SAMARIA, an ancient city of Palestine. The name Samaria is derived through the Gr. Sa/uApeta from the Hebrew jhgtf, " an outlook hill," or rather from the Aramaic form jnpp, whence also comes the Assyrian form Samirina. According to ! Kings xvi. 24, Omri, king of Israel, bought Samaria from a certain Shemer (whose name is said to be the origin of that of the city), and transferred thither his capital from Tirzah. But the city, as a superficial inspection of the site shows, must have existed as a settlement long before Omri, as potsherds of eailier date lie scattered on the surface. The city was occupied by Ahab, who here built a temple to " Baal " (i Kings xvi. 32) and a palace of ivory (i Kings xxii. 39). It sustained frequent sieges during the troubled history of the Israelite kingdom. Ben-Hadad II. of Syria assaulted it in the reign of Ahab, but was repulsed and obliged to allow the Israelite traders to establish a quarter in Damascus, as his predecessor Ben-Hadad I. had done in Samaria (i Kings xx. 34). Ben-Hadad II. in the time of Jehoahaz again besieged Samaria, and caused a famine in the city; but some panic led them to raise the siege (2 Kings vi., vii.). The history of the city for the following 120 years is that of Israel (see JEWS).
In 727 died Tiglath-Pileser, to whom the small kingdoms of W. Asia had been in vassalage; in the case of Israel at least since Menahem (2 Kings xv. 19). He was succeeded by Shalmaneser IV., and the king of Israel, with the rest, attempted to revolt. Shalmaneser accordingly invaded Syria, and in 724 began a three-years' siege of Samaria (2 Kings xvii. 5). He died before it was completed, but it was finished by Sargon, who reduced the city, deported its inhabitants, and established within it a mixed multitude of settlers (who were the ancestors of the modern Samaritans). These people themselves seem to have joined a revolt against the Assyrians, which was soon quelled. The next event we hear of in the history of the city is its conquest by Alexander the Great (331 B.C.), and later by Ptolemy Lagi and Demetrius Poliorcetes. It quickly recovered from these injuries: when John Hyrcanus besieged it in 120 B.C. it was " a very strong city " which offered a vigorous resistance (Jos. Ant. xiii. x. 2). It was rebuilt by Pompey, and restored by Aulus Gabinius: but it was to Herod that it owed much of its later glory. He built a great temple, a hippodrome and a street of columns surrounding the city, the remains of which still arrest the attention. It was renamed by him Sebaste, in honour of Augustus: this name still survives in the modern name Sebusteh. 1 Philip here preached the gospel (Acts viii. 5). The rise of Neapolis (Shechem) in the neighbourhood caused the decay of Sebaste. It was quite small by the time of Eusebius. The crusaders did something to develop it by establishing a bishopric with a large church, which still exists (as a mosque) ; here were shown the tombs of Elisha, Obadiah and St John the Baptist. From this time onward the village dwindled to the poor dirty place it is to-day.
The site of Samaria is an enormous mound of accumulation, one of the largest in Palestine. In some places it is estimated the debris is at least 40 ft. deep. The crusaders' church remains almost intact, and numerous fragments of carved stone are built into the village houses, beneath which in some places are some interesting tombs. The hippodrome remains in the valley below, and the columns of the street of columns are in very good order. The walls can be traced almost all round the town: at the end of the mound opposite the modern village are the dilapidated ruins of a large gate. The site stands in the very centre of Palestine, and, built on a steep and almost isolated hill, with a long and spacious plateau for its summit, is naturally a position of much strength, commanding two of the most important roads the great N. and S. road which passes immediately under the E. wall, and the road from Shechem to the maritime plain which runs a little to the W. of the city. The hill of Samaria is separated from the surrounding mountains (Amos iii. 9) by a rich and well-watered plain, from which it rises in successive terraces of fertile soil to a height of 400 or 500 ft. Only on the E. a narrow saddle, some 200 ft. beneath the plateau, runs across the plain towards the mountains ; it is at this point that the traveller coming from Shechem now ascends the hill to the village of Sebusteh, which occupies only the extreme E. of a terrace beneath the hill-top, behind the crusaders' church, which is the first thing that attracts the eye as one approaches the town. The hill-top, the longer axis of which runs W. from the village, rises 1450 ft. above the sea, and commands a superb view towards the Mediterranean, the mountains of Shechem and Mount Hermon. Excavations under the auspices of Harvard University began here in 1908. (R. A. S. M.)
1 Accentuated on the second syllable. Guide- and travel-books generally spell the name Sebastiyeh, which is not a correct rendering of the local pronunciation.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)