terraced farm at a hand-dug spring in the Rephaim Valley, 3 km (5 mi.) southwest of Jerusalem. The ancient name of the site is unknown, but in Arabic it is called ῾Ain Yalu. Based on archaeological survey, the site has been inhabited from the Canaanite period (2000–1600 BCE) until modern times, although not continuously. Excavation has revealed structural remains from the First Temple (800–700 BCE), Roman (100–300 CE), Byzantine (400–640 CE), Early Arab (700–800 CE), and Ottoman (1516–1917) periods.

The remains of agricultural terraces surrounded by stone fences can still be seen in aerial photographs and topographical maps of the Judean hills. As far as is known, such terraces were first built in this region at the beginning of the Iron Age (twelfth-eleventh centuries BCE) and continued to be used until modern times.

The farm at ῾Ein-Ya'el was built near the foot of the hill and consisted of eight terraces constructed along its contours. The terraces were surrounded by a stone fence with access on both its west and east sides. In all periods of settlement at ῾Ein-Ya'el, the buildings were constructed at the uppermost part of the farm.

The terraces were irrigated by a water system consisting of a tunnel hewn horizontally into the hill. At one end of the tunnel, rainwater filtering through the rock was collected in a cave. The tunnel opens into a series of plastered channels leading to several pools that regulated the amount of water used for irrigation. Two levels of channels beneath the modern channels attest to the similarity of the modern and ancient water systems. The imprints of metal tools are still visible on the rock walls of the tunnel and the cave.

The terrace walls were laid on bedrock and the empty space created between the wall and the slope was filled with soil and stone. The earliest structure excavated is a corner of a building dated to the First Temple period. Pottery and stone tools were found scattered on its floor. Among the inscriptional finds are two seal impressions, the first with an undeciphered personal name in the Hebrew script common to the period and the second with a lmlk (lamelekh) seal imprint on a jar handle.


῾EIN-YA'EL. Figure 1. Overall view of the villa's mosaic flooring. (Courtesy Lucille Roussin)

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῾EIN-YA'EL. Figure 2. Part of the mosaic floor. From the triclinium, showing nereids and icthyocentaurs offering platters with gifts. (Courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority)

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On the three highest terraces, the remains of a Roman villa (approximate area, 4,500 sq m) were discovered and partially excavated. On the uppermost terrace, the frescoed, stone walls of a corridor, a room, and a triclinium (formal dining room) were uncovered, all with mosaic floors (see figure 1). Scattered on the floor of the triclinium were hundreds of fragments of fresco decorated with flowers and human faces and chunks of plaster with a painted diamond pattern that had probably fallen from the ceiling. A stuccoed frieze decorated with stylized flowers, geometric patterns, and human faces adorned the room's edges. One panel of the mosaic floor features the sea goddess Tethys surrounded by fish and sea creatures; depictions of Medusa flank the scene. The second panel of this mosaic bears scantily clad nereids seated on the tails of ichthyocentaurs (creatures with the head, arms, and bust of a man; the forelegs of a horse; and the tail of a fish) (see figure 2); this scene is bordered by depictions of fish and ducks flanking two cupids riding on dolphins. In the center of this second panel, a marble slab forming part of a fountain was found together with a bronze nozzle; lead pipes through which the water circulated were found under the mosaic.

The mosaic in the corridor consists of four panels, each containing a personification of one of the four seasons, with birds in each corner. An additional rectangular panel contains a scene of a satyr weaving garlands, while a figure carrying a basket approaches from behind. Only the last word, kalē (“good”), of the Greek inscription below the satyr has been read.

The triclinium opened onto a small room with a mosaic floor displaying a medallion with a badly preserved face. A bird is depicted in each corner of the floor and an animal is depicted on each edge. Two theatrical masks on this floor allude to the cult of the wine god Bacchus.

On the second terrace of the villa, the remains of a Roman bathhouse were uncovered. Sections of two of its rooms still stand from floor to ceiling, one with a domed roof. The roof of the second room was barrel vaulted, and beneath the floor brick arches were found that supported the hypocaust. Pottery pipes—part of the heating system—were found attached to the walls of both rooms. A cross painted on one wall of the domed room confirms the ceramic evidence of occupation during the Byzantine period, whereas an oven was dated to the Early Arab period.

On the villa's third terrace, the remains of a pool were found; its position indicates that it formed part of the Roman irrigation system. Well-preserved rooms from a second Roman bath were excavated on this terrace. In the two rectangular rooms, the mosaic floor above the hypocaust was supported by columns. The floor had mostly collapsed in these rooms, but a mosaic depiction in a third (circular) room resembles a magen David (Heb., “shield of David”). The wall of the circular room had frescoes painted with geometric lines and swirls and representations of fruit. A layer of plaster painted with colored lines was applied on top of this fresco; this layer is not clearly dated. The mosaic floors and the ceramic as well as the numismatic finds in the villa date to the Late Roman period (late second to third century CE); additional pottery sherds were dated to the Early Arab period. On top of this material lay roof tiles, some bearing seals of the Roman Tenth Legion, and boulders that had slid from the hill.

The Roman villa at ῾Ein-Ya'el was built after the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132–135 CE) and the expulsion of the Jews from all of Judea [See Judah]. The villa forms part of the romanization of Judea, which included the construction of Aelia Capitolina on the ruins of the city of Jerusalem. The earlier farms surrounding Jerusalem were probably replaced by Roman-style farms and villas similar to those at ῾Ein-Ya'el. Some of the villa's buildings were in use more than four hundred years later, until the earthquake that shook Jerusalem in 732.

All the remains of the villa were deliberately covered with soil, probably during the Ottoman period, and the site was used as a farm. Today the site houses the ῾Ein-Ya'el Living Museum.


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  • Edelstein, Gershon. “What's a Roman Villa Doing Outside Jerusalem?” Biblical Archaeology Review 16.6 (1990): 32–42. Find it in your Library
  • Edelstein, Gershon, and Ianir Milevsky. “The Rural Settlement of Jerusalem Re-valuated: Surveys and Excavations in the Rephaim Valley and Mevasseret Yerushalaim.” Palestine Exploration Quarterly 126 (1994): 2–23. Find it in your Library
  • Gibson, Shimon, and Gershon Edelstein. “Investigating Jerusalem's Rural Landscape.” Levant 17 (1985): 139–155. Find it in your Library
  • Hopkins, David C. The Highlands of Canaan: Agricultural Life in the Early Iron Age. Sheffield, 1985. Find it in your Library

Gershon Edelstein