdue the anti-Fatimid agitation of Mahammad b. Ahmad al-Nablusi and his followers and to extend Fatimid control into Syria. al-Nabulusi’s school of hadith was to survive in Banias under the tutelage of Arab scholars such as Abú Ishaq (Ibrahim b. Hatim) and al-Balluti.


The Crusaders' arrival in 1099 quickly split the mosaic of semi-independent cities of the Seljuk Kingdom of Damascus. Baniyas fell to the crusaders in 1148.

With the arrival of fresh troops in Palestine King Baldwin broke the three month old truce of February 1157 by raiding the large flocks that the Turkomans had pastured in the area of Caesarea Philippi (Baniyas). In 1157 Baniyas became the principal centre of Humphrey of Toron's crusader fiefdom, along with him being the constable of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, after it had first been granted to the Hospitallers by King Baldwin. The Knights Hospitallers, having fallen into an ambush, relinquished the fiefdom. Humphrey in turn was besieged in Baniyas and King Baldwin was able to break the siege, only to be ambushed at Jacob's ford in June 1157. The fresh troops arriving from Antioch and Tripoli were able to relieve the besieged crusaders. within the Lordship of Beirut. It was captured by Nūr ed-Din on 18 November 1164. The Franks had built a castle at Hunin, (Château Neuf) in 1107 to protect the trade route from Damascus to Tyre. After Nūr ed-Din's ousting of the Crusader Humphrey of Toron from Baniyas, Hunin was at the front line securing the border defences against the Saracen garrison at Baniyas.

Ibn Jubayr the geographer, traveller and poet from al-Andalus described Baniyas:

This city is a frontier fortress of the Muslims. It is small, but has a castle, round which, under the walls flows a stream. This stream flows out from the town by one of the gates, and turns a mill…The town has broad arable lands in the adjacent plain. Commanding the town is the fortress, still belonging to the franks, called Hunin, which lies 3 leagues distant from Baniyas. The lands in the plain belong half to the franks and half to the Muslims; and there is here the boundary called Hadd al Mukasimah-“the boundary of the dividing.” The Muslims and the franks apportion the crops equally between them, and their cattle mingle freely without fear of any being stolen.”

After the death of Nūr ed-Din in May 1174 King Amaury led the crusader forces in a siege of Baniyas. The Governor of Damascus allied himself with the crusaders and released all his Frankish prisoners. With the death of King Amaury in July 1174 the crusader border became unstable. In 1177 king Baldwin IV of Jerusalem ("the leper") laid siege to Baniyas and again the crusader forces withdrew after receiving tribute from Samsan al-Din Ajuk, the Governor of Baniyas.

In 1179 al-Malik al-Nâsir Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb (Saladin) took personal control of the forces of Paneas and created a protective screen across the Huela through Tel el-Qadi (Tel Dan).

In 1187 Saladin ordered al-Afdal (his son) to sent an envoy to Count Raymond III of Tripoli requesting safe passage through his principality of Galilee and Tiberias. Raymond was obliged to grant the request under the terms of his treaty with Saladin. al-Afdal's force of 7,000 horsemen left Baniyas and encountered a force of 150 Knights Templar led by Gerard de Ridefort, Grand Master of the Knights Templar. The Templar force was destroyed in the encounter. Saladin then besieged Tiberias, after 6 days the town fell. On 4 July 1187 Saladin defeated the crusaders coming to relieve Tiberias at the Battle of Hattin.

In the first decade of the thirteenth century Baniyas was partially destroyed by an earthquake. Jahârkas the local amir rebuilt the burj (the fortress tower) in 1204 (AH 597). Named as Kŭl’at es-Subeibeh in 1846 by B B Edwards.

In March 1219 Khutluba was forced to relinquish Baniyas and destroy its fortress. The city was then passed to al-'Adil and his son al-Mu'azzam.

Baniyas along with Toron (now the modern town of Tebnine)and Safed and were recovered by the Franks through treaty in 1229, just two years after al-Mu'azzam's death on November 11, 1227, by Frederick II from Sultan al-Kamil.

British Mandate to contemporary

Main article: Jordan River basin water politics

The Syria-Lebanon-Palestine boundary was a product of the post-World War I Anglo-French partition of Ottoman Syria. British forces had advanced to a position at Tel Hazor against Turkish troops in 1918 and wished to incorporate all the sources of the Jordan River within the British controlled Palestine. Due to the French inability to establish administrative control, the frontier between Syria and Palestine was fluid. Following the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, and the unratified and later annulled Treaty of Sèvres, stemming from the San Remo conference, the 1920 boundary extended the British controlled area to north of the Sykes Picot line, a straight line between the mid point of the Sea of Galilee and Nahariya. In 1920 the French managed to assert authority over the Arab nationalist movement and after the Battle of Maysalun, King Faisal was deposed. The international boundary between Palestine and Syria was finally agreed by Great Britain and France in 1923 in conjunction with the Treaty of Lausanne, after Britain had been given a League of Nations mandate for Palestine in 1922. Banyas (on the Quneitra/Tyre road) was within in the French Mandate of Syria. The border was set 750 metres south of the spring.

In 1941 Australian forces occupied Banyas in the advance to the Litani during the Syria-Lebanon Campaign; Free French and Indian forces also invaded Syria in the Battle of Kissoué. Banias's fate in this period was left in a state of limbo since Syria had come under British military control. After the cessation of WWII hostilities, and at the time Syria was granted Independence (April 1946), the former mandate powers, France and Britain, bilaterally signed an agreement to pass control of Banias to the British mandate of Palestine. This was done against the expressed wishes of the Syrian government who declared France's signature to be invalid. While Syria maintained its claim on Banias in this period, it was administered from Jerusalem.

Following the 1948 Arab Israeli War, the Banias spring remained in Syrian territory, while the Banias River flowed through the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and into Israel. In 1953, at one of a series of meetings to regularize administration of the DMZs, Syria offered to adjust the armistice lines, and cede to Israel's 70% of the DMZ, in exchange for a return to the pre 1946 International border in the Jordan basin area, with Banias water resources returning to Syrian sovereignty. On 26 April, the Israeli cabinet met to consider the Syrian suggestions; with head of Israel’s Water Planning Authority, Simha Blass, in attendance. Blass noted that while the land to be ceded to Syria was not suitable for cultivation, the Syrian map did not suit Israel’s water development plan. Blass explained that the movement of the International boundary in the area of Banias would affect Israel’s water rights. The Israeli cabinet rejected the Syrian proposals but decided to continue the negotiations by making changes to the accord and placing conditions on the Syrian proposals. The Israeli conditions took into account Blass’s position over water rights and Syria rejected the Israeli counter offer.

In September 1953, Israel advanced plans for its National Water Carrier to help irrigate the coastal Sharon Plain and eventually the Negev desert by launching a diversion project on a nine-mile channel midway between the Huleh Marshes and Lake Galilee (Lake Tiberias) in the central DMZ to be rapidly constructed. This caused shelling from Syria and friction with the Eisenhower Administration; the diversion was moved to the southwest.

The Banias was included in the Jordan Valley Unified Water Plan, which allocated Syria 20 mcm annually from it. The plan was rejected by the Arab League. Instead, at the 2nd Arab summit conference in Cairo of January 1964 the League decided that Syria, Lebanon and Jordan would begin a water diversion project. Syria started the construction of canal to divert the flow of the Banias river away from Israel and along the slopes of the Golan toward the Yarmouk River. Lebanon was to construct a canal from the Hasbani River to Banias and complete the scheme The project was to divert 20 to 30 million cubic metres of water from the river Jordan tributaries to Syria and Jordan for the development of Syria and Jordan. The diversion plan for the Banias called for a 73 kilometre long canal to be dug 350 metres above sea level, that would link the Banias with the Yarmuk. The canal would carry the Banias’s fixed flow plus the overflow from the Hasbani (including water from the Sarid and Wazani). This led to military intervention from Israel, first with tank fire and then, as the Syrians shifted the works further eastward, with airstrikes.

On June 10, 1967, the last day of the Six Day War, Golani Brigade forces quickly captured the village of Banias. Eshkol's priority on the Syrian front was control of the water sources.

Tel Dan

While Baniyas does not appear in the Old Testament, Philostorgius, Theodoret, Benjamin of Tudela and Samuel ben Samson all incorrectly identified it with Laish (Tel el-Qadi renamed as Tel Dan). While Eusebius of Caesarea accurately places Dan/Laish in the vicinity of Paneas at the fourth mile on the route to Tyre. Eusebius's identification was confirmed by E Robinson in 1838 and subsequently by archaeological excavations at Tel-Dan and Caesarea Philippi

Notables from Paneas

  • Al-Wadin ibn ‘Ata al-Dimashki (d. 764 or 766) - an Arabic scholar from the Umayyad era

See also

  • List of places associated with Jesus
  • Water politics in the Middle East




  • al-Athīr, ʻIzz al-Dīn Ibn (Translated 2006) The Chronicle of Ibn Al-Athīr for the Crusading Period from Al-Kāmil Fīʼl-taʼrīkh: The Years AH 491-541/1097-1146, the Coming of the Franks And the Muslim Response Translated by Donald Sidney Richards Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. ISBN 0754640787
  • Brown, Peter The World of Late Antiquity, W. W. Norton, New York, 1971, ISBN 0393958035
  • Flavius, Josephus The Jewish War ISBN 0-14-044-420-3
  • Fitzmyer, Joseph A. (1991) A Christological Catechism: New Testament Answers Paulist Press, ISBN 0809132532
  • Gregorian, Vartan (2003) "Islam: A Mosaic, Not a Monolith", Brookings Institution Press, ISBN 081573283X
  • Hindley, Geoffrey. (2004) The Crusades: Islam and Christianity in the Struggle for World Supremacy Carroll & Graf Publishers, ISBN 0786713445
  • Kent, Charles Foster (1912) Biblical Geography and History reprinted by Read Books, 2007 ISBN 1406754730
  • Murphy-O'Connor, Jerome (2008) The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 Oxford University Press US, ISBN 0199236666
  • Norwich, John Julius (1988) “Byzantium; the Early Centuries” Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-011447-5
  • Polybius The Rise of the Roman Empire, Translated by Ian Scott-Kilvert Contributor Frank William Walbank, Penguin Classics, 1979 ISBN 0140443622
  • Richard, Jean (1999) The Crusades c.1071-c.1291 Cambridge University press ISBN 0-521-62566-1
  • Salibi, Kamal Suleiman (1977) Syria Under Islam: Empire on Trial, 634-1097 Caravan Books, 1977 ISBN 0882060139
  • Wilson, John Francis. (2004) Caesarea Philippi: Banias, the Lost City of Pan I.B.Tauris, ISBN 1850434409

Suggested reading on water issues

  • Water for the Future: The West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel, and Jordan By U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Inc NetLibrary, Jamʻīyah al-ʻIlmīyah al-Malakīyah, Committee on Sustainable Water Supplies for the Middle East, National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences (U.S.) Published by National Academies Press, 1999 ISBN 030906421X,
  • Allan John Anthony, (2001) The Middle East Water Question: Hydropolitics and the Global Economy I.B.Tauris, ISBN 1860648134
  • Amery, Hussein A. and Wolf, Aaron T. (2000) Water in the Middle East: A Geography of Peace University of Texas Press, ISBN 029270495X

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