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Herodian Estates East
& West of Jordan River

Virtual Karak Resources Project - VKRP
Virtual Karak Resources Project - VKRP
Virtual Karak Resources Project - VKRP
Virtual Karak Resources Project - VKRP
Virtual Karak Resources Project - VKRP
Virtual Karak Resources Project - VKRP
Virtual Karak Resources Project - VKRP
Virtual Karak Resources Project - VKRP

David Fiensy, Ph.D.
Professor of New Testament
Kentucky Christian College

The Estate of the Southern Jordan River

Click for a larger image!This area which included Jericho, Engedi, and later Phasaelis and Archelais on the west side of the Jordan river and Betharamtha/Livias on the east side of the river, was in antiquity a date palm and balsam plantation. The products from this estate were world famous as was the wealth derived from them. The balsam trees—yielding the precious balsam oil--only grew here in Palestine and in Egypt and were thus a rare and very sought-after commodity. The dates from this region were regarded as some of the finest in the world.

Theophrastus (372-288 BC; Historia Plantarum 9.6.14) first referred to the estate when he wrote (in the Ptolemaic period) of two paradeisoi in Syria (evidently at Jericho and Engedi) where balsam grows. Paradeisos is a Persian loan word that commonly indicates during the Hellenistic period that an older Persian estate has been taken over by a Hellenistic king. Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79; Naturalis Historia 12.111-124) maintained that these two “gardens” (horti) were in the early period (evidently the Persian period) only about 13 acres (20 iugera) or less each. But Strabo (64 BC-AD 21; Geographica 16.12.41) reported that the date palm plantation alone in his time had grown to eleven miles long (100 stadia). Pompeius Trogus (late first century BC to early first century AD; in Justinus, Historiae Philippicae, Epitome 3.2) wrote that the balsam plantation at that time was 128 acres (200 iugera). Thus the agricultural enterprise by the Herodian period was a large estate and must have been enormously profitable.

Click for a larger image!Herod built a series of marvelous palaces in Jericho where he could retire in winter and oversee this huge estate. Later he developed another palm plantation north of Jericho in his newly founded city of Phasaelis (Arabic site of Phasayil). According to the Madaba Map from the Byzantine era, date palms still grew at Phasaelis in the sixth century AD. After the death of Herod the Great, his son, Archelaus (ruled Judea from 4 BC to AD 6), [ Chart] rebuilt a royal palace at Jericho (Herod’s palace had been burned by insurrectionists) and developed yet another field of palm trees at Archelais. [ Map]

Click for a larger image!The area east of the Jordan river, in the ancient territory of Peraea, was also a part of this date palm plantation complex. The plantation was in the area of an Old Testament city called Beth Haram (or Beth Haran; Joshua 13:27, Numbers 32:36) and was called then in Aramaic Betharamtha. Herod the Great had a palace there as well and this date plantation also grew world famous dates (Josephus, War 2.59). Later, Herod’s son Antipas named the town Livias or Julias after the wife of Emperor Augustus (Josephus, Antiquities 18.27; War 2.168). Pliny the Elder wrote (Naturalis Historia 13.44) that the dates of Jericho were especially good but also good were those from Archelais, Phasaelis, and Livias. The outstanding qualities of these dates, wrote Pliny, were their juiciness and their sweetness.  According to the sixth century pilgrim, Theodosius, Livias was twelve Romans miles from Jericho across the Jordan river. Today most archaeologists identify the ruin of Tell er-Rameh as the site of the ancient town. The Madaba Map also pictures date palms still growing in the area of Livias/Betharamtha in the sixth century AD. [ Map]

Thus the complex of plantations that stretched from Engedi to the south to Phasaelis to the north and from Jericho and Archelais to the west to Betharamtha/Livias to the east formed a huge estate that produced very profitable crops of balsam oil and dates. Herod the Great probably inherited this estate from the Hasmonean rulers who in turn had inherited it from the Seleucids and Ptolemies. Herod expanded the estate by developing Phasaelis and his son Archelaus developed Archelais. [ Map]

 

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