The modern term “art” in the context of materiality describes the products of human activity in creating objects that in their design do not directly reflect a practical function. Such objects have an inherent aesthetic value that draws on individual or collective ideas and is part of social discourses. In Greek and Roman terminology no term for the modern concept of art as an individual aesthetic creative process existed. The Greek and Latin equivalents techne and ars stress technical skills and capabilities in the sense of craft and artisanry. It is a matter of dispute whether in antiquity autonomous artists existed or whether the creation of art always and completely was subject to the customer and ordering authority.

Since the late second millennium B.C.E. the Greeks produced objects of art that more and more were decorated with geometric patterns and images of animals, humans, and supernatural beings. Many aspects of Greek art are inspired by the material culture of Near Eastern civilizations. In the archaic period monumental stone sculpture was developed in the Aegean. In the classical period a vibrant production of different genres of art, such as sculpture, mosaics, and (especially since the Hellenistic period) portraits, flourished. This made Greek art and culture—also against the background of political expansion in the Hellenistic period—a defining base for various indigenous elites all around the Mediterranean. This general cultural orientation continued and even was strengthened under the Romans so that Greek expressions of art, iconography, and style were generally accepted around the Mediterranean—of course, with various hybridizations with local traditions.

Creation of Art.

Two interrelated factors had a crucial impact on the creation of art in ancient societies: (1) social and religious traditions and values and (2) the availability of material resources. Both aspects have to be considered when investigating the adoption of Hellenistic and Roman art in Palestine.

Social and religious traditions and values.

While figural art was widespread in the Greek and Roman world in which deities, mythological subjects, portraits of humans, and other images were freely put on display, the Jews in Palestine were reluctant to depict figural scenes. This was due to the prohibition of the veneration of graven images in the Torah (Lev 26:1; Deut 4:15–19, 27:15). This prohibition was, however, subject to interpretation, and there were periods in which it was perceived in a very strict way and others in which it was interpreted more liberally. Thus, especially in the Hasmonean and Herodian periods, the exegesis of the prohibition of the veneration of graven images was so radical that hardly any figural images were found at all. This radicalism was due to inner-Jewish discourses about the preoccupation with pagan culture, which led to a strict separation from everything deemed pagan by major parts of the Jewish population. 1 Maccabees 13:47 attests to this radicalism, and Josephus (e.g., Ag. Ap. 2.75), Tacitus (Hist. 5.5, 4), and other authors (e.g., Hippolytus, Haer. 9.26) mention the strict prohibition of depicting animate motifs in the Second Temple period.

In later periods, however, this attitude changed (cf., e.g., y. ʾAbod. Zar. 42d:34–35) and a more relaxed approach toward images can be observed; in the late Roman period even synagogues could be furnished with figural art. This much more pragmatic attitude toward figural art can also be seen in the Jerusalem Talmud, Avodah Zarah (y. ʾAbod. Zar. 42d:40–48), where the famous dialogue between a Greek and a rabbi is reported:

"Peroqlos b. Pelosepos asked Rabban Gamaliel in Akko, when he was washing in Aphrodite’s bathhouse, saying to him, “It is written in your Torah, ‘And there shall cleave nothing of a devoted thing to your hand’ [Deut 13:18]. How is it that you’re taking a bath in Aphrodite’s bathhouse?” He said to him, “They do not give answers in a bathhouse.” When he went out, he said to him, “I never came into her domain. She came into mine. They don’t say, ‘Let’s make a bathhouse as an ornament for Aphrodite.’ But they say, ‘Let’s make Aphrodite as an ornament for the bathhouse.’” Another matter: Even if someone gave you a lot of money, you would never walk in your temple of idolatry naked or suffering a flux, nor would you piss in its presence. “Yet this thing is standing there at the head of the gutter and everybody pisses right in front of her.” It is said only, “…their gods” [Deut 12:3]—that which one treats as a god is prohibited, but that which one treats not as a god is permitted. (translation by J. Neusner)"

Availability of materials.

In the Levant no marble quarries were available. Thus, stone sculpture in the Hellenistic and Roman period was made either from imported marble or local limestone, sandstone, or basalt. This had a considerable impact on the artistic execution. Imported marble usually was worked by specialized masons, who were connected to the Mediterranean-wide marble trade and stood in a pagan artistic and iconographic tradition. On the other hand, cutting of basalt, limestone, or sandstone by local artisans could also lead to specific regional developments and local aesthetics. Sometimes the choice of material was even influenced by religious regulations, as can be seen with the preference of limestone objects in Judea in the Second Temple period: limestone objects could not acquire impurity.

Art, Hellenistic and Roman Period

Bronze vessel from the Cave of Letters. The Israel Museum, Jerusalem; courtesy of the Bridgeman Art Library

view larger image

The southern Levant offered other natural resources that had an impact on artistic production: rich deposits of silica-based sand made the region one of the centers of glass production in the Mediterranean.

Hardly any artists/artisans in Palestine are known by name. A Second Temple–period glass vase from the Jewish quarter in Jerusalem was signed by a certain Ennion from the Phoenician city of Sidon, and an ossuary from Jerusalem of the same period was made by a certain Eleazar from the Phoenician city of Berytus. The provenance of the two persons might not be by chance: the coastal cities were Hellenized early on and centers of Greco–Roman culture. The rabbinic literature also mentions artists (e.g., y. ʾAbod. Zar. 43d:54–62), and late Roman inscriptions from synagogues document Jewish artists.

Different Genres of Art

In the Hellenistic and Roman periods, several genres of art also known from other regions of the Mediterranean are attested in Palestine. They are influenced by Mediterranean objects but also developed specific regional peculiarities.


In the Hellenistic period Greek marble sculpture is very rare in Palestine and there are mainly imported objects in the coastal cities, which were more Hellenized than the hinterland. From the Hellenistic period a portrait of Alexander the Great was found in Scythopolis (Beth-Shean). Under Herod the Great (r. 37–4 B.C.E.) some marble sculpture came into the country, such as a cuirassed statue in Samaria-Sebaste. Also, the cult images in the temple of Roma and Augustus in Caesarea Maritima might have been made in marble. Josephus (B.J. 1:414) describes them as being modeled on classical Greek statues: the Zeus in Olympia by Phidias and the Hera of Argos by Polycleitos.

A more intensive marble import only started in the second century C.E., when Palestine took part in the Mediterranean marble trade. Sculptures such as deities, mythological figures, portraits, and imperial subjects were erected in Palestinian cities (especially Caesarea but also in Jerusalem, which after the Bar Kokhba War became a Roman city, Aelia Capitolina). These objects did not differ considerably from other marble sculptures in the Imperium Romanum, and they stood in public buildings and private houses. Some sculptures, however, such as the Tyche of Caesarea Maritima, were specially designed for Caesarea, and they attest to a vivid local art production (also in marble).

Local production of large-scale sculpture in local stone existed in some parts of Palestine. The subjects were less Greco–Roman in iconography and style. Judea in the Second Temple period hardly provided a substantial amount of large-scale sculpture. However, in some regions, local limestone, sandstone, and basalt were used for sculpture. Especially in the cities of the Decapolis, such as Gadara and Gerasa, but also in local sanctuaries such as Mamre, local production of sculpture (portraits, reliefs, dedications) can be traced. These objects were influenced by larger Greco–Roman trends, but they are characterized by local styles, techniques, and subjects. It is difficult to establish a chronological sequence of such objects. One of the earliest objects is a Hellenistic limestone Nike from Dor. Especially in the northeastern parts of Palestine, crude portraits in local stone which display little classical stylistic influence can be found. Such portraits might be a local reflection of Greco–Roman portrait habit.

Art, Hellenistic and Roman Period

Ennion glass vessel from Jerusalem. Baker Photo Archive, The Eretz Israel Museum

view larger image

Relief sculpture is rare in Palestine. There are some Hellenistic examples from the palace in Iraq el-Amir and from Ashrafiye, both in Transjordan. The reliefs and the architecture of the Qasr el-Abd in Iraq el-Amir are modeled on Ptolemaic prototypes. Attested are also some Hellenistic grave reliefs at the coast that fit into an eastern Greek artistic tradition. Sculptured reliefs remain scarce in the Roman period, too; but there are some important complexes, such as the Severan reliefs from the basilica in Ascalon and the so-called peopled-scrolls from Caesarea Maritima. Only in the late Roman period do we find various relief decorations in synagogue buildings, especially in Galilee and the Golan. Floral and geometric patterns prevail, but also animals (eagles) are occasionally depicted. From the late Roman Jewish necropolis of Beth Shearim we also know some rock-cut reliefs with human figures exhibiting stylistic features that are only loosely inspired by Greco–Roman art, such as en face view, body proportions not to scale, and, in general, very flat reliefs schematically carved.

Art, Hellenistic and Roman Period

Ossuary of the Second Temple Period with rosette-décor. Kim Walton, courtesy of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem

view larger image

Large-scale bronze sculpture is very rare in Palestine. The most important object is the bronze statue of the emperor Hadrian from Tel Shalem, probably relating to a Roman military camp. Small bronzes are much more common, and they usually depict deities. The repertoire and iconography are definitely Greco–Roman.

Sarcophagi and ossuaries.

In Phoenicia burial in sarcophagi was widespread since the late Bronze Age. Under Greek influence so-called anthropoid sarcophagi were created in the classical period. Hellenistic imported Greek sarcophagi are known from Sidon, where the so-called Alexander sarcophagus was found. When in other parts of the Imperium Romanum burial in stone sarcophagi flourished, only few imported marble sarcophagi reached Palestine from Asia Minor and Attica. On the Phoenician coast, however, stone sarcophagi are much better attested. In several parts of the southern Levant local production of limestone or basalt sarcophagi started (e.g., Jerusalem, Beth Shearim, Gerasa); such sarcophagi often had nonfigural geometrical decor but are little-studied regional phenomena. The local sarcophagi from Beth Shearim, for example, were influenced by imported marble sarcophagi but developed their own characteristic blend of local and Greco–Roman motifs.

Sarcophagi were also made from wood, but such objects with carved geometric decor survived only in very arid regions such as Jericho. These sarcophagi served for primary burials; and some of them, such as one from En-Gedi, were inlaid with bone. Another material used for sarcophagi was lead. Several workshops existed in the southern Levant during the late Roman period, one of them in Jerusalem and another probably in Tyre. These sarcophagi had stamped figural, floral, and geometric decor. In the fourth century C.E. they also applied Jewish and Christian symbols.

In Jewish burial customs secondary burial was common. After primary burial, for example, in a wooden sarcophagus, the bones were collected and deposited in an ossuary. Ossuaries are widespread in Judea in the Second Temple period. About one-third of these rectangular limestone boxes were decorated with nonfigural geometric or floral patterns. Very often, elaborate rosettes are depicted on the front. Sometimes architectural elements were also applied. These ossuaries were made in a characteristic cutting technique (Kerbschnitt, or chip carving), which also relates to other “Jewish” objects such as the Judean stone vessels. Use and production of the ossuaries ended in the second century C.E.

Terra-cotta figurines and oil lamps.

Terra-cotta figurines were widespread in the Hellenistic and Roman periods of the southern Levant, and they persisted until the Early Byzantine period. Terra-cottas were used in houses, tombs, and sanctuaries; and they attest private religious practice. They were mass-produced and, as such, of only minor aesthetic value. In general, two different typological and stylistic trends can be discerned: some, like those from a second-century C.E. workshop in Gerasa, display Greco–Roman features. Apart from that, another workshop existed during the late Roman period, in Beit Nattif in southern Judea, which produced horse-rider figurines and naked goddesses. Regarding style and iconography, these figurines stood in a local Iron-Age tradition with features like the strictly en face view and an unnatural emphasis on body parts that were considered important.

Hellenistic oil lamps in Palestine were decorated with simple geometric and floral patterns and mold-made. The so-called Herodian oil lamps, which are in fact late Hellenistic to early Roman types, were undecorated, with a round disc that was wheel-made and a spout applied by hand. From the second century onward we find two distinct groups of locally produced oil lamps in Palestine: a southern group and a northern group, which differ by shape and decoration. Both groups have a more or less nonfigural decor; only in the late Roman period did Jewish and Christian symbols appear. Also, these lamps were mold-made.

In the Roman imperial period oil lamps with figural decoration on the disc became fashion. The lamps were imported to Palestine after the first Jewish war, maybe first by Roman soldiers. These Western oil lamps influenced the local production. Sometimes terra-cotta figurines and oil lamps were produced in the same workshops, as attested from the workshops in Gerasa and Beit Nattif.

Interior decoration: stucco, wall paintings, mosaics.

Stucco was used for coating architectural elements and for embellishing inner walls, vaults, ceilings, and even floors. Often, stucco was combined with painted decoration. Late classical and Hellenistic Greek interior decoration knew such decorative elements as Masonry style. It imitated blocks in low relief and decorated stringcourses. In Hellenistic Palestine stuccowork is known from Iraq el-Amir (Transjordan) and Tel Anafa (Upper Galilee). Especially in the time of Herod the Great, stucco was used frequently in his palaces (e.g., Jericho, Herodium) and in private houses (Jerusalem). The stucco decoration of walls covered Doric friezes and Ionic and Corinthian cornices, and the ceilings had large rhomboid patterns with egg-and-dart moldings, grooved frames with cymatia, and rosette and leaf-moldings. The decor of the stuccoworks in Judea, of course, consisted of geometric and floral patterns, and only very rarely did images of living creatures occur, such as in a private house in Second Temple–period Jerusalem, where a frieze of wild animals was found.

Wall paintings are attested in Hellenistic and Roman Palestine. Most of the walls were executed in fresco technique. Hellenistic tombs with wall paintings were discovered, for example, in Marisa in Idumaea (ca. 200 B.C.E.). The iconography and style of the paintings are profoundly influenced by Ptolemaic Egypt, thus underlining the impact Ptolemaic Egypt had on the arts of Hellenistic Palestine. Tombs were also decorated with wall paintings in the Roman period. One of the largest groups of painted tombs is found at Abila, a city of the Decapolis. Also in Jericho, in a necropolis of the Second Temple period, wall paintings were found in the Goliath family tomb. They displayed floral decor with vine branches with leaves and grapes, and in between also birds were depicted.

Apart from tombs, houses, palaces, and public buildings were decorated with wall paintings in Palestine. Again, Tel Anafa in Upper Galilee yielded early fragments of Hellenistic domestic wall paintings. But also places in Judea boasted Hellenistic wall paintings such as the Hasmonean palaces in Jericho with Masonry style and marble imitations. From excavations in cities such as Akko and Scythopolis we also know plain decorations. In Gerasa the Hellenistic naos of Zeus Olympios (first century B.C.E.) was decorated with a Masonry-style imitation of marble and lozenge design. Many wall paintings are attested from the palaces of Herod the Great. The paintings are related to the contemporary Second and Third Pompeian styles, but they usually did not depict animals or humans. There are only rare cases of depictions of birds (Upper Herodium), and in the theater of the Herodeion depictions of animals, humans, and Nilotic and nautical scenes have been uncovered. The frescoes of Herod’s palaces usually showed imitations of marble and multicolored plain panels and strips. Herodian wall paintings also stem from the theater in Caesarea, again with plain panels, strips, and imitation marble. Such decoration is also attested from Nabataea, again mainly with nonfigural geometric and floral design. It is a characteristic of the adoption of wall painting influenced by Masonry style and by the Second and Third Pompeian styles that in the southern Levant it is mainly nonfigural, although there are rare exceptions, for example, in Herodian palaces and in private houses in Jerusalem, where in the Second Temple period wall paintings with birds were executed. In the later Roman period wall paintings are also attested in public buildings, such as the hunting depictions with large animals in the hippodrome of Caesarea.

Art, Hellenistic and Roman Period

Polychrome mosaic from Masada. Kim Walton

view larger image

One of the earliest Hellenistic mosaics from the southern Levant stems from Dor, where a second-century B.C.E. polychrome opus vermiculatum mosaic with theatrical mask and garland has been uncovered. It has been suggested that the mosaic was made by an artist from Alexandria. From the second and first centuries B.C.E. are mosaics from Tel Anafa in Upper Galilee, which were polychrome as well as black and white. They had geometric decor, but some were floral and some may even have been figured. The palaces of Herod the Great offer several examples of mosaics. All consisted of nonfigurative geometric decor in which two groups can be discerned. Most mosaics were polychrome and followed Hellenistic mosaic art, but there were also examples (Masada) of Roman black-and-white mosaics that attest a mixture of Hellenistic and Roman trends, characteristic of Herodian architecture. Polychrome mosaics were also found in private houses from the Second Temple period in Jerusalem.

There are not many mosaics from the first and second centuries C.E. in Palestine, but from the Severan period onward we again find splendid polychrome mosaics in Sepphoris, such as the Dionysiac mosaic from a private house. The late Roman period (and the Early Byzantine, which is not covered in this entry) is the golden age of mosaic floors in Palestine. Many synagogues and churches are decorated with figurative polychrome mosaics, and the floor, for example, in the synagogue of Hammath Tiberiasin Galilee (fourth century C.E.), is decorated with a zodiac in a pagan iconographic tradition. But Jewish religious motifs, such as the torah shrine, the menorah, or the sacrifice of Abraham, are also depicted. Churches often offered Nilotic images.

In the Second Temple period opus sectile floors with colored marble slabs laid in geometric patterns are found in Herodian palaces. Such expensive floors are known from all over the Mediterranean, but they are especially frequent in Italy. Opus sectile floors are also attested in private houses in Jerusalem and even imitated in the orchestra of the theater in Caesarea Maritima in fresco technique.


One of the most important bronze objects from Palestine is the Roman Caesarea cup in the Louvre, which was made of inlaid bronze. It depicts several deities of Caesarea Maritima and the foundation myth of the city. The cup, which probably dates to the third century C.E., documents

Art, Hellenistic and Roman Period

Terra-cotta figurine from Beth Natif. Zev Radovan /

view larger image

local artistic production in bronze. Also, other bronze vessels are attested in the region: the most interesting evidence comes from the Cave of the Letters in the Judean desert, containing finds from the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt. Here, bronze jugs have been found on which iconic decor (faces) had been mutilated by Jews objecting to images of human beings and deities. In other places, such as Dor, bronze vessels have been found, decorated with pagan images; and we have to assume that they had been imported.


In Palestine, as in other parts of the ancient world, pottery was mass-produced and served daily use. Pottery in general is divided into two groups: fine wares and coarse wares. Pottery could be produced locally (especially the coarse wares), but it also could be imported and traded over long distances (e.g., some fine wares). Sometimes imported pottery was imitated locally. Imported fine wares occur only rarely in Hellenistic and Roman Palestine. There are some early Hellenistic black- and brown-red-glazed fine wares, which seem to have been imitated locally (e.g., the find from a kiln in Ashdod). Attested are also some imported Megarian bowls with relief decoration. Since the second century B.C.E. the imported fine wares were to some extent replaced by local glass products and by imported Eastern Terra Sigillata A, which continued into the Roman period. Eastern Terra Sigillata A probably was produced in Syria-Phoenicia. This terra sigillata was orange-red-glazed and plain and decorated mostly with geometric decor. During the Herodian period the amount of Eastern Terra Sigillata A increased in Jerusalem. In the late Hellenistic period Eastern Terra Sigillata became more and more influenced by Arretine Sigillata, and it has been postulated that Western workshops had local branches in the East (Asia Minor) but that objects from there only occasionally reached Palestine. The local population preferred other fine wares, such as the locally produced, thin-walled “Jerusalem bowls,” decorated with red and black floral motifs. Such pottery was related to Nabataean fine wares. In the late first, second, and third centuries C.E. imported fine wares were replaced to some extent by glass products, and only in the third and fourth centuries C.E. did the import of pottery increase again; North African Terra Sigillata became quite common.

Stone vessel industry.

During the Second Temple period, when Jewish purity regulations were observed very strictly, a characteristic group of limestone objects was produced in Judea. Limestone could not acquire impurity, so vessels in this material can be regarded as Jewish identity markers. Due to the material, the objects had a rough appearance. The vessels had only simple but dense decor with lines and small geometric patterns, while the tables were more elaborate with geometric patterns and very rarely an animal (fish) as decor. Sometimes rosettes are found, and such decor relates to the decor and the technique of contemporary ossuaries or mosaics. There are also tables whose tops had polychrome mosaic inlays. Several quarries and workshops of such stone vessels and tables have been found in Judea, one at Hizma, northeast of Jerusalem, and others at Reina in the Galilee.


The Levant was a center of glass production, which was due to the rich deposits of silica-based sand at the Levantine coast, for instance, close to modern-day Haifa and Akko. Especially since the second century B.C.E. production of glass increased, and to some extent glass products replaced imported pottery fine wares. Typical Hellenistic vessels were mold-made, hemispherical bowls with a flat or ribbed surface. Around 50 B.C.E. glassblowing was invented, probably at the Syrian–Phoenician coast, as the earliest blown-glass object was found in Jerusalem in a Herodian layer together with other waste attesting to a local glass workshop. This invention made glass cheap and easy to produce in large quantities. In the Roman period fine-ware vessels were made of glass. In Jerusalem also very luxurious glass vessels have been found, such as the Ennion vase, which was made by a Sidonian craftsman named Ennion. The vessel was found in a house in the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem from the second half of the first century B.C.E., and it had rich geometric and floral decor. Several workshops from the Roman period are attested, among others in Samaria, Gerasa, Tiberias, and Sepphoris. Glass was also exported from Palestine to other places in the Mediterranean.


Since the fourth century B.C.E. coins were minted in Palestine, and even before then coins had reached Palestine. In the Hellenistic period royal silver and bronze coins were available in Palestine, and they had pagan images and portraits of the royal house. Such coins were also produced in local mints in the southern Levant, as in Akko. Some Hellenistic cities also produced local money, which was accepted in Palestine, for instance, the Tyrian tetradrachms with which the temple tax was paid. They depicted Heracles-Melqart, the main deity of Tyre. Ptolemaic coins were imitated in the early Hellenistic period. The Hasmoneans started to mint bronze coins under John Hyrcanus I (r. 135–104 B.C.E.), and although they adopted some motifs from pagan coins, they did not depict portraits, deities, or explicit symbols of deities. The iconography of Hasmonean coins is thus singular within the ancient world. The Hasmonean motifs, however, were not directly “Jewish.” Depicted were symbols of royalty such as a diadem, a helmet, and a cornucopia or neutral symbols such as a wreath or a star. The first Jewish symbols did not appear before Antigonus II Mattathias (40–37 B.C.E.); he was the first who presented a menorah and a showbread table on coins. The choice of these explicitly “Jewish” symbols probably has to do with the civil war situation against Herod, when religious symbols were used to rally support and loyalty. Also under Herod the Great the nonfigural repertoire of coin images continued, although now an eagle and a galley were depicted also. The Roman procurators also respected the Jewish prohibition of images, and only under some later Herodian kings, such as Herod Philip (r. 4 B.C.E.–34 C.E.) and Herod Agrippa I (r. 37–44 C.E.), did royal portraits and images of the Roman emperor appear on the local coinage. In the first Jewish revolt the rebels minted coins, and they again chose neutral, nonfigural objects such as vessels and plants. Only in the Bar Kokhba Revolt were explicit Jewish symbols applied; prominent are the front of the Jerusalem temple and trumpets.

Several cities in the region minted bronze coins in the Roman period. They usually depicted the emperor on the obverse and local subjects on the reverse. These images are a prime source for local monuments and traditions. They attest to the endeavor of cities to display a Greco–Roman profile, with deities and mythological figures in Greek iconography. Sometimes, however, a specific local layer shines through these images, hinting at a pre-Hellenistic past and at Semitic religious practices. In other cities, such as Sepphoris, the local coinage mirrors the heavy cultural disruptions and conflicts the region went through, with images that first respected the Jewish prohibition of graven images and, after the first Jewish revolt, also propagated a pro-Roman attitude.

Art, Hellenistic and Roman Period

Statue of Tyche from Caesarea Maritima. Courtesy of Lulu Cocolino

view larger image


Gems were used as seals and as personal adornment or amulets. From several places incised gems with deities, symbols of pagan deities, and other depictions have been found. They mostly stem from the late Hellenistic and Roman periods. Such objects traveled easily, and it is not clear whether they were produced also in Palestine or had considerable impact on local art. Comparably large amounts of gems stem from Caesarea Maritima, Jerusalem, and Gadara.

Bone and ivory.

Decorated bone and ivory objects from the Hellenistic and Roman periods have been little investigated so far. There are several pieces from Jerusalem, Samaria, Dor, and Beersheba, and some of them seem to have been produced in local workshops.


During the Hellenistic and Roman periods Palestine was part of the Mediterranean artistic koine (community), although the region developed its own characteristic expressions of art, due to its specific cultural profile and local traditions. In general, Palestine participated in the Mediterranean exchange of products of art, imported objects of art, and exported artistic products. Imported products sometimes were imitated by local products, and general artistic trends such as portraiture were adopted by local workshops. At the same time, Palestine was a region of mixed population with diverse and changing attitudes to art. The Jews were reluctant toward figural art, but there were also Hellenistic cities which more eagerly adopted Hellenistic and Roman art. In the early Hellenistic period, Greek influences mainly seem to have come from Ptolemaic art, and an artistic hellenization seems to have taken place, though sporadically. The Hasmonean period brought a radicalization of the interpretation of the prohibition of graven images, and only little figural art was imported or produced in Palestine. However, art flourished, and nonfigural art was applied using geometric and floral decor. These patterns often densely covered surfaces of objects (“horror vacui”). Thus, a characteristic regional style emerged in Judea, which has been termed “Oriental.” Further characteristics of this style can be seen in later Roman figural depictions. Locally produced figures often are depicted en face and with body proportions that are not to scale. Such images display little Greco–Roman artistic influence. Stronger Greco–Roman impact can be traced in other genres of art such as locally executed wall paintings and mosaics. They, however, were adopted in the Second Temple period with a mainly nonfigural decorative repertoire. Imported marble sculpture can be detected only since the second century C.E.; before that, marble sculpture was imported only sporadically. In the centuries after the Bar Kokhba Revolt, Palestine participated in the Mediterranean marble trade and many objects entered the country. In the later Roman period Jewish art became more open to Greco–Roman iconography and figural depictions. A specific Jewish art with specific Jewish images and symbols developed. This stands in contrast to Jewish art in the Second Temple period, when specific Jewish symbols are only very rarely attested: in this time, Jewishness was expressed by avoiding images.



  • Avi-Yonah, Michael. Art in Ancient Palestine. Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1981.
  • Baramki, Dimitri. “Two Roman Cisterns at Beit Nattif.” Quarterly of the Department of Antiquities of Palestine 5 (1936): 3–10.
  • Fischer, Moshe L. Marble Studies: Roman Palestine and the Marble Trade. Konstanz, Germany: Universitätsverlag, 1998.
  • Foerster, Gideon. Art and Architecture. Masada: The Yigael Yadin Excavations 1963–1965, Final Reports, vol. 5. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1995.
  • Hachlili, Rachel. Ancient Jewish Art and Archaeology in the Land of Israel. Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1988.
  • Iliffe, J. H. “Imperial Art in Trans-Jordan: Figurines and Lamps from a Potter’s Store at Jerash.” Quarterly of the Department of Antiquities of Palestine 11 (1945): 1–26.
  • Kuhnen, Hans-Peter. Palästina in griechisch-römischer Zeit. Munich: Beck, 1990.
  • Lichtenberger, Achim. “Bilderverbot oder Bildervermeidung? Figürliche Darstellungen im herodianischen Judäa.” In Herodes und Jerusalem, edited by Linda-Marie Günther, pp. 71–97. Stuttgart, Germany: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2009.
  • Magen, Yizhak. The Stone Vessel Industry in the Second Temple Period: Excavations at Hizma and the Jerusalem Temple Mount. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 2002.
  • Meshorer, Yaakov. A Treasury of Jewish Coins: From the Persian Period to Bar Kokhba. Jerusalem: Yad Ben-Zvi Press, 2001.
  • Netzer, Ehud. The Architecture of Herod, the Great Builder. With contributions by O. Peleg, S. Rozenberg, and R. Talgam. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2006.
  • Netzer, Ehud, Y. Kalman, R. Porat, et al. “Preliminary Report on Herod’s Mausoleum and Theatre with a Royal Box at Herodium.” Journal of Roman Archaeology 23 (2010): 84–108.
  • Ovadiah, Ruth, and Asher Ovadiah. Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine Mosaic Pavements in Israel. Rome: L’Erma di Bretschneider, 1987.
  • Rahmani, Levi Y. A Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries in the Collections of the State of Israel. Jerusalem: Antiquities Authority, 1994.
  • Rosenthal, Renate, and Renée Sivan. Ancient Lamps in the Schloessinger Collection. Jerusalem: Institute of Archaeology, 1978.
  • Rozenberg, Silvia. The Decoration of Herod’s Third Palace at Jericho. Hasmonaean and Herodian Palaces at Jericho, vol. 4. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 2008.
  • Saldern, Axel Von. Antikes Glas. Munich: Beck, 2004.
  • Stewart, Andrew, and S. Rebecca Martin. “Hellenistic Discoveries at Tel Dor, Israel.” Hesperia 72 (2003): 121–145.
  • Sussman, Varda. Ornamented Jewish Oil-Lamps: From the Destruction of the Second Temple through the Bar-Kokhba Revolt. Warminster, U.K.: Aris & Phillips, 1982.
  • Tal, Oren. The Archaeology of Hellenistic Palestine: Between Tradition and Renewal. Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 2006 (Hebrew).
  • Weber, Thomas Maria. Gadara Decapolitana: Untersuchungen zur Topographie, Geschichte, Architektur, und Bildenden Kunst einer “Polis Hellenis” im Ostjordanland. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 2002.
  • Weiss, Zeev. The Sepphoris Synagogue: Deciphering an Ancient Message through Its Archaeological and Socio-Historical Contexts. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 2005.
  • Wenning, Robert. “Hellenistische Skulpturen in Israel.” Boreas 6 (1983): 105–118.

Achim Lichtenberger