The ‘Bath’ at Kedesh

Kedesh appears twice in the Zenon papyri, both times appearing as a major center for administrative agents of the Ptolemaic kingdom in the 3rd century BCE.  In one example, dated to 259 BCE, Zenon – the Ptolemaic agent – reportedly stopped to take a bath at Kedesh.

Masonry bath wall Kedesh 2000

During excavations in 2000, what looked to be a basin, bench, and stucco plaster wall were exposed in a trench east of the administrative building’s courtyard, near the center of the building.  The similarity of those three features to a bathing complex east of the open court in the Late Hellenistic Stuccoed Building at Tel Anafa led Herbert and Berlin to identify a bathing complex in the Kedesh building, which they published in the interim report of 2003.  At the time, a mosaic floor was hypothesized on analogy to Tel Anafa and the recovery of a group of tesserae (mosaic floor tiles) which had been dumped north of the building in the early Roman period (coupled with a lack of identifiable floor in the area of the ‘bath’ which had been most deeply excavated).

While the identification of the area as a bath – much less Zenon’s bath – was to prove false, the hypothetical mosaic floor was prophetic.  In 2006, further excavation was carried out in the area.  The lack of evidence for drainage or other bathing accoutrements forced the bath theory to be abandoned, but several square meters of a white mosaic floor were found intact.  This floor eventually was revealed to cover at least two rooms, and likely a third (the initial ‘bath’ room).  Molded and painted plaster in Masonry Style covered the walls of these rooms, which were swept clean at the time of PHAB abandonment c. 143 BCE.  We now interpret these rooms to have served as a small reception areas, given their fancy architecture and location at the center of the building, near the entrance.

Reception area Kedesh 2010

In 2012, we were able to confirm that this mosaic floor is in fact the oldest known to date in Israel.  So, not a bath – but something even more special.