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Hammat Gader

Hammat Gader

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Transliterated Name Source Name
Hammat Gader Hebrew חַמַּת גָּדֵר‎
Hammata degader Rabbinic Sources
Hammat deGader Aramaic חחמתא דגדר
ema deGader Syriac
Al-Hamma Aramaic الحمّة
al-hamma al-souriya Arabic الحمة السورية
Emmatha Ancient Greek Ἑμμαθά
Amatha Ancient Greek Αμαθα
Hammeh Arabic

Hammat Gader is located east of the Sea of Galilee on the Yarmuk River in a valley below the Decapolis city of Gadara. The town was famous in antiquity for its hot springs. Five hot springs are located in the valley and the town or area is mentioned by a number of ancient authors - e.g. Strabo, Origen, Eusebius, and Epiphanius among others (Yitzar Hirschfeld in Stern et al, 1993). A bath complex was first built in the 2nd century CE which reached a peak in the 5th - 7th centuries CE after which there was some sort of decline (possibly caused by an earthquake) as indicated in an inscription found on the site detailing renovations initiated by Mu 'awiya I, the first Umayyad Caliph (Hirschfeld, 1987). Renovations were completed in 663 CE. The renovated bath complex may have been damaged by one of the Sabbatical Year Quakes. A general decline during the Abbasid Period finally led to abandonment such that by the 10th century al-Muqdisi referred to the baths in the past tense.

Identification and History

The site is on the Yarmuk River, 7 km (4.5 mi.) east of the Sea of Galilee (map reference 212.232), in a valley 1,450m long, 500 m wide, and 180 a. in area. The name Hammat Gader and its baths is preserved in the Arabic place name, Hammeh, and in the name of the mound on which the ancient synagogue was discovered, Tell Bani (the mound of the bath). There are five hot springs in the valley: two, 'Ein el-Jarab and 'Ein Bulos, to the north of Tell Bani (a corruption of the Greek word βαλανειον, meaning "bath"); two in the southern part, 'Ein er-Rih and 'Ein el-Maqle (Hammat Selim); and one, 'Ein Sakhneh, to the northeast of the valley of Hammat Gader. The site identified with Hammat Gader was first mentioned, although not by name, by the geographer Strabo (XVI, 2,45), who described the hot springs near the city of Gadara toward the end of the first century BCE.

The baths are mentioned by Origen (mid-third century CE) in his Commentary on John 6:41; however, the appearance of the name of the emperor Antoninus Pius (r. 138-161 CE) in the Eudocia inscription discovered in the excavations (see below) invites the supposition that they were built before Origen's time. They are also mentioned by Eusebius at the beginning of the fourth century (Onom. 22:25-27, 74: 11-13). At the end of the fourth century the Greek biographer Eunapius, who visited the site, wrote in his Life of Jamblichus that the baths of Hammat Gader were second in beauty only to those of Baia in the Bay of Naples. The colorful crowds of people who filled the place were described by his contemporary, Epiphanius (Haer. 30, 7). According to Talmudic sources, many sages visited Hammat Gader, from Rabbi Meir (mid-second century CE) onward: Judah ha-Nasi, Hanina, Jonathan, Hamma bar Hanina, and Ami, the latter with Judah ha-Nasi II. These scholars discussed the problems of the Sabbath boundaries between Gadara and Hammat, located below Gadara (Reeg, Ortsnamen, 258-259). The synagogue inscriptions also testify to the numbers of foreign visitors (Naveh, nos. 32-35).

In the fifth to seventh centuries, the baths building was at its most glorious. The complex was extensive and ramified. Evidence of this is found in the Hall of Fountains in which the six building inscriptions found were written in a Greek rhetorical style. In these inscriptions mention is made of Empress Eudocia (421-460), Emperor Anastasius I (491-518), and the Caliph Mu'awiya I (661-680), founder of the Umayyad dynasty in Damascus. The Eudocia inscription is a paean to the hot springs and baths of Hammat Gader. The inscription lists sixteen names of different parts of the baths building-halls, pools, and fountains-on a marble slab (71 by 181 cm) laid in the pavement beside the bathing pool in the Hall of Fountains. In the inscription, flanked by two crosses, the name of the authoress appears, Empress (Augusta) Eudocia. The name of Emperor Anastasius is mentioned in two inscriptions as having granted a money gift (λωρον) to the place. In these and in two other inscriptions, mention is made of a figure unknown from other sources, Alexander of Caesarea, the governor of Palaestina Secunda, who resided in Beth-Shean (Scythopolis), the capital of the province. According to the inscriptions, Alexander built (or restored) various portions of the structure-the bathing pools, tholos structures, and others. These building inscriptions attest to the fame of the baths at Hammat Gader and to the crowds who streamed to them for cures. The wealthy and powerful also sought to perpetuate their names in magnificent construction projects here.

In the second half of the sixth century CE, Hammat Gader was visited by the pilgrim known as Antoninus of Placentia. He testifies that the inhabitants of Hammat Gader named the medicinal baths after the prophet Elijah (Thermae Heliae). According to Antoninus, the baths were a center for the healing of lepers, who were accommodated in a hostel supported at public expense (Itinerarium Antonium, 7).

Nothing is known of the history of the baths at the end of the Byzantine period. It may be assumed, however, that they suffered damage or neglect during the troubled times in the first half of the seventh century, because they were completely renovated by Caliph Mu'awiya I shortly after he ascended the throne in Damascus. The sixth building inscription in the Hall of Fountains -which was found in situ, in the wall of the hall's central alcove, 2.1 m above the floor -- commemorates the renovation in Greek. The marble slab (50 by 80 cm) apparently was laid on the day the baths opened in 662 CE. The Umayyad restoration was carried out by the governor Abdullah Ibn Hashem and under the care of a local alderman of Gadara, Johannes.

The last phase of the baths is attested by several graffiti in Kufic script found · on the paving slabs and walls. One of the inscriptions contains the word · 'Allahuma, an early form of address to 'Allah, in use until the mid-eleventh century, at the latest. In addition, the Muslim geographer el-Muqaddasi (tenth century) speaks of the baths in the past tense. The bath complex was probably destroyed in the earthquake of 749. The fallen debris was eventually covered with earth, and the building was abandoned; however, the place continued to be visited by sick people until modern times.

The Roman Baths

The Roman baths are located in the southern portion of the recreational site of Hammat Gader, between the Roman theater and the Yarmuk River (map reference 2125.2320). The baths were built around the hot springs of 'Ein el-Maqle, whose waters reach a temperature of 51 degrees C and to which great curative powers were attributed in ancient times.

Exploration of the Roman Baths

Systematic excavations in the baths began in 1979 and continued for seven seasons, until large parts of the complex were completely cleared. The excavations were conducted on behalf of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Israel Exploration Society, and the Israel Department of Antiquities, under the direction of Y. Hirschfeld and G. Solar.

Aerial Views, Plans, and Drawings
Aerial Views, Plans, and Drawings

Aerial Views

  • Annotated Satellite Image (google) of Hammat Gader and environs from
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Plans and Drawings

Normal Size


Earthquake between 662 CE and the 10th century CE ?

Yitzar Hirschfeld in Stern et. al. (1993 v.2:566) wrote that the bath complex [of Hammat Gader] was probably destroyed in the earthquake of 749 while noting that the fallen debris was eventually covered with earth, and the building was abandoned. Amiran et al (1994:305 note 144) wrote the date of seismic destruction of the thermal baths at Hammat Gader during the Holy Desert Quake of the Sabbatical Year Sequence of 749 CE was proven definitely, as none of the approximately 4,000 coins found postdates 748 (personal communication by Y. Hirschfeld).

A terminus post quem can be established by an inscription from the Hall of Fountains (found in situ) which attested to renovations performed by 662 CE. A terminus ante quem can be established from the writings of late 10th century Muslim geographer el-Muqaddasi who wrote about the baths in the past tense (Yitzar Hirschfeld in Stern et. al., 1993 v.2:566).

Seismic Effects
Earthquake between 662 CE and the 10th century CE ?

Effect Location Image(s) Description
Fallen Debris                  bath complex

Yitzar Hirschfeld in Stern et. al. (1993 v.2:566) wrote that the bath complex [of Hammat Gader] was probably destroyed in the earthquake of 749 while noting that the fallen debris was eventually covered with earth, and the building was abandoned

Intensity Estimates
Earthquake between 662 CE and the 10th century CE ?

Effect Location Image(s) Description Intensity
Fallen Debris suggesting Collapsed Walls                  bath complex

Yitzar Hirschfeld in Stern et. al. (1993 v.2:566) wrote that the bath complex [of Hammat Gader] was probably destroyed in the earthquake of 749 while noting that the fallen debris was eventually covered with earth, and the building was abandoned VIII +
The archeoseismic evidence requires a minimum Intensity of VIII (8) when using the Earthquake Archeological Effects chart of Rodríguez-Pascua et al (2013: 221-224). This site may be subject to a liquefaction site effect as it is located on an oxbow of the Yarmuk River in a location that sits atop a thermal spring.

Notes and Further Reading

Bibliography from Stern et. al. (1993 v. 2)


N. Glueck, BASOR 49 (1933), 22-23; id., AJA 39 (1935), 321-330; id., AASOR 25-28 (1951), 137-140

J. Blau, IEJ 32 (1982), 102

I. Hasson, ibid., 97-101.

The Synagogue

Main publication

E. L. Sukenik, The Ancient Synagogue of e/-Harnmeh, Jerusalem 1935.

Other Studies

E. L. Sukenik, JPOS 15 (1935), 101-180; id., Rabinowitz Bulletin I (1949), 13-14

N. Makhou1y, QDAP 6/2 (1936), 59-62

Goodenough, Jewish Symbols 1, 239-241

G. Foerster, ESI 2 (1983), 41.

The baths

Y. Hirschfeld and G. Solar, IEJ29 (1979), 230-234; 31 (1981), 197-219; id., ESll (1982), 35- 38; id., BAR 10/6(1984),22-40

Y. Hirschfeld, ZDPV103 (1987), 101-1 16

J. Green and Y. Tsafrir, IEJ32 (1982), 77-96

L. Di Segni and Y Hirschfeld, ibid. 36 (1986), 251-268

Bibliography from Stern et. al. (2008)

Main Publication

Y. Hirschfeld et al., The Roman Baths of Hammat Gader: Final Report, Jerusalem 1997

ibid. (Reviews) Archaeology Odyssey 1/4 (1998), 62–63. — BASOR 314 (1999), 85–86. — Minerva 10 (1999), 61–62. — NEA 62 (1999), 56. — Orientalistische Literaturzeitung 94 (1999), 340–344. — IEJ 50 (2000), 134–139. — Orientalia 69 (2000), 451–459. — PEQ 132 (2000), 71–75.


L. Di Segni, Aram 4 (1992), 307–328

id., Dated Greek Inscriptions from Palestine from the Roman and Byzantine Periods (Ph.D. diss.), 1–2, Jerusalem 1997

E. Dvorjetski, Aram 4 (1992), 425–449

13–14 (2001–2002), 485–512

id., Medicinal Hot Springs in Eretz-Israel during the Period of the Second Temple, the Mishna and the Talmud (Ph.D. diss.), Jerusalem 1993 (Eng. abstract)

id., Mediterranean Historical Review 9 (1994), 100–115

id., Illness and Healing in Ancient Times (Reuben & Edith Hecht Museum Catalogue 13), Haifa 1996, 39*–45*

id., Latomus 56 (1997), 567–581

id., Roman Baths and Bathing: Proceedings of the 1st International Conference on Roman Baths, Bath, 30.3–4.4.1992 (JRA Suppl. Series 37

eds. J. Delaine & D. E. Johnston), Portsmouth, RI 1999, 117–129

id. (et al.), Stories from a Heated Earth: Our Geothermal Heritage (eds. R. Cataldi et al.), San Diego, CA 1999, 34–49

id., BAR 30/4 (2004), 16–27, 60

Y. Hirschfeld (& E. Cohen), Aram 4 (1992), 283–306

id., OEANE, 2, New York 1997, 468–470

J. -P. Caillet, VI Coloquio Internacional sobre Mosaico Antiguo, Palencia-Merida, Oct. 1990, Palencia 1994, 409–414

E. Habas, IEJ 46 (1996), 108–119

M. L. Fischer, Marble Studies, Konstanz 1998

H. Geva, Archaeological Sites in Israel, 4, Jerusalem 1999, 14–17

T. M. Weber, Damaszener Mitteilungen 11 (1999), 433–451

J. Köhler, Cura Aquarum in Israel, Siegburg 2002, 295–305

E. J. Van der Steen, Tribes and Territories in Transition: The Central East Jordan Valley and Surrounding Regions in the Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages—A Study of the Sources (Ph.D. diss.), Groningen 2002

id., Tribes and Territories in Transition: The Central East Jordan Valley in Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages—A Study of the Sources (Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 130), Leuven 2004

Y. Elitzur, Ancient Place Names in the Holy Land: Preservation and History, Jerusalem 2004, 131–132

S. Hoss, Antike Welt 35/6 (2004), 8–13

id., Baths and Bathing in Roman Palestine (BAR/IS), Oxford (in press)

A. Lewin, The Archaeology of Ancient Judea and Palestine, Los Angeles, CA 2005, 88–91

Wikipedia page for Hammat Gader