Biblical Archaeology Review 30:4, July/August 2004

Healing Waters

The Social World of Hot Springs in Roman Palestine

By Estee Dvorjetski

Some of the most famous hot-spring spas in the ancient world lie along the Syrian-African rift. This great gash in the Earth’s mantle extends from Asia Minor in the north to east Africa in the south, with the Jordan Valley in between. The hot springs are a byproduct of the volcanic activity and earthquakes along the rift.1 Dating mostly from the Roman and the Byzantine periods (37 B.C.-638 A.D.), some of the springs are still operating, and if you plan a visit to the Holy Land, try one. I recommend Hammat-Gader, near the Sea of Galilee, which I will discuss in detail in this article.

Another notable spring in the Galilee is Hammei-Tiberias, where the Emperor Caracalla (who ruled from 211 to 217 A.D., and who was known by the nickname Antoninus in the rabbinic literature) may have sought relief for his chronic health problems.2 Located on the western shore of the sea, Hammei-Tiberias (also called Hammat-Tiberias) was well known in ancient times; Pliny the Elder called it a “salubrious hot springs.”3

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