The Population of Sepphoris

Rethinking Urbanization in Early and Middle Roman Galilee

In: Journal of Ancient Judaism
Nathan Schumer Columbia University

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Scholarship on early Roman Galilee has characterized the construction of the cities of Sepphoris and Tiberias during the reign of Herod Antipas as a transformative event for the region’s social and economic life. This paper questions this narrative of urbanization by reevaluating the population size of Sepphoris. It demonstrates that the population of early Roman Sepphoris ranged from 2,000–4,300 people (about half the size of previous estimates) and uses the city’s depiction in Josephus’ Vita and the Gospels to contextualize this proposed population size. A smaller Sepphoris influenced the surrounding Galilee to a lesser extent, suggesting that urbanization in early Roman Galilee was fairly moderate and not fundamentally transformative for the region. Next, the paper calculates the city’s population in the middle Roman period, arguing that Roman provincialization was the cause of Sepphoris’s demographic growth and cultural transformation after 70 C. E. The paper identifies this later period as the major moment of urbanization in Galilee.

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