Islamic era Don Juan built Roman-style bathhouse

At Yavneh-Yam dig, archaeologists find plumbing from earlier era installed in an Islamic military fortress.

By ARIEH O’SULLIVAN / THE MEDIA LINE
September 14, 2011 22:04
2 minute read.
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seaside cliff 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Perched atop a small promontory overlooking a Mediterranean beach, a local Don Juan appears to have built a Roman-era style bathhouse atop his fortress.

Archaeologists from Tel Aviv University say that their dig at the Yavneh-Yam site, located between the current day cities of Tel Aviv-Jaffa and Ashdod, revealed a beautiful bathhouse, with duplex floors, a water heating system and underground ducts, all in the classic Roman style.

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Only it was totally out of place and smack in the middle of the remains of a fortress from the Early Islamic period of the ninth century, over half a millennium after the Romans, in their final incarnation as the Byzantine Empire, had been forcibly removed from the Holy Land by Muslim warriors.

“I thought perhaps we had reached a Byzantine layer, but the pottery shards we found and the edifice we were in were definitely from the Islamic period,” Moshe Fischer, a professor of archeology at the university’s Department and the Institute of Archaeology, told The Media Line.

“It was unusual because whoever built it used the technology from an earlier era and it could be one of the lasts uses of this technology we find,” Fischer said. 

Yavneh-Yam was a port that served inland settlements almost without interruption between the Bronze Age (mid-second millennium BCE) until the Middle Ages.

Fischer, who heads the archaeological dig, said the promontory that it sits on projects into the sea and forms the southern boundary of a natural harbor that had been in use since the Bronze Age.

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Fischer said the uncovered remains of the bathhouse were the only example he knew in the region of the use of a Roman-style bathhouse during the Early Islamic period and also the only example so far of the existence of a bathhouse in a military fortress.

“I could be that some local commander who behaved like a Don Juan decided to build this style of bathhouse,” Fischer said. “It wasn’t that they didn’t take baths - they did for sure - but that the used a Roman style bathhouse was a surprise.”

According to Fischer, both the fortification and the bathhouse discovered this year add to the archaeological evidence connecting Yavneh-Yam to the marine fortress of “Mahoz Yubna” (The Harbor of Yavneh), which served among other things to protect the coastal region. It was also used as a transit point for exchanging prisoners between Muslims and Christians in the Early Islamic period.

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