Before the Romans ‘rebranded’ Tiberias as a health tourist centre and more importantly an strategic administrative centre it was formally a fortified Jewish settlement township call Rakkath. The earliest reference to it is in Joshua 19:35, ‘The fortified towns were Ziddim, Zer, Hammath, Rakkath, Kinnereth..’
“Rakkath is Tiberias,” Well so say the Gemarists. “It is clear to us that Rakkath is Tiberias.” And when, after a few lines, this of Rabbi Jochanan was objected, “When I was a boy, I said a certain thing, concerning which I asked the elders, and it was found as I said; namely, that Chammath is Tiberias, and Rakkath Zippor”; it is thus at last concluded, “Rabbi said, Who is it, to whom it was said, that Rakkath is not Tiberias? For, behold! when any dies here (in Babylon), they lament him there (at Tiberias) after this manner, The hearse of a famous man deceased in Sheshach (Babylon): whose name also is of note in Rakkath, is brought hither: thus lament ye him,–O ye lovers of Israel, O citizens of Rakkath, come forth, and bewail the dead of Babylon! When the soul of R. Zeira was at rest, thus one lamented him, The land of Babylon conceived and brought forth delights, the land of Israel nourished them. Rakkath said, Woe to itself because she lost the vessels of her delights. Therefore saith Rabba, Chammath is the same with the warm baths of Gadar, and Rakkath is Tiberias.”
This city touched on the sea, so that the sea served on one side for a wall to it. Hence is that, in the place but now cited; “Rabh Hezekiah read the Book of Esther in Tiberias, on the fourteenth day (of the month Adar), and also on the fifteenth day (see Esther 9:21), doubting whether it were compassed with walls from the days of Joshua, or not. But who would doubt this of Tiberias? when it is written, ‘And the fenced cities were Ziddim, Zer, Chammath, Rakkath, and Chinnereth.’ But it is clear to us that Rakkath is Tiberias. The reason, therefore, why he doubted was this, because on one side it was enclosed by the sea instead of a wall. But if it were so, why did he doubt? Because, truly, it was no wall. When the tradition is thus, A city which hath a wall, but not fortified walls, the contiguous houses are for such walls. But Tiberias is excepted, which hath the sea for a wall” So also R. Simeon Ben Jochai, in the Jerusalem Gemara just now alleged: ‘Among the cities fortified with walls Tiberias is excepted, as having the sea for a wall.’
Not much is known about what exactly happen to the city of Rakkath. But it is known that Herod Agrippas re-named it Tiberias and built a new and powerful city
The etymology of the name:
The Gemarists deduce elsewhere, namely, either from Tob reja, because it was fair to behold, or “because it was Betiborah, in the navel, or middle,” also in thier luxuriant wit, perhaps they elude to being ignorant of the thing itself basically a place to philosophise or kabbalise by ‘gazing at one’s naval’.