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Title: Iturea  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Lajat, Ptolemy (son of Mennaeus), Lysanias, Abila Lysaniou, Philip the Tetrarch
Collection: Ancient Peoples, Ancient Syria, History of Israel, History of Lebanon, New Testament Places
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Eastern Hemisphere in 100 BCE. #10 is Iturea

Iturea Ancient Greek: Ἰτουραία , Itouraía) is the Greek name of a Levantine region north of Galilee during the Late Hellenistic and early Roman periods. It extended from Mount Lebanon across the plain of Massyas to the Anti-Lebanon mountains in Syria, with its centre in Chalcis.[1]


  • Itureans 1
    • Ethnic origins 1.1
  • Etymology 2
  • History 3
    • Under Hasmoneans, Herodians and Romans 3.1
  • References 4
  • Notes 5


The Itureans (Greek: Ἰτουραῖοι) were semi-nomadic tribe. Modern scholarship identifies them as an Arab or Aramaean people. They first rose to power in the aftermath of the decline of Seleucid power in the 2nd century BCE, when, from their base around Mt. Lebanon and the Beqaa Valley, they came to dominate vast stretches of Syrian territory,[2] and appear to have penetrated into northern Palestine as far as the Galilee.[3]

Ethnic origins

The exact origin of the Itureans is disputed. Some scholars believe that the Itureans were either an Arab or Aramaic people.[4][5][6][7][8][9] Shlomo Sand asserts that they were perhaps basically Phoenician, or an admixture of these with Arabs and Aramaeans.[10]


Several etymologies have been proposed for the name Iturea:

John Lightfoot considered possible derivation from the words hittur (wealth), chitture (diggings) or the word for "crowning" (i.e. `ittur) or for "ten" (i.e. the root `-th-r) relating to Decapolis ("ten cities"). He considered the last to be the least likely and favoured the derivation from chitture noting the descriptions of the landscape.[11]

William Muir suggested that the name might be a derived from Jetur (Hebrew Yetur) one of the former Hagrite encampments that had been conquered by the Israelites in the days of Saul,.[12] Although this etymology is popular in reference works of past centuries it is not considered tenable by modern scholars.[13] The account of the Hagrites places Jetur east of Gilead whereas Iturea has been confirmed to be north of Galilee. Moreover in Josephus where both names are mentioned, Jetur (Ietour-) is rendered differently in Greek to Iturea (Itour-). Similarly in the Vulgate the two localities have different Latin names (Iathur for Jetur and Itureae for Iturea) showing that writers of antiquity did not view the names as the same.

Smith's Bible Dictionary attempted to equate the modern Arabic region name Jedur with both Jetur and Iturea however the Arabic j corresponds to Hebrew g and not y, and Arabic d does not correspond to Hebrew or Greek t and the mainstream view is that Jedur is instead the Biblical Gedor.

A modern conjecture on the etymology of the name is that it derives from Yaẓur/Yaṭur a name of a Nabatean prince living in the region whose brother Zabud appears to have given his name to the Zabadaeans, another Nabatean tribe who together with the Itureans had been conquered by the Hasmoneans.[14]


Under Hasmoneans, Herodians and Romans

In 105 BCE, Aristobulus I campaigned against Iturea, and added a great part of it to Judea, annexing the Galilee to the Hasmonean kingdom. Josephus cites a passage from Timagenes excerpted by Strabo which recounts that Aristobulus was:

'very serviceable to the Jews, for he added a country to them, and obtained a part of the nation of the Itureans for them, and bound to them by the bond of the circumcision of their genitals.[15][16]

Whether the Maccabees circumcised the Itureans and other populations against their will is uncertain: Strabo asserts that they simply created a confederation with such tribes based on the common bond of circumcision, which may be more plausible, though their policy appears to have been one of aggressive Judaizing.[17]

The Iturean kingdom appears to have had its centre in the kingdom of Ptolemy, son of Mennaeus (Mennæus), whose residence was at Chalcis(?) and who reigned 85-40 BCE. Ptolemy was succeeded by his son Lysanias, called by Dio Cassius (xlix. 32) "king of the Itureans." About 23 BCE, Iturea with the adjacent provinces fell into the hands of a chief named Zenodorus (Josephus, l.c. xv. 10, § 1; idem, B. J. i. 20, § 4). Three years later, at the death of Zenodorus, Augustus gave Iturea to Herod the Great, who in turn bequeathed it to his son Philip (Josephus, Ant. xv. 10, § 3).

The area and the Itureans are mentioned only once in the New Testament, in the Luke iii. 1, but are frequently described by pagan writers such as Strabo, Pliny the Elder, and Cicero. The Jewish writer Josephus also described them. They were known to the Romans as a predatory people,[18] and were appreciated by them for their great skill in archery.[19] They played a notable role in the defense of Jerusalem. A southern branch of the Itureans dwelt in Galilee but were conquered by the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus and, according to Josephus, forcefully converted to Judaism.[20][21]

Many Christian theologians, among them Eusebius,[22] taking into consideration the above-cited passage of Luke, place Iturea near Trachonitis. According to Josephus,[23] the Iturean kingdom lay north of Galilee. That Itureans dwelt in the region of Mount Lebanon is confirmed by an inscription of about the year 6 CE (Ephemeris Epigraphica, 1881, pp. 537–542), in which Q. Æmilius Secundus relates that he was sent by Quirinius against the Itureans in Mount Lebanon. In 38 Caligula gave Iturea to a certain Soemus, who is called by Dio Cassius (lix. 12) and by Tacitus (Annals, xii. 23) "king of the Itureans." After the death of Soemus (49) his kingdom was incorporated into the province of Syria (Tacitus, l.c.). After this incorporation the Itureans furnished soldiers for the Roman army; and the designations "Ala I. Augusta Ituræorum" and "Cohors I. Augusta Ituræorum" are met with in the inscriptions (Ephemeris Epigraphica, 1884, p. 194).


  • E. A. Myers, The Ituraeans and the Roman Near East (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2010).
  • D. Herman, Catalogue of the Iturean coins. Israel Numismatic Review 1:51-72.
  • Said, Salah, "Two New Greek Inscriptions with the name ϒTWR from Umm al-Jimāl," Palestine Exploration Quarterly, 138,2 (2006), 125-132.
  • WRIGHT, N.L. 2013: “Ituraean coinage in context.” Numismatic Chronicle 173: 55-71. (available online here)


  1. ^ Berndt Schaller, 'Ituraea' in Der Kleine Pauly:Lexicon der Antike, Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 5 vols. Bd.2. 1979, p.1492.
  2. ^ Steve Mason, Life of Josephus,Brill, 2007 p.54, n.306.
  3. ^ Berndt Schaller, Ituraea, p.1492.
  4. ^ Avraham Negev, Shimon Gibson (2005). Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land (Paperback ed.). Continuum. p. 249.  
  5. ^ Zuleika Rodgers, Margaret Daly-Denton, Anne Fitzpatrick-McKinley (2009). A Wandering Galilean: Essays in Honour of Seán Freyne (Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism) (Hardcover ed.). Brill. p. 207.  
  6. ^ Mark A. Chancey (2002). The Myth of a Gentile Galilee (Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series) (Hardcover ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 44.  
  7. ^ John Wilson (2004). Caesarea Philippi: Banias, The Lost City of Pan (Hardcover ed.). I. B. Tauris. p. 7.  
  8. ^ Steve Mason (2003). Flavius Josephus: Life of Josephus (Paperback ed.). Brill Academic Publishers. p. 54.  
  9. ^ Doron Mendels (1987). The Land of Israel As a Political Concept in Hasmonean Literature: Recourse to History in a Second Century B.C. Claims to the Holy Land (Texte und Studien zum antiken Judentum) (Hardcover ed.). J.C.B. Mohr. p. 66.  
  10. ^ Sand, ibid.p.159.
  11. ^ 'John Lightfoot, 'A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, Cambridge and London, 1658-1674, Chorographical Notes, Chapter 1: Of the places mentioned in Luke 3, Iturea
  12. ^ William Muir, Esq., The Life of Mohamet, 4 volumes, Smith, Elder & Co., London, 1861
  13. ^ Julien Aliquot, Les Ituréens et la présence arabe au Liban du IIe siècle a.C. au IVe siècle p.C., Mélanges de l’Université Saint-Joseph 56, 1999-2003, p. 161-290.
  14. ^ Salah Said & M. Al-Hamad, Three short Nabataean inscriptions from Umm al-Jimā, Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies, 34 (2004): 313–318
  15. ^ Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 13,318-19.
  16. ^ Shayne J.D.Cohen, 'Respect for Judaism by Gentiles According to Josephus,' in Shayne J.D. Cohen (ed.) The Significance of Yavneh and Other Essays in Jewish Hellenism, Mohr Siebeck, 2012 p.200.
  17. ^ Shayne J.D. Cohen, 'Was Judaism in Antiquity a Missionary Religion,' in Cohen, ibid. pp.299-308, p.301.
  18. ^ Cicero, Philippics, ii. 112.
  19. ^ Cæsar, Bellum Africanum, 20.
  20. ^ Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, in Flavii Iosephi opera, ed. B. Niese, Weidmann, Berlin, 1892, book 13, 9:1
  21. ^ Seán Freyne, 'Galilean Studies: Old Issues and New Questions,' in Jürgen Zangenberg, Harold W. Attridge, Dale B. Martin, (eds.)Religion, Ethnicity, and Identity in Ancient Galilee: A Region in Transition, Mohr Siebeck, 2007 pp.13-32, p.25.
  22. ^ Onomasticon, ed. Lagarde, pp. 268, 298.
  23. ^ Ant. xiii. 11, § 3.
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