(watch mountain), this city is situated 30 miles north of Jerusalem and about six miles to the northwest of Shechem, in a wide, basin-shaped valley, six miles in diameter, encircled with high hills, almost on the edge of the great plain which borders upon the Mediterranean. In the centre of this basin, which is on a lower level than the valley of Shechem, rises a less elevated hill, with steep yet accessible sides and a long, flat top. This hill was chosen by Omri as the site of the capital of the kingdom of Israel. He “bought the hill of Samaria of Shemer for two talents of silver, and built on the hill, and called the name of the city which he built, after the name of the owner of the hill, Samaria” (1 Kings 16:23-24). From the time of Omri’s purchase Samaria retained its dignity as the capital of the ten tribes, and the name is given to the northern kingdom as well as to the city. Ahab built a temple to Baal there (1 Kings 16:32-33). It was twice besieged by the Syrians (1 Kings 20:1 and 2 Kings 6:24 to 2 Kings 7:20), but on both occasions the siege was ineffectual. The possessor of Samaria was considered de facto king of Israel (2 Kings 15:13-14). Later Samaria was taken, after a siege of three years, by Shalmaneser king of Assyria (2 Kings 18:9-10), and the kingdom of the ten tribes was put to an end. Some years afterward the district of which Samaria was the centre was repeopled by Esarhaddon. Alexander the Great took the city, killed a large portion of the inhabitants, and suffered the remainder to set it at Shechem. He replaced them by a colony of Syro-Macedonians who occupied the city until the time of John Hyrcanus, who took it after a year’s siege and did his best to demolish it entirely (B.C. 109). It was rebuilt and greatly embellished by Herod the Great. He called it Sebaste-Augusta, after the name of his patron, Augustus Caesar. The wall around it was 2 1/2 miles long, and in the centre of the city was a park 900 feet square containing a magnificent temple dedicated to Caesar. In the New Testament the city itself does not appear to be mentioned, but rather a portion of the district to which, even in older times, it had extended its name (Matthew 10:5; John 4:4-5) (see Samaria, Country of). At this day the city is represented by a small village retaining few vestiges of the past except its name, Sebustiyeh, an Arabic corruption of Sebaste. Some architectural remains it has, partly of Christian construction or adaptation, as the ruined church of St. John the Baptist, partly, perhaps, traces of Idumaean magnificence. St. Jerome, whose acquaintance with Palestine imparts a sort of probability to the tradition which prevailed so strongly in later days, asserts that Sebaste, which he invariably identifies with Samaria, was the place in which St. John the Baptist was imprisoned and suffered death. He also makes it the burial-place of the prophets Elisha and Obadiah. For the country of Samaria, see Samaria, Country of.
Smith's Bible Names Dictionary (1866)