An Introduction to Gamla

Gamla Topography from Josephus

By Joe Bartling

A View of Gamla

A view of Gamla from the North

Gamla (Hebrew: גמלא) is an ancient Jewish city, inhabited as early as the Early Bronze Period (3000BCE-2000BCE), and was believed to have been founded as a fortress at the time of the Syrian Wars in the 3rd Century BCE.  Gamla is about six miles East of the Northern tip of the Sea of Galillee.  From Gamla, the Northere on what is now known as the “Golan”, but in the Hasmonean and Second Temple period was in a region known as Gaulanitas, or even “the Galilee”.

Gamla was built on a very steep hill shaped like a camel’s hump (Gamla meaning “camel” in Aramaic).  Jews inhabited the city from the 2nd Century BCE and the Hasmoneans annexed the area under Alexander Jannaeus in about 81 BCE.

During the Jewish revolt against Rome in 66 CE against the Roman Empire, famous historian Josephus Flavius became the Commander of Galilee and built up fortifications around the city to protect the citizens from Roman attack and as his main stronghold along the Golan.  Josephus gives a very detailed description of the topology of Gamla in “The Wars of the Jews”, 2 -574, its extremely steep ravines which precluded the need to build walls around it.  There was only one section, along the northern saddle where a wall of about 350 meters needed to be built.  The picture above is from the North and displays this “saddle”.

Gamla Topographyfrom Josephus


Gamla was destroyed in 67CE by the Roman army, described vividly by Josephus in “The Wars of the Jews” 4, 1-83

Despite this very accurate description, Gamla’s location was lost to antiquity after its destruction until it was rediscovered correctly in 1968 by Surveyor Itzhaki Gal after Israel recaptured the Golan Heights during the Six Day War.

The beauty of Gamla is that it is like a treasure trove of preserved history relating to the first century CE, at the time of the Second Jewish Temple and even to the time of Jesus.  History has left Gamla undisturbed for nearly 2000 years for us to unveil its wondrous mysteries of life in the Galilee in the first century!

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