The site of Yavneh-Yam has a long history lasting from the 2nd millenium BCE up to the Middle Ages. This is evident from archaeological finds rather than historical sources. For the earliest periods, we do not possess any historical evidence as to the place and the role that the site played. The Bible does not mention this specific place.

 

Site identification

One of the main issues of Historical Geography and archaeology is the identification of existing sites with their ancient namesakes, usually by analyzing their names by reference of their medieval denominations. Thus, in the case of Yavneh-Yam, in recent times the site was called Minet Rubin (in Arabic: the harbor of Rubin) preserving the Arabic tradition of Biblical Ruben's Tomb in this area (Nabi Rubin). Also of interest is the name of the site during the Early Islamic period (9th - 10th - centuries CE), mahuz a-tani (in Arabic: the second harbor) using the ancient Aramaic word mahuz for harbor. It seems that this name was used in ancient Semitic languages with the meaning harbor as evident from Ancient Egyptian sources mentioning a city called 'mhz' along the Mediterranean, which has been identified with Yavneh-Yam.

Throughout history, the Hebrew name "Yavneh" and the Greek name "Iamneia" (Jamnea) are both used. It is clear that the same site name is meant, as evident from the famous Madaba Map in Jordan, of the 6th century CE unfortunately preserving only inland Iamneia, which is denominated 'Jabne'el, also named Iamneia'.As was usual along the southern section of the Israeli Mediterranean coast in antiquity, cities had both coastal and inland settlements.

Madaba Map

This is the case also with Yavneh. An almost complete list of eastern Mediterranean coastal towns and their inland pendants is delivered by Pliny the Elder (1st century CE) in his famous Naturalis Historia (5, 13, 68) mentioning Iamneae duae, altera intus, namely 'the two towns Iamnea, one of them inland'. The Alexandrinian geographer Ptolemaios of the 2nd century CE, (Book 5, 15, 2) lists the site of , 'the harbor of the people of Iamneia' between Ashdod and Jaffa.The very famous Yavneh at least for the history of Judaism is the Inland Yavneh, becoming one of the main centers and symbols of Late Antique Judaism and its survival.

Its harbor was Yavneh-Yam as evident from several medieval maps where the harbor is qualified either as "Jewish", such as in Abraham Ortelius' map from 1584, called Jamnia Iudeorum Portus (Jamnia, the Jewish harbor)
or as "The Harbor of Iamneia" in J. Schott's map from 1513, and thus not leaving any doubt of its identification with Jamnia-on-the-Sea (Yavneh-Yam).


Yavneh-Yam through the History

The Persian Period (6th -4th centuries BCE)


From the Persian period (6th - 4th centuries BCE) onwards later Biblical, and Greek, Roman and Jewish sources begin to mention Yavneh-Yam. At the end of the 6th century BCE the Middle East was included into the huge Persian Empire. Yavneh-Yam, however, is not mentioned in the main sources of the Persian period, such as the writings of Herodotus and Pseudo-Skylax, or the inscription on the famous sarcophagus of Eshmounezer of Sidon, speaking of the Sidonian expansion under Artaxerxes II (404-359/8 BCE). Only ‘The Book of Judith’ gives an insight into the fate of the place during the complicated political situation towards the end of the Persian period (mid-4th century BCE). It seems, however, that Yavneh-Yam has been settled by Phoenicians from Sidon in Lebanon as evident from both material culture and later historical evidence.

 

The Hellenistic period (3rd -1st centuries BCE)

Alexander the Great

After the conquest of the Near East by Alexander the Great (333 BCE) the region enters a new era, dictating its development for the next centuries. One of the main trends characterizing this period is the encounter between different civilizations, including the Jewish and Greek cultures. The history of Yavneh-Yam is directly linked with this development. As a result of intensive urbanization, introduction of Greek cults, Greek language and Greek habits, Greek culture rapidly succeeded in imposing itself over the greater part of the peoples of the Near East. This Hellenization of society reached its peak during the 2nd century BCE when the Land of Israel came under the control of the Syrian Seleucid dynasty. Judaism was split into two parties: a radical anti-Greek one, and a Pro-Hellenic party, called by the sources the "Mityavnim" ("the Hellenized"), mostly under the leadership of the High Priest Jason (174-171 BCE). The Book of Maccabees II says about the latter that 'he put down the institutions that were according to the law, and brought up new customs against the law'. Even a gymnaseion was erected at Jerusalem and priests liked to go there! Some of them even went so far that ‘they sought artificially to remove the traces of their circumcision...’

The Maccabean revolt and its consequences

Time became ripe for an open and violent conflict between the Jews and the Greeks. The major crisis came under the period of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-164 BCE). The king occupied and destroyed the Temple at Jerusalem, killing the men, selling the women and children into slavery, forbidding the observance of Jewish laws, such as Sabbath and circumcision, and settling in the area of the Temple Mount a community of loyal population including Jews. For their safety a fortress was built over the Temple Mount, called the Akra. In December 168 BCE a sacrifice to the Olympian Zeus has been given at the Temple of Jerusalem! The year 166 BCE was crucial: at Modiin, in the Judean Hills, Mattathias and his 5 sons, John, Simeon, Judas, Eleazar and Jonathan called the "Maccabees" or the "Hasmoneans", refused to obey the King’s officer sent to Modiin in order to insist upon the presentation of the sacrifice. The events developing from now on belonging to the Hasmonean period are widely described by sources of that period and afterwards, such as the Books of Maccabeees and the writings of Josephus Flavius. According to them Mattathias said: ' Through all the nations that are under the king’s dominion obey him, and fall away from the religion of their fathers, I and my sons will walk in the covenant of our fathers'. One of the notable stages in the struggle that began now was the Purification of the Temple at Jerusalem, the "Chanukah" of it, on the 25th of Kislev 165 BCE, a holiday which is celebrated by the Jewish people until today.

The Hellenization of the Middle East, the Land of Israel included, and the strong Jewish opposition to this process are clearly reflected in archaeological remains. Since Greek cities became targets of the bitter Maccabean fight, Hasmonean destruction layers both in Western and Eastern Palestine become crucial to understanding archaeological sites of that period.


We can reconstruct the history of Yavneh-Yam against the background of the events described above. It seems that Yavneh-Yam played an important role in the consolidation of the Greek rule in the country and became during the 2nd century BCE a stronghold of Hellenized Phoenicians. A fragmentary Greek inscription found at Click for translationYavneh-Yam reveals some very interesting aspects of the cooperation of the city with the Seleucid authority on the eve of the Maccabean war. The inscription represents a copy of letters exchanged between the Seleucid king Antiochus V Eupator (164-162) and the Sidonian community of Yavneh-Yam. It may be concluded from the inscription that the Sidonians rendered services to the grandfather of Eupator, Antiochus III, and the text may imply that they did the same for Antiochus IV Epiphanes during his invasion of Egypt, and were to do so again for Eupator in 163 BCE. During the war Yavneh-Yam was actively used as a stronghold against the Maccabeans, as revealed by written sources. It does not surprise that from the very beginning of the hostilities, Yavneh-Yam was one of the early goals in the attempts of Judas Maccabaeus to conquer the Mediterranean coast.

(Click for translation)

Rubens and the Maccabees

Book of Maccabees
II 12, 9 relates that: 'Judas Maccabaeus fell upon the Jamnites, too, by night and set fire to the fort and the ships, so that the glare of the flames was visible as far as Jerusalem, two hundred forty stadia away'.  We also learn from the sources that the Hasmoneans 'removed every pollution purifying the houses in which idols stood' (Book of
Maccabees I 13, 47). It seems that some of the Jewish soldiers took part in the looting of religious objects from Iamneia, as related by The Books of Maccabees II, 40. Here we are told that returning to the battlefield in order to bury the bodies of the Jewish fallen, Judas’ soldiers 'found under the tunic, amulets sacred to the idols of Iamneia, objects, which the law forbids to Jews. It was evident to all that here was the reason why these men had fallen'. In spite of this, Judas prayed for the dead and asked God to forgive them. Gathering the objects,
he 'sent 12,000 Drachmas
to Jerusalem to offer a sin
offering...'
(II Maccabees 12, 39-46).

Peter-Paul Rubens: Judas Maccabaeus praying for the Dead

Peter-Paul Rubens painted this scene in 1635-36 for an altar, commissioned by Maximilien Vilain le Grand, Bishop of Tournai. Today the picture is displayed in the Museum of Nantes - Musee de Beaux-Arts, inv. no. 429. The photo presented here was taken by P. Jean. By courtesy of the Museum of Nantes.

 

It seems, however, that Yavneh-Yam resisted these attacks and remained a free Greek city until its destruction by John Hyrcanus or Alexander Jannaeus at the end of the 2nd century BCE as evident also from the relations of people from the city with the great Hellenic sanctuary of the Cycladic island Delos. Here, French archaeologists have revealed three shrines at the northern slopes of the Holy Mountain Cynthia, with two inscribed altars that have been erected by 'citizens of Iamneia'. The shrines were dedicated to the 'Gods of Iamneia', to Heracles and Horon reflecting the Greco-Oriental syncretism.Archaeological excavations carried out at Yavneh-Yam have revealed the remains of an intensively Hellenized society. Also against this background it does not surprise that the conquest of the Mediterranean coast was one of the main targets of the Hasmoneans, Yavneh-Yam included. After first attempts of Judas Maccabaeus, the city of Yavneh-Yam was finally destroyed by the Hasmonean kings John Hyrcanus (134-104 BCE) and Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 BCE).
Delos. Mount Cynthia
and the shrines of the people of Iamneia

The Early Roman period (1st century BCE - 1st century CE)

It seems that the city of Yavneh-Yam underwent a long period of recovery. Although Josephus Flavius mentions Yavneh-Yam in the list of sites restored by Pompeius and Gabinius in the mid-1st century BCE, there is insofar only scanty archaeological evidence of the existence of the city during this time. On the other hand, two main historical sources mentioning Yavneh-Yam explicitly belong to the Roman period, namely Pliny the Elder and Ptolemaios the Geographer.

The Byzantine period (5th - 7th centuries CE)

A real revival of the city took place in the Byzantine period, when was reached the economic and social peak of the Land of Israel (as the "Holy Land"). According to the Life of Peter the Iberian, the empress Eudokia sponsored the erection of a church and an hospitium (hostel) for pilgrims at Yavneh-Yam (named here Mehoz Yavneh), although the site was inhabited by Samaritans. It is well known that the empress Eudokia who settled in the Holy Land in mid-5th century CE became one of the great builders of the Byzantine era. The bath complex at Hammath Gader, in the Southern Golan Heights even bears one of her poems in honor of the springs.

The Early Islamic period (7th - 12th centuries CE)

During the Early Islamic period Yavneh-Yam is named either mahuz Yibna (by the geographer Muqqaddasi, 985 CE) or mahuz a-tani, namely the harbor of Yavneh, respectively the second harbor (after Ashdod, which is called the ‘first harbor’, by the geographer Idrissi, 12th century CE). The harbor served as one of the places along the Mediterranean where prisoners were exchanged between Muslims and Byzantines.


Further Reading for Yavneh-Yam and its History