The days of the Hasmonean rule are known for the many battles, mainly with the Seleucid empire, yet at the same time, in many internal power struggles. Some of the two took place within the borders of the Land of Israel and some throughout the neighboring nations. The Hasmoneans established a network of forts, mainly in the desert area around the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea.
On the face of it the desert forts seemed to be perceived by many as a place of refuge for the ruler, but when examining the essence of the forts throughout the Persian Empire for example, one can see the hierarchy of forts, and the most important where actually used to store treasury including documents related to the King’s land Administration such as the leasing of the lands and their registration, records of tax collection and so on. The fortresses of the Judean Desert from the Second Temple period played a similar role. These fortresses served primarily as treasuries & administrative centers. I will take the opportunity to invite you to watch a video about the Hyrkania fortress where I expand on the purpose of the desert fortresses.
Herod recognized the benefits of these forts and rebuilt some of them. There are 7 desert forts which are: Alexandrion, Doc, Hyrcania, Herodion, Machaerus, Masada and Kypros. We will concentrate today on Kypros while keeping an eye on Doc Fortress located 2 km north of Kypros.
Between Kypros and Doc are two beautiful winter palaces of the Hasmoneans and Herod which we will elaborate on in a separate video. We are in Kypros, built on the ruins of a Hasmonean fortress which we don’t know its name. Kypros is the name of Herod’s mother, and after her he named the fort. Kypros is located above Jericho Valley, about a kilometer southwest of the Hasmoneans & Herod winter palaces, and about 25 km from the outskirts of Jerusalem.
There was another purpose for Kypros & Doc fortresses- see the amazing view of the Jericho Valley – this place was one of the most important sources of income for the Hasmonean state and then Herod. You are probably asking yourselves, what was the unique income source, the answer will be provided shortly. Both Kypros and Doc overlook the Hasmonaeans’ gardens, located a mile Northeast from here and the different plantations in the Jericho Valley.
As I have already mentioned, Herod built the fortress on top of a Hasmonean fortress and like any structure that Herod rebuilt, he added volume, splendor and power to it. Herod increased the summit area by erecting high retaining walls, a method he also used in the Temple Mount. Here, as a result of the collapse of the retaining walls, large parts of the structure at the top of the mountain were destroyed, the researchers estimate that the retaining wall was 12m high.
In Kypros, the remains of an impressive palace were exposed on the top of the mountain, which means that even in a fortress with a certain level of military orientation, recreational facilities were included, which also strengthens the claim that desert fortresses served mainly as a royal treasury guard. In Kypros were found not only luxurious and ornate rooms, but also two Roman-style bathhouses. In one of the bathhouses, an entire bath of oriental alabaster, made of one block, and I have no doubt that it was a complex operation to bring it to its place. From the Hasmonean period only a few walls at the top of the mountain and a guard tower in the southern corner of the lower hill have been preserved.
From the Byzantine period there is a large and beautiful structure with a mosaic floor next to a cistern, and these were found in the center of the lower part of the palace. It is worth noting that in the lower part, only a few test excavations were made, but they were enough to reveal palace rooms where walls are covered with coloured frescoes, stone carvings, painted plaster, and another magnificent bathhouse made of white mosaic stones with geometric ornaments.
If the water needs of the Hasmonean fortress were supplied by local water sources, then for the magnificent baths that Herod added and built, in addition to the expansion of agricultural land – additional water sources were needed.
Israel was the only place in the Roman Empire where the Afarsimon shrub, the type of plant called Commiphora, grew. Afarsimon is also known by other names such as: Balsan, Balsam, Balsemon, all are derivatives of the Hebrew name for perfume. Due to its importance, there is a dedicated film on this plant and you are welcome to watch it. The Afarsimon grew in Jericho valley, including in the city of Beit Haram, also known as Beit Haran, or Beit Ramta. It is also known in its Roman name Libias, which was a Jewish city in today’s East of Jordan, just opposite Jericho. It is mentioned, among other places, in the book of Joshua as a city in the territory of the tribe of Gad.
It was also grown in the area of Ein Gedi and Ein Bokek, but the largest plantations were here in Jericho. Its product was used for perfumes, for worship, it was used as one of the ingredients of incense in the temple, and was also used in medicine.
Its value was double the weight of silver as a metal. The fact that in the triumphant procession of Vespasian and Titus these rare shrubs were also led with the rest of the spoils attests to the importance of the Afarsimon. After the Romans conquered the country, the scope of Afarsimon agriculture greatly expanded, both due to market demands throughout the Roman Empire and thanks to technological innovations, such as aqueducts to transport irrigation water.
The ownership of the plantations was mainly of the royal houses, but also those holding key positions. The Afarsimon yielded great economic benefit to the kingdom of Judah and the Romans. Another important fruit that was important from number of aspects, is the date. During the Second Temple period 2000 years ago, dates grew across the Jordan valley over an area of about five thousand dunams, that is 1,250 acres. Today, by the way, there are 15,000 dunams of palm trees, that is 3 times.
If we assume that the growth density was the same as today, that is, in each dunam – 12.5 trees, then in simple terms, 2,000 years ago, more than 62,000 palm trees grew in the Jordan Valley. I have no information on how many of the trees grew in the Jericho Valley, but I would not be too mistaken if I assume that 25,000 grew in this area. And now we reach the interesting part – during each year, each tree receives 160,000 liters of water, and just to put things in perspective, at that time, that is at the end of the Second Temple, the annual water consumption of an average resident was 7,000 liters of water compared to 160,000 liters. I will only mention that in the Jericho Valley, dates were grown for drying, these are dates that can be preserved for a long time. The qualities of the dry dates of the Land of Israel were unprecedented in relation to what was customary at the time. There is much evidence of this.
The Land of Israel during the Second Temple period received most of its fame throughout the Roman Empire due to the production of Afarsimon oil, and due to the cultivation of dried dates that were used for food throughout the year. Both Dates and Afarsimon ceased from the Jordan valley after the conquest of the land by the Ayyubid kingdom, when the palm tree returned here only at the beginning of the 20th century.
During the Hasmonean period, runoff water was collected from the slopes and the area around the hill, and the water was led in a short aqueduct, to four large cisterns hewn on the slope facing Jericho, yet only the northern pit remained. Herod designed a water system based on a 20km long aqueduct which led to Kypros waters from Prat spring, also known as Ein Fara, and from Mabua spring, also known as Ein Poar, to the water cisterns built by the Hasmoneans.
The beginning of the system for supplying water to Kypros Fort was actually at Mabua spring which is the middle spring between the three main springs in the Prat stream. It is also the most abundant spring in the Prat stream. At the same time, due to its geological structure, there are extreme fluctuations in the amount of its water flowing, both during the year and between the years. This spring can generate a maximum of 3,000 cubic meters per hour, and in the summer can even dry up. On an annual level one can expect an amount of water that is between 2 and 3.5 million cubic meters, a significant amount – but due to Mabua spring instability, Herod built another aqueduct connecting Prat and Mabua springs so that during the low tide of Mabua spring, water was drawn from Prat spring, which is about 6km west of Mabua spring.
According to Yosef ben Matityahu, the Jewish Roman historian, during the period of the Great Revolt (70-66 CE), the rebels captured Kypros, killed the Roman garrison that was stationed here and completely destroyed the fortress. Remains of fire were found in many of the rooms, which testify to this. The latest finds here are from the Byzantine period – on the lower part of the hill, a surface of 20 by 20m square, there was one room facing east – probably a small monastery used by Christian monks.
And finally, as usual, a question for you – on part of Herod’s aqueduct, a special aqueduct was built 700 years later – what was special about this aqueduct and who built it. The answer will appear at the end of the video.