We are in the ancient settlement of Ein Bokek, near the Dead Sea, 30 km south of Ein Gedi.
Looking around at this arid place, and trying to imagine what was here more than 2000 years ago, how people lived here? So like Ein Gedi there was life here thanks to the springs and Nahal Bokek that is Bokek brook we will visit later, which provided the inhabitants with water.
Like Ein Gedi, also in Ein Bokek, the hot climate and the availability of water created a good infrastructure for agriculture, growing valuable plants used for perfumes, herbs, and medicinal plants. The presence of Asphalt, in the Dead Sea and in Hemar brook, 4 kilometers south of here, and the short distance, 6 kilometers from the salt mountains of Sodom are what motivated man to settle in this place.
We are in the area where there was a Hasmonean farm. Up the hill, we see a Roman-Byzantine fortress that we will visit later. According to the coins discovered here, the farm was established in the days of Alexander Yanai and was probably destroyed with the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. It was a royal farm whose proceeds were given to the King’s Treasury. It was probably inhabited by Jewish aristocrats.
The farm has cultivated 350 dunams or approx. 90 Acres agricultural areas around us. The area included terraces and irrigation from two springs, Spring Noit just above us and Ein Bokek spring, 1km up the brook channel, and also from floodwaters. The water from the two springs flew through two aqueducts to small reservoirs. We can still find some remains of the aqueduct that carried water from Ein Bokek to one of the reservoirs.
The farmers grew mainly herbs and perfume plants like Afarsimon and it has nothing to do with the persimmon fruit we eat nowadays. At the end of the farm there was a small orchard for growing herbs and perfume plants. This orchard is today in the heart of the hotels area.
The agricultural facilities came back to life in the early fourth century CE as the Roman Empire was restored by Emperor Diocletian. This can be seen mainly based on the Fort.
From a military point of view, the fort can be seen as part of the Roman main line of defense. It was established here, to block the passage to Ein Gedi and secure the ascent to Mount Hebron located just hundreds of meters north of us. The fort importance increased in the periods the sea water level were lower and it became easier to cross the Dead Sea, and the crossing occurred very close to here.
It is not inconceivable that at the end of the fourth century the periodic declines of the Dead Sea water level enabled raids by Arab nomadic tribes that crossed the dead sea on camels. In addition to the military aspect, the Fort also had a local role to protect the oasis and its orchards and as an administrative center of the area.
The Fort dimensions are 19×19 m’. In the four corners are square towers, each 4 x 6 m’. To the eastern and northern walls were rooms attached, whose flat roofs served as positions for warriors at the top of the wall. The towers were the main combat positions designed to serve as focal points of resistance even after the enemy penetrated the fort.
According to the findings, the soldiers apparently received the status of militiamen of the border who lived with their families in the vicinity of the fortress. Each of them cultivated the land he received from the kingdom and in return undertook to serve in the Fort for a certain period each year and report to the flag in an emergency. In general, when a soldier protects the land from which he lives, he will better protect it. The site was destroyed in a major fire, not clear if it happened because of a destruction or an earthquake that struck the area. If by destruction, then it is probably the Arab tribes who invaded the country at the beginning of the fifth century. Examination of the bones and leftover food revealed that the locals’ menu included nuts, olives, dates, goat and sheep meat, pork and also various fish.
Fish was a significant part of the supplied food and one of the means to diversify it. According to the findings, the fish came from three different sources: Eilat Bay 200Km south of here, the Mediterranean Sea 100Km west from here and fresh water. This indicates the efficient organization of the supply arrangements for the troops, the good maintenance of the roads and the high security when using them, which were conditions for maintaining a quality supply.
The nearest freshwater source was the Jordan river approx. 80Km north from here, but it is possible to bring dried fish from the Sea of Galilee 200Km north from here. Many ostrich eggs were discovered, at which time these birds were common in this region. On the other hand, the bones of a rooster, which is almost unknown from the excavations of the sites of this period, were discovered.
Now, given the daily routine and tasks outside the walls, it can be determined that the number of soldiers was between 48 and 56. One of the papyruses found in the fort deals with the granting of a loan to the locals of the village who, as we discussed, combined agricultural work with the guarding of the compound.
We reached the end, and as usual, a question for you – We discussed that one of the income sources for the locals was collecting and selling Asphalt from the dead sea and Hemar brook. What were the main use of Asphalt 2000 years ago, the answer will appear at the end of the video.