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The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East What is This? Provides comprehensive coverage of the history and scope of archaeology in the Near East.

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oasis in Israel on the southwest shore of the Dead Sea (31°10′ N, 35°20′ E; map reference 1854 × 0676). Its ancient name is unknown. After a Late Roman castellum was constructed here, it may have been known as Tetrapyrgia (cf. Anastasius Sinait., Interrog, in J. P. Migne, Patrologia Graeca, Paris, 1857–1886, 89, col. 744).

The site's ideal growing conditions for pharmaceutical plants, such as balsam, and choice fruits such as the Nicolaus date, caused the Hasmoneans (perhaps under Alexander Jannaeus) to extend their most lucrative plantations, maintained in neighboring ῾Ein-Gedi, to ῾Ein-Boqeq. A tower of typical Hasmonean chisel-smoothed whitish ashlar, pottery, and two coins connect the initial terracing and field enclosures with them. Because aqueducts—one 1.2 km long and the other 300 m long—and reservoirs (which served the oasis in later periods) were a precondition for settlement here, their construction must also be attributed to the Hasmoneans (in the site's phase I). At its greatest expanse, perhaps in the Byzantine period, the cultivated area covered 180,000 sq. m.

The Officina.

Under King Herod the products of the plantations, supplemented by asphalt from the Dead Sea and ingredients provided by the Arabian caravans passing to the south of it, were used to operate a factory (officina) for producing pharmaceutical and cosmetic products. The officina was a nearly rectangular building (20 × 20 m). Its walls, preserved to a height of 1.5 m, are 80 cm thick, have two faces of roughly dressed stones set in mud mortar, and have a rubble core. The rooms are arranged around a central courtyard that runs from the northern to the southern (main) entrance.

The evidence suggests that the main entrance chamber gave access on the left into a storeroom for precious raw materials and on the right to a workroom furnished with two low, plastered basins. One basin has a posthole and may have been a bag press operated by a single worker. The relatively small site of these basins and most of the other installations at the site attests to how delicate the raw materials—petals, buds, and leaves—were, as well as to the small quantities of liquids, resins, and powders extracted.

The main production line was in the southeastern part of the courtyard. This industrial compound included, in its most elaborate phase (phase II), a stone chest for raw materials, a fireplace for preheating (esp. boiling); a grinding platter; a stone vat, or mortar; and an upper and lower beehive-shaped oven that created regulated temperature to heat vessels set upon the opening in their apex. These installations served processes such as crushing, pounding, mixing of ingredients, their maceration (dipping in hot fats and oils), decoction (boiling down to essence), evaporation, or sublimation (non-liquid condensation). (The same techniques of production existed already in Old Testament times, as proven by Egyptian wall paintings.) Two additional ovens, in work areas created by walls that jut into the courtyard, served or were served by the production line. Room 4 (10 × 3.75 m), west of the courtyard, was heavily plastered. The floor in its northern part, also plastered, sloped slightly toward a sunken pit (55 × 35 × 50 cm) that collected the substances squeezed out of plants by treading or crushing. In the opposite room (no. 6), a handmill or similar device seems to have been operated in phases I–II on a round table surrounded by a round flagstone floor. The Hasmonean tower, incorporated into the structure's southwest corner, provided security. The plantation's four phases of occupation of the factory are allocated to Herod, the first procurators, Agrippa I and the second procurators, and to a haphazard refurbishing by Bar Kokhba following the destruction that took place during Vespasian's war against the Jews.

The Castellum.

The subsequent history of ῾Ein-Boqeq is obscure until a courtyard-type castellum, or fortress, was built by Constantine or, more probably, his sons. The fort is a typical quadriburgus (16.5 × 16.5 m). Its walls, built with two roughly dressed faces and a rubble core, are 1.80–2 m thick and are 6 m high. The four corner towers (each is 6 × 6 m) provided complete protection for a garrison of forty-five to sixty-five men (based on a reconstruction of the barrack blocks), with either one or two stories. The barracks were leaning onto the curtains and used their inner face as a back wall. Considerable skill was exercised in setting this structure firmly into a mound of loose gravel and making it almost completely resistant to the shock of earthquakes or attempts at separate capture. Yet, such attempts have left their imprint: destruction layers separate the four phases during which it functioned as a stronghold at the Dead Sea of the limes Palestinae (the fortified borders of Roman Palestine).

Phase I extended to Valentianus, phase II to the mid-fifth century (?), phase III to the Persian invasion (614 CE), and phase IV to Heraklius (c. 624 to the Arab conquest, c. 634 CE). Although the plantations ceased to operate at about the time of the Arab conquest, life went on for two or three more generations in the castellum. It became a collection center for nitrates gathered from the Dead Sea, which were used for fertilizer and in the manufacture of glass.


  • Fischer, Moshe. “En Boqeq: An Industrial Compound from Herodian Times” (in Hebrew). Nophim 11–12 (1979): 21–38. Discusses the functioning of the officina.
  • Fischer, Moshe, and Tzvi Shacham. “The Water System of the En Boqeq Oasis” (in Hebrew). In Aqueducts of Ancient Palestine, edited by David ῾Amit et al., pp. 289–298. Jerusalem, 1989.
  • Gichon, Mordechai. “Das Kastell En Boqeq.” Bonner Jahrbücher 171 (1971): 386–406.
  • Gichon, Mordechai. “Excavations at En-Boqeq: The First Season.” In Roman Frontier Studies 1969, edited by Eric Birley et al., pp. 256–262. Cardiff, 1974.
  • Gichon, Mordechai. En Boqeq: Ausgrabungen in einer Oase am Toten Meer. Mainz, 1993. Final excavation report of the castellum, including historical background and a detailed comparative discussion of the small finds.
  • Sheffer, Avigail, and Amalia Tidhar. “The Textiles from the En Boqeq Excavation in Israel.” Textile History 22.1 (1991): 3–46. Technical treatise on the production and composition of the textiles produced at ῾Ein-Boqeq, of special importance for research into the textiles of Byzantine Palestine.

Mordechai Gichon

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