(Gk., Iotapata; Heb., Yodefat; Ar., Khirbet Shifat),

site located in the Galilee, directly south of modern Moshav Yodefat and described by Josephus (War 3.158–160) as surrounded on three sides by steep ravines and accessible from the north, hidden by surrounding mountains, and having no natural water source (map reference 176 × 248). Jotapata was the site of the first major battle between Roman Jewish forces in the Jewish War that began in 66 CE. Josephus, the commander of the Jewish forces, describes in great detail the battle and his subsequent capture by Vespasian (War 3.145–288, 316–408). Archaeological remains provide a glimpse of the battle as well as a rare look at a first-century CE Galilean site undisturbed by building activities from later periods.

In 1847, E. G. Schultz (1849) first properly identified Jotapata; Edward Robinson associated the site with Jiphthahel (Jos. 19:14, 27), but the apparent absence of Late Bronze or Iron I pottery makes his identification unlikely. Claude R. Conder and H. H. Kitchener (1881) suggested that the site might also be the Gopatata of the Talmud (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 108a), Yodpat in the Mishnah (῾Arakh. 9.6), and Jotabe, an episcopal town in 536 CE. William Foxwell Albright associated it with biblical Yotva. A place called Yodefat existed in the time of Joshua, according to the Mishnah (῾Arakh. 9.6), but excavations in 1992 directed by Douglas Edwards, Mordechai Aviam, and David Adan-Bayewitz indicate that the first major occupation of the site occurred in the Hellenistic period.

The site consists of upper Yodefat, or Jotapata, and is approximately 480 acres in area when combined with lower Khirbet Shifat immediately to the north. Jotapata had a large outer fortification wall that experienced at least three building phases: in its earliest phase (probably belonging to the Seleucid period), an outer wall (2.5–3.5 m thick) extended around the north, east, and west sides. [See Seleucids.] The inner part of the fortification wall was built over an earlier building that produced large storage jars and a Ptolemaic coin on its floor, suggesting a founding date for the town in the Ptolemaic period. An inner wall at the northern part of the site increased the wall's thickness to more than 5 m. Its construction style resembles that of the Hellenistic city wall found at the coastal city of Dor. [See Dor.]

On the north, the city wall consists of large ashlars founded on bedrock; the ashlars were covered on their north face by chipped pieces of limestone, in some spots to a depth of almost 4 m. A series of narrow walls held the limestone chips in place, creating an artificial hill to the northwest that increased protection where the town was most vulnerable.

A portion of a ramp composed of mortar and crushed pottery, probably built by the Romans during their attack on Jotapata in 67 CE, was also found on the northwest. [See First Jewish Revolt.] Ballista, iron bow and catapult arrowheads, possible sandal nails, and Early Roman pottery embedded in or under the mortar that stabilized the ground in front of the wall are clear evidence of the first-century battle between the Roman army and the town's Jewish defenders. Another rubble wall 5 m inside the ashlar wall on the northeast created a casemate wall 5–6 thick. The casemate structure was built on top of the quarried limestone chips associated with the earlier wall (see above). This construction appears to date to the Early Roman period and may be associated with preparations for war against the Romans. Similar rubble walls extend south: one follows the contour of the hill and the other follows the upper hill. The upper wall appears to have been built during the Hellenistic period; the lower wall enclosed the lower plateau in the Roman period.

The language of at least some of the first-century CE inhabitants was Aramaic or Hebrew, as shown by an ostracon found in a first-century context. An unfinished olive press and an olive-press complex in a cave on the site's steep east side suggest the industry's importance in the town. Several stepped pools, possibly miqvaot or ritual baths, have been located near the oil-press operations. However, the pools may have simply served as settling pools. An Early Roman pottery kiln at the southern edge of the town indicates that Jotapata had a degree of self-sufficiency in ceramic manufacturing, although pottery from kilns at Kefar Ḥananyah show that Jotapata was part of a regional economic network that linked pagan cities (such as the coastal city of Akko) with Galilean cities, towns, and villages. [See Kefar Ḥananyah.]

Upper Yodefat, or Jotapata, was apparently not occupied after the Romans destroyed it in the first century. The lower part of the town, Khirbet Shifat, was apparently reestablished to the north in the late first or early second century CE. Pottery found down to floor surfaces indicates that this lower town continued at least into the medieval period.

[See also Galilee; and the biographies of Albright, Conder, Kitchener, and Robinson.]


  • Adan-Bayewitz, David. Common Pottery in Roman Galilee: A Study of Local Trade. Ramat Gan, 1993.
  • Aviam, Mordechai. Article in Hebrew in Cathedra 28 (1983): 33–46.
  • Conder, Claude R., and H. H. Kitchener. The Survey of Western Palestine: Memoirs of the Topography, Orography, Hydrography, and Archaeology, vol. 1, Galilee. London, 1881. See pages 289, 311–313.
  • Edwards, Douglas R., Mordechai Aviam, and David Adan-Bayewitz. “Yodefat, 1992.” Israel Exploration Journal 45.2–3 (1995): 191–197.
  • Josephus. The Life. Translated by Henry St. John Thackeray. Loeb Classical Library, Josephus, vol. 1. Cambridge, Mass., 1966.
    See 188, 234, 322, 350, 353, 357, 412, and 414
  • Josephus. The Jewish War. Loeb Classical Library, Josephus, vols. 2–3. Cambridge, Mass., 1967–1968.
    See 2.573, 3.111–114, 3.141–339, 3.405–406, 3.432, 3.438, 4.1, 4.4, 4.624, and 5.544
  • Meyers, Eric M., et al. “The Meiron Excavation Project: Archaeological Survey in Galilee and Golan, 1976.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 230 (1978): 1–24.
  • Schultz, E. G. “Mitteilungen über eine Reise durch Samarien und Galilaea.” Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morganländischen Gesellschaft 3 (1849): 46–62.
  • Tsafrir, Yoram, et al. Tabula imperii romani: Iudaea-Palaestina. Jerusalem, 1994.
  • Wolff, Samuel R., et al. “Archaeology in Israel.” American Journal of Archaeology 98 (1994): 481–519. See pages 509–510.

Douglas R. Edwards