Scythopolis/Nysa (Beit Sh’ean) is one of the oldest cities in Israel. It is located in the Galilee region in northern Israel where the Harod Valley and Jordan Valley meet, just 27 kilometres south of the Sea of Galilee and 5 kilometres east of the Jordan River. Beit Sh’ean is one of Israel’s largest archaeological sites.
Beit She’an was first settled in the 5th millennium BC on a mound south of the Harod Stream, in the heart of a region of great fertility and abundant water and at a major crossroads. During the Late Bronze Age (16th – 12th centuries BC), the Egyptians made Beit She’an the centre of their rule over Canaan. A basalt tablet from Seti I (1290–1279 BC) was found in the city with the name of Beit-Shean. A Canaanite city was later constructed on the site of the Egyptian centre, followed by Israelite rule and the Philistines during the Old Testament period. Beit Shean is mentioned in the Bible several times and is best known as the site where King Saul and his sons were hung from the city walls.
The city was later expanded into a large Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine city under the name of Scythopolis or Scythopolis-Nysa. The name derived from the Greek myth according to which Dionysus buried his nurse Nysa in the city where he settled with his Scythians personal guards. Scythopolis became the largest of the cities in the regional alliance known as the Decapolis and reached its zenith after the Bar Kocha revolt under Antoninus Pius (138-161 AD) and Marcus Aurelius (161-180 AD). Temples, bathouses, a theatre, an amphitheatre and other monumental buildings were constructed. During the 4th-7th century Scythopolis continued to prosper but the pagan structures were converted to other uses since the majority of the population was Christian.
The large city was leveled by a massive earthquake in the 8th century AD and was in ruins until recent archaeological excavations uncovered eighteen layers of remains dating from the late Neolithic period (4500 BC) through the 12th century AD. The ancient city ruins are now protected within a national park, known as Bet She’an National Park.