Samaria, or the Shomron (שֹׁמְרוֹן, Standard Šoməron Tiberian Šōmərôn; Arabic: سامريّون, Sāmariyyūn or ألسامرة, as-Samarah – also known as جبال نابلس, Jibal Nablus; Greek: Σαμάρεια) is a geographic term used for the mountainous region between the Galilee to the north and Judea to the south. It is the name of natural, historical and political regions. It is the central region of the Biblical Land of Israel. Most of the region is in the northern West Bank of the Jordan River.

The word is perhaps from shâmar, 'to watch,' hence meaning something like 'outlook'; but, according to 1 Kings 16:24, derived from the individual [or clan] Shemer, from whom Omri purchased the site.

Samaria is one of the several standard statistical "areas" utilized by the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics.[1] "The CBS also collects statistics on Judea-Samaria and the Gaza District. It has produced various basic statistical series on the territories, dealing with population, employment, wages, external trade, national accounts, and various other topics."[2] Samaria is used by people who want to emphasize Israel's and the Jewish people's relationship with their land. For example, Samaria, along with Judea, is now more widely known, outside of Israel, by the neologism "West Bank." See Judea and Samaria.

Geographical locationEdit

To the north, Samaria is bounded by the Esdraelon valley; to the east by the Jordan River; to the west by the Carmel Ridge (in the north) and the Sharon plain (in the west); to the south by Judea (the Jerusalem mountains). Samarian hills are not very high, seldom reaching the height of over 800 meters. Samaria's climate is more hospitable than the climate of Judea.

Political controlEdit

The history of Samaria in modern times begins when the territory of Samaria, formerly belonging to the Ottoman Empire, is entrusted to the United Kingdom to administer in the aftermath of World War I as a British Mandate of Palestine, by the League of Nations. As as result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the territory fell into the control of Jordan and residents would later receive Jordanian passports.

Samaria was taken by Israeli forces from Jordan during the 1967 Six-Day War. Jordan withdrew its claim to the West Bank, including Samaria, only in 1988, and later confirmed by the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty of 1993. Jordan instead recognizes the Palestinian Authority as sovereign in the territory. In the 1994 Oslo accords, responsibility for the administration over some of the territory of Samaria (Areas 'A' and 'B') was transferred to the Palestinian Authority.

Israel has been criticized for the policy of establishing settlements in Samaria. Israel's position is that the legal status of the land is unclear. See Israeli settlements.


Main article: Samaritan

Ethnically, the Samaritans are the inhabitants of Samaria after the beginning of the Israelite Assyrian Exile. (2 Kings 17 and Josephus (Ant 9.277–91)) When Assyria overran the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C.E, part of the population was deported, and other peoples from the Assyrian Empire were resettled in Israel. Sargon claimed in Assyrian annals that he carried away 27,290 inhabitants from Samaria, the capital of Northern Israel. The new inhabitants worshipped their own gods, but when the then-sparsely populated areas became infested with dangerous wild beasts, they appealed to the king of Assyria for Israelite priests to instruct them on how to worship the "god of that country." The result was a syncretistic religion, in which national groups worshipped the Lord, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought. Some Samaritans claim to be descendants of Israelites from the Northern Kingdom who escaped deportation and exile.

A genetic study concluded from Y-chromosome analysis that Samaritans descend from the Israelites (including Cohen, or priests), and mitochondrial DNA analysis shows descent from Assyrians and other foreign women, effectively validating both local and foreign origins for the Samaritans. (Shen et al, 2004)[3]

Samaritanism is a religion related to Judaism in that it accepts the Torah as its holy book, though little of later Jewish theology. Their temple was at Mount Gerizim, not Jerusalem, and was destroyed by the Macabbean (Hasmonean) John Hyrcanus late in the second century BCE, although their descendants still worship among its ruins. The purported antagonism between Samaritans and Jews is important in understanding the New Testament stories of "The Good Samaritan" and the Samaritan Woman.


Shomron (Samaria) is literally a watch-mountain or a watch-tower. In the heart of the mountains of Israel, a few miles north-west of Shechem, stands the "hill of Shomeron," a solitary mountain, a great "mamelon". It is an oblong hill, with steep but not inaccessible sides, and a long flat top.

Omri, the king of Israel, purchased this hill from Shemer its owner for two talents of silver, and built on its broad summit the city to which he gave the name of "Shomeron", i.e., Samaria, as the new capital of his kingdom instead of Tirzah (1 Kings 16:24). As such it possessed many advantages. Omri resided here during the last six years of his reign.

As the result of an unsuccessful war with Syria, Omri appears to have been obliged to grant to the Syrians the right to "make streets in Samaria", i.e., probably permission to the Syrian merchants to carry on their trade in the Israelite capital. This would imply the existence of a considerable Syrian population.

It was the only great city of Palestine created by the sovereign. All the others had been already consecrated by patriarchal tradition or previous possession. But Samaria was the choice of Omri alone. He, indeed, gave to the city which he had built the name of its former owner, but its especial connection with himself as its founder is proved by the designation which it seems Samaria bears in Assyrian inscriptions, "Beth-khumri" ("the house or palace of Omri"). (Stanley)

Samaria was frequently besieged. In the days of Ahab, Benhadad II came up against it with thirty-two vassal kings, but was defeated with a great slaughter (1 Kings 20:1-21). A second time, next year, he assailed it; but was again utterly routed, and was compelled to surrender to Ahab (20:28-34), whose army, as compared with that of Benhadad, was no more than "two little flocks of kids."

In the days of Jehoram, Benhadad again laid siege to Samaria. But just when success seemed to be within their reach, they suddenly broke off the siege, alarmed by a mysterious noise of chariots and horses and a great army, and fled, leaving their camp with all its contents behind them. The famished inhabitants of the city were soon relieved from the abundance of the spoil of the Syrian camp; and it came to pass, according to the word of Elisha, that "a measure of fine flour was sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gates of Samaria" (2 Kings 7:1-20).

Shalmaneser V invaded Israel in the days of Hoshea, and reduced it to vassalage. He laid siege to Samaria (723 BC), which held out for three years, and was at length captured by Sargon II, who completed the conquest Shalmaneser had begun (2 Kings 18:9-12; 17:3), and removed vast numbers of the tribes into captivity. See Lost ten tribes.

Ancient occupationEdit

SAMARIA (Hebrew: shomron, modern: Sebaste), established as the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel during the reign of Omri circa 884 B.C.E. Prior to the Omride period the site appears to have been the center of an extensive wine and oil production area, which may have accounted for its choice as the new capital. Apparently the origin of the name of the site was from Shemer the eponymous owner of the land that Omri purchased for two talents of silver 1 Kings 16:23-24.

The site has been excavated by two archaeological expeditions. The first was the Harvard Expedition, initially directed by G. Schumacher in 1908 and then by George Andrew Reisner in 1909 and 1910; with the assistance of architect C.S. Fisher and D.G. Lyon. The second expedition was known as the ‘Joint Expedition,’ a consortium of 5 institutions directed by J.W. Crowfoot between 1931 and 1935; with the assistance of Kathleen Mary Kenyon , Eliezer Sukenik and G.M. Crowfoot. The leading institutions were the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem, the Palestine Exploration Fund, and the Hebrew University. In the 1960’s small scale excavations directed by F. Zayadine were carried out on behalf of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan.

The city is built on the summit of a rocky hill, and the foundations of the monumental buildings from later periods often ploughed down through the earlier strata to the bedrock, which was never far below. In the modern times the site has been used as farmland by the contemporary villagers of neighboring Sebaste, this meant that most of the excavated areas had to be back-filled and returned to agricultural use. These two points hindered excavation and later analysis of the remains. The earliest remains consist of extensive rock cut installations, initially thought to date to the Early Bronze Age by Kenyon, these have recently been re-evaluated, first by Stager and then by Franklin, and are now recognized to be the remains of an extensive early Iron Age oil and wine industry (designated Building Period 0).

Assyrian invasionEdit

During the reign of the last king of the northern kingdom, Hosea 2 Kings 10 the Assyrians invaded in 722/721 B.C.E. (initially under Shalmaneser V and finally under Sargon II) when they established complete control over the capital city and the remainder of the northern kingdom. The fragment of a stela with an Assyrian inscription attributed to Sargon II was found on the eastern slope of the acropolis testifying to their presence. In addition, according to inscriptions from Sargon’s palace at Khorsabad, the inhabitants of Samaria were deported to Assyria. The remains of a wall relief in Room 5 of Sargon’s palace is thought to depict Samaria and its defeated defenders. New inhabitants were brought in (from Cuthah and the Syro-Mesopotamian area, 2 Kings 17:24) and they formed a new Samaritan population, also known as Cuthim. The city together with the neighboring highland area became known as Samerina and was ruled by an Assyrian governor. There are only meager remains from the succeeding Babylonian period and it was only in the Persian period, in the mid 5th century, that the city reemerged in importance. The tensions between the ruling family of Sanballat and Jerusalem under the governorship of Nehemiah are documented in the Bible (Ezra 4:10, Neh 2:1-8). Samaria became a Hellenistic town in 332 B.C.E. and thousands of Macedonian soldiers were settled there following a revolt by the Samaritans. Three 13 m diameter round towers dating to that period have been excavated (the first two by Harvard who attributed them to the Israelite period) and a later, massive, fortification wall with square towers. These fortifications were breached during the destruction of the city by John Hyrcanus in 108. Traces of the destruction wrought by Hyrcanus were found by the excavators, but the city was apparently resettled under Alexander Yannai. In 63 B.C.E. Samaria was annexed to the Roman province of Syria.

Sebastia Edit

In 30 B.C.E. the emperor Augustus awarded the city to Herod the Great who renamed it Sebaste in honor of Augustus ("Sebaste" is the feminine form of Gr. Sebastos = Augustus). The outstanding remains from this period are; the Augusteum, consisting of a temple and a large forecourt built over the Omride palace at the summit of the acropolis; a city gate and an east-west colonnaded street; a theater on the north-east slope of the acropolis; a Temple to Kore on a terrace north of the acropolis, and a stadium to the north-east in the valley below. East of the acropolis and in an area that today links the ancient city with the modern village of Sebaste lies the forum flanked on the west by a partially excavated basilica. Water for Roman Sebaste was provided by an underground aqueduct that led into the area of the forum from springs in the east. The city was encompassed by a city wall 2½ mi. (4 km) long, with imposing towers that linked the gateways in the west and north. A number of mausoleums with ornate sarcophagi were excavated in the area of the modern village and adjoining fields.

In late 1976, the Israeli settlement movement, Gush Emunim, attempted to establish a settlement at the abandoned train station (dating from the Ottoman period). The Israeli government did not approve and the group that was removed from the site would later found the settlement of Elon Moreh adjacent to Nablus/Shechem.


The city was rebuilt without any major changes in the 2nd century C.E. by Septimius Severus when the city was established as a colony. Samaria has been associated with John the Baptist, whose body was believed to be buried there. A small basilica church, first founded in the 5th century, was excavated on the southern slope of the acropolis. The church was believed to be the burial place of the head of John the Baptist. A monastery was added to it at a later date. In the 12th century C.E. a Latin cathedral also dedicated to John the Baptist was built east of the Roman forum and combined elements of the Roman period city wall. It later became the Sebaste village mosque.


Only the acropolis of Samaria has been extensively excavated down to the bedrock. The palace was excavated solely by the Harvard Expedition and recognized by them as the Palace of Omri (designated Building Period I). The Omride palace was located on an elevated 4 meter high rock-cut platform that isolated it from its immediate surroundings. While immediately below the palace, cut into the face of the bedrock platform, there are two rock-cut tomb chambers that have only recently been recognized and attributed to Omri and Ahab. West of the palace there are meager remains of other Building Period I buildings but much of the rock surface has been severely damaged by later buildings. The Omride palace continued in use during the next building phase (designated Building Period II), but it was no longer isolated on an elevated platform. The acropolis area was extended in all direction by the addition of a massive perimeter wall built in the casemate style; the new enlarged rectangular acropolis measured c. 290 ft. (90 m.) from north to south and at least c. 585 ft. (180 m.) from west to east, and the surface was now raised to a uniform elevation by the addition of a massive fill. This phase (Building Period II) was traditionally attributed to Ahab due to the misallocation of Wall 161 that run parallel to the northern casemates and the identification of a large rock-cut pool near the northern casemate wall as the Bibilical ‘Pool of Samaria;’ the wall (Wall 161) is now recognized to belong to Building Period II and the ‘pool’ is a rock-cut grape-treading area that originated in Building Period 0 and continued in a reduced form in Building Period I. Consequently the onset of Building Period II can only be relatively fixed. There is neither a biblical anchor nor securely dated pottery to establish the chronological affiliation of Building Period II. The Omride Palace was still in use and the royal tombs were still accessible (now via subterranean rooms) and there was an administrative building the Ostraca House (due to the 63 ostraca retrieved from the floor’s make-up) built west of the palace on the newly extended acropolis. The ostraca provide a wealth of data concerning oil and wine supplies, and can possibly be attributed to the period of Jeroboam II c. 785-749, thus providing a probable date for Building Period II. North of the palace a rich cache of Phoenician ivories (furniture ornamentation) were retrieved, these were mixed with later debris but it was presumed by the excavators (The Joint) that it was in this area that the ‘Ivory House’ that Ahab built for Jezebel 1 Kings 22:39 stood. North-east and below the acropolis a number of Iron Age tombs were found and their location probably delimits the area of the city in that direction. In essence only the acropolis was excavated down to the Iron Age but it is presumed by the excavators (The Joint) that the city extended down over the northern and southern slopes of the hill.

New Testament referenceEdit

The New Testament mentions Samaria in Luke chapter 17:11-20, in the miraculous healing of the ten lepers, which took place on the border of Samaria and Galilee. John 4:1-26 records Jesus' encounter at Jacob's well with the woman of Sychar, in which He declares Himself to be the Messiah. In Acts 8:5-14, it is recorded that Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached there. In the time of Jesus, Syria Iudaea of the Romans was divided into three provinces, Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. Samaria occupied the centre of Syria Iudaea (John 4:4). (Syria Iudaea was later renamed Syria Palaestina in 135, following the Bar Kokhba revolt.) In the Talmud, Samaria is called the "land of the Cuthim".

See alsoEdit

  • Lost Ten Tribes - specifically relating to the northern Kingdom of Israel with its capital at Samaria and the wars that took place with the Kingdom of Judah before the fall of the Kingdom of Judah and its occupants becoming lost to the pages of history. However, many theories abound as to what became of the "lost ten tribes" and the advocates do not necessarily agree with each other.
  • The name of the chemical element samarium is not related to Samaria.
  • Samaritan - a similar article concentrating more on the ethnic and religious group.
  • The Good Samaritan


  • Reisner, G. A., C.S. Fisher, and D.G. Lyon, Harvard excavations at Samaria, 1908-1910, Harvard University Press, 1924, Cambridge, Mass.
  • Crowfoot, J. W., G.M. Crowfoot, Early Ivories from Samaria (Samaria-Sebaste 2), Palestine Exploration Fund, 1938, London
  • Crowfoot, J. W., K.M. Kenyon and E.L. Sukenik, The Buildings at Samaria (Samaria-Sebaste 1), Palestine Exploration Fund, 1942, London

Crowfoot, J. W., K.M. Kenyon and G.M. Crowfoot, The Objects from Samaria (Samaria-Sebaste 3), Palestine Exploration Fund, 1957, London

  • Zayadine, F, 1966, Samaria-Sebaste: Clearance and Excavations (October 1965-June 1967), Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan, Volume 12, 77-80pp
  • Rainey, A. F., 1988, November, Toward a Precise Date for the Samaria Ostraca, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, Volume 272, 69-74pp
  • Stager, L. E., 1990, February - May, Shemer's Estate, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, Volume 277/278, 93-107pp
  • Becking, B., The Fall of Samaria: An Historical and Archaeological Study, E. J. Brill, 1992, Leiden; New York, 9004096337
  • Tappy, R., The Archaeology of Israelite Samaria, Volume 1: Early Iron Age Through the Ninth Century BCE (Harvard Semitic Studies 44), Scholars Press, 1992, Atlanta, 9781555407704
  • Tappy, R., The Archaeology of Israelite Samaria. The Eighth Century B.C.E. Volume II (Harvard Semitic Studies 50), Eisenbrauns, 2001, Winona Lake, Indiana, 978-1575069166
  • Franklin, N., 2003, The Tombs of the Kings of Israel, Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins, Volume 119, Issue 1 1-11pp
  • Franklin, N., 2004, Samaria: from the Bedrock to the Omride Palace, Levant Journal, Volume 36, 189-202pp

External linksEdit

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