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Surprising Hints of Possible Portal to Pan Found Near Ancient City in Israel

Surprising Hints of Possible Portal to Pan Found Near Ancient City in Israel

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A team of archaeologists working in Hippos-Sussita, Israel have uncovered what may be a gateway to a worship compound for the Greek God Pan. This possibility is exciting as few built structures or temples have been found to date connected with worship of this god. Most researchers have said linked him to caves and other natural locations outside cities. This discovery also helps shed some light on a mysterious mask previously unearthed at the site.

Live Science reports that a team of researchers from the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa have “uncovered a monumental Roman gate, which may have led to a compound dedicated to the worship of Pan.”

The team and the gate they have excavated.

The team and the gate they have excavated. (Dr. Michael Eisenberg/University of Haifa )

The researchers believe that the gate, which is located outside the city limits, may have measured 20 feet (6 meters) tall. The two square basalt towers have been estimated to have dimensions of approximately 6.30 meters by 6.30 meters (20.67 by 20.67 ft.) and have a portal that is 3.7 meters (12.14 ft.) wide. The researchers date the structure to the reign of the Roman emperor Hadrian, 117-138 AD, or a little earlier.

A mysterious large bronze mask said to depict Pan was found last year at the site of Hippos-Sussita. As Mark Miller wrote for Ancient Origins:

“The archaeologists said they were unaware of any other bronze masks of a Greek god, and contacts with museums around the world confirmed this. It may be the only mask of its kind […] The mask was found nearby the remains of a basalt structure with thick walls and very solid masonry work, which suggested a large structure from the Roman period. A Pan altar on the main road to the city, beyond its limits, is quite likely.”

The bronze mask of Pan discovered near Hippos.

The bronze mask of Pan discovered near Hippos. ( Dr. Michael Eisenberg/University of Haifa )

It is interesting to note that “The ancient city of Paneas, north of Hippos-Sussita, had one of the most famous worshipping compounds to the god Pan inside a cave. Because they included drinking, sacrificing and ecstatic worship that sometimes included nudity and sex, rituals for rustic gods were often held outside of the city.”

There are few examples of built edifices for Pan worship that have been found to date, however, combining the mysterious mask with the new discovery suggests that one more may be soon uncovered. Dr. Michael Eisenberg, the head of the expedition has said that until recently: “it has only been possible to suggest hypotheses regarding the mask’s original function and use […] When we found the mask we assumed that it had filled a ritual function. Since we found it outside the city, one of the hypotheses was that we were looking at evidence of a mysterious ritual center that existed outside the city. However, as we all know, monumental gate structures lead to large compounds.”

Pan was a god connected to nature, the wild, goats, shepherds, flocks, and hunting. He has been linked to fertility and sexuality as well as associated with a musical instrument – the Pan flute. Pan was often depicted as a half-human with goat’s horns and legs. The Roman counterpart to Pan was called Faunus. Legends about Pan generally tell of the god chasing and trying to seduce nymphs – who turned him down due to his ugly appearance.

"Sweet, piercing sweet was the music of Pan's pipe" reads the caption on this depiction of Pan (by Walter Crane)

"Sweet, piercing sweet was the music of Pan's pipe" reads the caption on this depiction of Pan (by Walter Crane) ( Public Domain )

Hippos (Sussita in Hebrew) is located in the northern region of what is now Israel. April Holloway has written that “It is likely that Hippos, on a very defensible site along the border lines of the 3rd century BC, was founded as a border fortress for the Ptolemies” but that the city met hard times when “in 363 AD, disaster struck Hippos [as] a powerful quake brought havoc and destruction.”

Newswise reports that the ancient city of Hippos has been gradually unearthed by an international team since 2000. The excavations have taken place “under the auspices of the Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa.”  The site of Hippos is found within Sussita National Park, which is managed by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

The remains of the Basilica in Hippos, Israel.

The remains of the Basilica in Hippos, Israel. ( Hippos-Sussita Excavation Project )

The experts are hopeful that something big is awaiting them at the site in the near future. Dr. Michael Eisenberg said:

“Now that the whole gate has been exposed, we not only have better information for dating the mask, but also a clue to its function. Are we looking at a gate that led to the sanctuary of the god Pan or one of the rustic gods? What kind of worship of Pan or his fellow Dionysus, the god of wine, took place here in Hippos? To answer that question, we will have to keep on digging.”

Researchers will not have to wait long to get their hands dirty again at the site. The new excavation season is beginning next month, when dozens of researchers and volunteers from Israel and around the world will look further into the mystery of the role of Pan at Hippos.

Top Image: The Roman gate excavated by University of Haifa. Source: Dr. Michael Eisenberg/University of Haifa . Inset: The bronze mask of Pan discovered near Hippos. ( Dr. Michael Eisenberg/University of Haifa )

By Alicia McDermott

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