a fortified settlement in the central Negev desert, also known as Mampsis, located 40 km (25 mi.) southeast of Beersheba, at the junction of the roads from Aila (Eilat) to Jerusalem and Gaza (map reference 156 × 046). Kurnub is the site's Arabic name. At the end of the first century BCE, the site was settled by the Nabateans as a secondary stop on the trade route from Petra to the Mediterranean Sea. The settlement prospered into the second century CE, when it and the rest of the Nabatean kingdom became part of the Roman Provincia Arabia and horse breeding replaced trade as the primary economic activity. (In contrast to other Nabatean sites in the Negev, agriculture at Kurnub was never an important part of the economy, primarily because of the dearth of arable land.) In the Late Roman period Kurnub became a garrison in defense of the Jerusalem—Aila road. Its strategic importance continued into the Byzantine period, primarily because of its proximity to Transjordan. The mosaic Madaba map portrays it (under the Greek name Mampsis) as a fortified city—an arched gateway flanked by towers. [See Madaba.] It is also mentioned as Mamphis in the military papryi of Neṣṣana, another sixth-century source. [See Neṣṣana.] Because the latest coins found at the site date to the mid-sixth century CE, it is believed that the town was destroyed by Arab invaders sometime before the Muslim conquest of Palestine in 636 CE.
Following numerous late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century surveys and preliminary explorations, Kurnub was extensively excavated between 1965 and 1967, in 1971–1972, and again in 1990 by a team led by Avraham Negev on behalf of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Architectural remains at Kurnub are more extensive than at any other site in the Negev, and the quality of that construction is striking. More than two-dozen public buildings have been excavated, among them, two Byzantine churches with mosaic pavements. A Late Roman city wall surrounded the town, which also had an extensive water-collection system and three distinct cemeteries with burials dating from the Nabatean through the Byzantine periods.
Kurnub was not one of the early Nabatean settlements in the Negev. Remains from the Middle Nabatean period (c. 30 BCE–70 CE) are the earliest found there. Studying this period is further hampered because the town was completely rebuilt, following a new plan in the second century CE. The largest of the Middle Nabatean buildings, all of which were built of hammer-dressed stones, was a fortress situated at the site's highest elevation, in the northeast.
The Late Nabatean/Late Roman period (70 CE-mid-fourth century CE) begins with the reign of Rabel II (70–106 CE) and continues into what is known historically as the Late Roman period. (It can, however, be classified as Late Nabatean because the same structures continued in use from the second through the mid-fourth centuries—and in most cases beyond, into the Byzantine period.) The Late Roman finds consist primarily of pottery and coins and the remains of the city wall. Built at the end of the third century or at the beginning of the fourth, the wall was about 900 m long and enclosed an area of about 15 acres. It had two gates and was defended by two towers. The main gate was on the north; the western gate gave access to Naḥal Mamshit.
Many Late Nabatean buildings were constructed on or incorporated into the foundations of earlier buildings. A large Middle Nabatean structure, for example, was uncovered beneath the city wall. Use of the Late Nabatean public pool at the northeastern edge of the city extended into subsequent periods. The pool (18 × 10 × 3m) apparently had a wooden roof supported by pillars. Next to it was the public bathhouse, which consisted of a courtyard that may have been used as a dressing room, two cold baths, a tepid bath, and a three-room hot bath. [See Baths.]
Water for the pool, bathhouse, and city cisterns was supplied by a network of water-collection systems constructed at various points for which the Nabateans are known. [See Cisterns.] Water was collected primarily by damming Naḥal Mamshit but also by conducting rainwater from a nearby mountain slope. Three dams in Naḥal Mamshit were kept under observation from a high (5 m), square tower (10 × 10 m) situated at the western edge of the town. This structure had a paved courtyard with a roofed water reservoir as well as storerooms, a guest suite (a separate, self-contained dwelling unit), and a square, characteristically Nabatean staircase tower. [See Reservoirs.]
A very large building (35 × 20 m), believed to have been the governor's palace, was uncovered northeast of the tower, at the center of the western edge of town. The building's internal courtyard (19 × 6 m) housed a guardroom, reception hall, and library, as well as servant quarters, a kitchen, storerooms, and storage cellars. The colonnade running along the western and northern walls of the courtyard supported arches that in turn supported a balcony onto which the upper rooms opened. This “l”-shaped arrangement has not been found elsewhere in the Negev. A separate residential area—its rooms distinguished by stone floors—was accessed via an arched vestibule.
Also unique to the Negev is the stable found in a large rectangular building (27 × 35 m) in the town's southwestern corner. Three rooms were partitioned such that a wide central area was flanked by two elongated aisles. Animals housed in these aisles were fed from troughs dug into the sills of four arched openings cut out of both the western and eastern walls of the central hall. A stable of the same type—though much larger and more elaborate—was found in a building complex in the eastern section of the city. A square structure (40 × 40 m), it had only one entrance, which led through a vestibule into a large irregularly shaped courtyard. The building comprised numerous units, including workshops, a lavatory, a residential wing and visitors' suite, a stylobate bearing columns with Nabatean capitals, and a treasure room. Both of these buildings contained cisterns.
Traders found respite at the large khan, or caravanserai (23 × 42 m), located to the northwest, just beyond the later Roman city wall. This rest house, which included large courts, halls, and rows of rooms along its northern and eastern sides, resembles the one found at Avdat. [See Avdat.] About 50 m from the caravanserai, the excavators uncovered two buildings thought to have been schools in which Nabatean architecture and construction were taught. The earlier building, which was square (30.30 × 30.25 m), contained pottery dating from the Middle Nabatean through the Byzantine periods. Various imported wares indicate that some of its occupants were wealthy. Adjoined to this structure's western wall was a larger, rectangular building (35.80 × 45.25 m) dated to the early second century CE. Destroyed by the mid-fourth century, its remaining pillars and arches were later ruined in an earthquake, perhaps that of 363. Later in its history, this building may have been a barrack for a locally recruited militia.
During the Byzantine period (mid-fourth-early sixth centuries CE) many Late Nabatean buildings continued in use; the primary Byzantine remains, however, are two churches, designated the east church and the west church. Both date to the second half of the fourth or the beginning of the fifth century. The east church complex (55 × 35 m) contained a chapel, baptistery, annexes (housing a bath and perhaps a monastery), and a square bell tower. [See Baptisteries; Baths; Monasteries.] Access to the complex was through a large atrium (15 × 18 m) abutting the basilica on the west. The church (27.5 × 15 m) was entered through one of three openings in the atrium's eastern wall. Both of its aisles were paved in stone. A mosaic floor in the nave was decorated with geometric designs; two large crosses were executed in front of the bema. [See Mosaics.] The church had a single, central apse flanked by rectangular rooms; neither room contained an apse, but relics were found inside of both. Extending around the interior of the semicircular apse was a bench with three steps that supported the base of the bishop's throne. Numerous Arabic invocations were engraved on the apse, an indication that Arab tribesmen occupied the site temporarily after it was conquered early in the seventh century.
The west church, situated in the southwestern corner of the city, was built over part of a large Late Nabatean building. Like the east church, it had a colonnaded atrium with a central cistern and three openings that led into the basilica. The interior (17.5 × 10 m) was smaller than that of the east church, but its plan was identical and its aisles were also paved in stone. Bird, fruit, and geometric motifs were executed in the nave's colored-mosaic pavement, which also featured six undated Greek inscriptions.
Most of the city's marketplace, comprising three rows of shops situated along two streets, is dated to the Byzantine period. Its southern portion was constructed on the foundations of a large Middle Nabatean building; and at some point in its history, the structure apparently served as a monastery. The marketplace is one of the few buildings that survived the Muslim conquest of Kurnub.
- Negev, Avraham. “The Nebateans and the Provincia Arabia.” In Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt, vol. II.8, edited by Hildegard Temporini and Wolfgang Haase, pp. 631–633, 647–658. Berlin, 1977.
- Negev, Avraham. “Housing and City-planning in the Ancient Negev and the Provincia Arabia.” In Housing in Arid Lands: Design and Planning, edited by Gideon Golany, pp. 3–32. London, 1980.
- Negev, Avraham. The Greek Inscriptions from the Negev. Jerusalem, 1981. See pages 69–72.
- Negev, Avraham. Tempel, Kirchen und Zisternen. Stuttgart, 1983.
- Negev, Avraham. Nabatean Archaeology Today. New York, 1986.
- Negev, Avraham. The Architecture of Mampsis Final Report. 2 vols. Jerusalem, 1988.
- Negev, Avraham. “Mampsis: The End of a Nabatean Town.” Aram 2.1–2 (1990): 337–365.
- Negev, Avraham. “The Mampsis Gymnasia and Their Latter History: Preliminary Report and Interpretation.” In Early Christianity in Context: Monuments and Documents, edited by Frederick Manns and Eugenio Alliata, pp. 241–264. Studium Biblicum Franciscanum Collectio Maior, 38. Jerusalem, 1993.
- Wenning, Robert. Die Nabatäer: Denkmäler und Geschichte. Göttingen, 1987. Contains a full bibliography (pp. 159–172.).