site located 35 km (22 mi.) north of Aleppo, Syria, in the middle of a village of the same name (36°5′ N, 37°1′ E). The village is 5 km (3 mi.) east of the Aleppo-I῾azaz road and about 14 km (9 mi.) southeast of the modern city I῾azaz. Tell Rifa῾at is strategically positioned on the plain between the Qouiq River in the east and Jebel Sama῾an in the west. It is the largest tell in the area and is about 360 m above sea level.

The tell itself is composed of two parts: the citadel and the lower city. The citadel (30 m high and 142 × 142 m at the top and 250 × 233 m at its base) stands approximately in the middle of the lower city. The citadel is freestanding, with extremely steep slopes; the lower city is partially occupied with modern houses.

The inhabitants of the village Tell Rifa῾at reported that the old name of the site was Arpad, an identification that can be made on etymological and geographical grounds as well. In antiquity, Arpad was the capital city of the Aramean state of Bit-Agusi. The Aramean kingdom emerged in the tenth century BCE and appears in Assyrian texts as the land of Arpad or as the land of Bit-Agusi. Like all Aramean kingdoms in Syria and Mesopotamia, Arpad paid tribute to the Assyrian kings approximately every year. Arpad finally lost its independence In 740 BCE, when it was made a province and given an Assyrian governor.

The equation of Tell Rifa῾at with Arpad remains a hypothesis, however, for none of the excavations at the site succeeded in recovering sufficient evidence for the identification. Limited excavations on the tell have been conducted. From fall 1924 to spring 1925, the Czech philologist Bedrich Hrozny excavated Tell Rifa῾at and identified it as biblical Arpad. Hrozny abandoned his investigation after three months without publishing a report. Only a very brief report appeared in a Prague newspaper, The Central European Observer (16 July 1929, p. 512). In 1956, 1960, and 1964, an expedition from the Institute of Archaeology, University of London, directed by M. V. Seton-Williams undertook excavations at Tell Rifa῾at, during which the team made soundings and distinguished five levels, from the Chalcolithic period (fifth–fourth millennia) through the Roman period (first–fourth centuries CE).

According to Seton-William's preliminary reports (1961, 1967), the old city of Arpad had been surrounded by a very strong brick fortification wall. In the northwestern part of the tell his team unearthed a monumental limestone staircase that led through the fortifications and was later in date, probably Greco-Roman. On the western side of the tell he discovered a large palace (923 m wide and 30 m long) with a large porch with two columns and a great paved courtyard. The palace was flanked by two rooms, in front of which there had been a large hall. The palace belongs to the first millennium BCE.

Seton-Williams also discovered the east gate in the Bronze Age city wall. The gate's first phase belongs to the sixteenth–fifteenth centuries BCE. In its last phase, it was 3.90 m wide, was lined with limestone orthostats, and had a drain 60 cm wide running down the center of the passageway. The entrance area was paved with limestone and basalt slabs and broken glazed bricks.

Among the small finds recovered by Seton-Williams are stamp seals—seventh–century BCE Assyrian and sixth–century BCE Neo-Babylonian and Achaemenid—and elaborate and common style Mitannian cylinder seals; Late Bronze and Iron Age terra-cotta figurines, among them numerous examples of the so-called Scythian horseman and an Astarte plaque; a limestone Aramean grave stela (0.57 m high and 0.37 m wide) depicting a banquet; and eight fragments of Assyrian cuneiform tablets and a fragment of an inscription in Phoenician.


  • Matthers, John. The River Qoueiq, Northern Syria, and Its Catchment: Studies Arising from the Tell Rifa῾at Survey, 1977–79. 2 vols. British Archaeological Reports, International Series, no. 98. Oxford, 1981.
  • Sader, Hélène. Les états araméens de Syrie depuis leur fondation jusqu'à leur transformation en provinces assyriennes. Beirut, 1987. See pages 99–152.
  • Seton-Williams, M. V. “Preliminary Report on the Excavations at Tell Rifa῾at.” Iraq 23 (1961): 68–87.
  • Seton-Williams, M. V. “The Excavations at Tell Rifa῾at, 1964: Second Preliminary Report.” Iraq 29 (1967): 16–33.

Ali Abou Assaf