Located in far northern Galilee near Israel’s present-day border with Lebanon, the remains of Omrit sit on a bluff above the Hulah Valley, in the shadow of Mt. Hermon. Running directly past the site is the Roman and Crusader road to Damascus. Banias, or Paneas, a cult center devoted to the god Pan in ancient times, is less than two miles away.

Omrit was a gateway to the region of Iturea, home to the ancient Itureans, a loose confederation of tribes. The Itureans had a distinctive religious system that blended Syrian, Persian and Greco-Roman elements. In about 104 B.C.E., however, the Hasmonean king Aristobulos I conquered Iturea and required its people to convert to Judaism. In the mid-first century B.C.E. the area was controlled by the Ptolemies. After Cleopatra’s downfall in 31 B.C.E., the Roman emperor Augustus granted the land to his client-king, Herod the Great. Over a century later, Iturea was integrated into the larger Roman province of Syria.

Archaeologists rediscovered Omrit a mere five years ago; excavations have already revealed two grand Roman temples, one of them likely the shrine built by Herod to honor his patron, Augustus.