Galilee in Palestine, northern province of Judea
The region of Galilee lay in Palestine, in the Middle East, and to the west of a substantial Lake, Lake Tiberias, which was also known as the Sea of Galilee (or Yam Kinneret).
Historically the area was thought of as having only upper and lower regions, however the coastal plain (shown as Phonecia on the map), the Plain of Jezreel (or Esdraelon) and a portion of the Jordan rift valley are distinctive in their own right. Upper Galilee is an area of high hills, reaching a little over 1000m, and deep valleys. Lower Galilee, separated from the northern area by a scarp, comprises and area of lower hills and broader valleys. The coastal plain is about 11Km wide and cut by numerous streams/wadis. The plain of Jezreel is a broad area, generally less than 100m above sea level, parts were formerly prone to flooding and contained extensive marshes. The Jordan rift was well watered and fertile, with two significant lakes, the northern of which has now disappeared due to changes in agricultural practice (LaSor 1986, 387-8).
Fishing was a major economic activity around the lake, at least some of the catch being salted for wider distribution. Away from the lake the area was primarily agricultural. A major international trade route ran along the Jordan valley, down the western side of the Sea of Galilee and across the Plain of Jezreel to the coast.
Main Ethnic Groups
The population was diverse. The Bible mentions Jews, Syrians and Romans, the latter potentially being from anywhere in the Roman Empire. Travellers from Egypt, Arabia, Mesopotamia and Asia Minor regularly passed through the area and, no doubt, some settled. The major festivals of Judaism saw pilgrims from north passing through the area in huge numbers, all bound for Jerusalem.
The region was under the control of Herod Antipas, although Rome played a dominant role which many within Judaism resented. Attitudes in Galilee were more liberal than further south in Judea, where the Romans had imposed direct rule. Therefore Galilee tended to act as a refuge for those involved in revolutionary activity or who were out of favour with the authorities in Jerusalem. However, Galileans were looked down upon by those further south, who had easy access to Jerusalem.
Aramaic was spoken amongst the ethnic Hebrews. However, a form of Greek called Koine functioned as a common language for trade. Literacy was exceptionally high amongst the followers of Judaism as most me were expected to understand Hebrew well enough to read the scriptures.