For the Babylonian Talmud Zippori got its name because it sits on a mountain top like a bird (zippor). Rising only 115 m above the Bet Netofah Valley the mound is no eyrie, but it does permit a bird’s-eye view over the surrounding countryside. This hint of its strategic importance is confirmed by its primary role in the history of Galilee.
Sepphoris was already a strongly fortified city in 100 BC when alone among the cities of Galilee it held out against Ptolemy VIII of Egypt. In the recognition (57-55 BC) which followed the Roman conquest of Palestine Gabinus made it the seat of the council which governed Galilee (War 1: 170). This suggests that it was already recognized as the most important city in the region. It crystallized the opposition of the old Hasmonean nobility to the upstart who became Herod the Great (37-4 BC). He took it during a snowstorm in 38 BC, and stockpiled weapons there. At his death the son of his old enemy used them to arm his followers and rose in rebellion (War 2: 56). Varus, the Roman legate in Syria, immediately intervened. ‘He took the city of Sepphoris and burnt it and made slaves of its inhabitants’ (War 2:68).
Herod Antipas, who inherited Galilee under his father’s will, thus found his capital a deserted ruin. His decision to rebuild in 3 BC probably drew the artisan Joseph and his family to settle in nearby Nazareth (Matt. 2: 21-3); the project would provide work for many years. Antipas made Sepphoris ‘the ornament of all Galilee’ (Antiquities 18:27), which is probably an allusion to its defensive strength rather than to its beauty.
Source: The Holy Land by Jerome Murphy- O’Connor