Maps & Plans: Well
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courtyard contained a system of water features. Just south of the central
axis of the courtyard, Penn excavators found a channel feeding into
the corner of a cistern. The IAA team later revealed the cistern to
be one of two large stone tanks beneath the central axis of the courtyard.
In 1994, a well (below right) was discovered at the west end
of the water channel, possibly the source of the water for channels
later found in the IAA area, if not for the cisterns themselves.
At the bottom of well, a cache of some 60 lead
defixione, or curse tablets, were recovered during wet-sieving.
These tablets and an associated assemblage of coins, dating to
the 4th c. A.D., are discussed below by Barbara Burrell. A small plastered
floor was excavated to the south of the well, at a lower level. Its
purpose is unclear, but it perhaps served for water raising.
Well: Coins and Lead Defixione
into the well
off axis in the western end of the courtyard of the Upper Palace, a
well was added sometime after the initial construction of the complex.
It was deep enough to tap the shallow ground-water of this coast and
was probably either cleaned frequently or used for only a short time,
as its contents were not strongly stratified. Analysis of the highly
eroded pottery suggests a range in the 4th to 6th c. A.D., but the most
precise indicator of the well's period of use is an assemblage of 94
coins found in the bottom. Some of these coins are fragile and still
in treatment, but of the 24 that could readily be cleaned and studied,
22 are of the fourth century, with the latest being a SALVS REI PVBLICAE
(2) of Theodosius I, dated A.D. 383-395.
mintmarks are legible, there are 4 coins of Antioch, 2 of Heraclea,
1 of Kyzikos, one of Thessalonica, and 1 of Constantinople. The terminus
post quem of this very homogenous series is thus A.D. 383. The 2 minimi,
generally 5th c. but not strictly datable, probably filtered through
the coarse debris used to fill the well after it went out of use.
The well's contents were recovered by wet-sieve:
of the many artifacts found, including well preserved dice and bone
artifacts, the most interesting group is a series of lead scrolls and
their fragments, around 60 in number. Ten of the complete scrolls have
been successfully unrolled, and C. Del Re of the Milwaukee Public Museum
is directing their treatment. S. Koob of the Freer and Sackler Galleries
of the Art, Smithsonian Institution, has tested a sampling of the tablets
by X-ray fluorescence spectrometer, and found them to be predominantly
lead (95.3-98.9%), with a small amount of tin (4.7-1.1%), very minor
amounts of iron and copper that were probably impurities in the lead/tin,
and minor amounts of calcium picked up from the burial environment.
The lead sheets vary in thickness, size and tightness of rolling.
woman tosses curse tablets into the well in this plan view.
Barbara Burrell and H. Parker of the University
of Cincinnati have been collaborating on the long process of deciphering
the scrolls. So far, all that could be read have proved to be in Greek.
As the words were scratched with a stylus into the soft lead, they are
difficult to read, but they appear to conform to the pattern of "curse
tablets" and binding spells found elsewhere in the Greco-Roman
world. One scroll contains a "magic square" of the mystic
word brakbak repeated over and over. Another may contain the words damator,
"tamer," ho megas theos, "the great god," desmois,
"with bonds," and verbs from the root bakkheo, "run wild."
Another interesting aspect is that botancial remains were rolled up
in two of the tablets, and human hair in one other.
It is noteworthy that an eminent Christian from
fourth century Caesarea knew of and inveighed against the use of curse
tablets. Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, in his address on the dedication
of the church of the Holy Sepulchre in A.D. 335, called them "curse
tablets of forbidden sorcery," designed to enroll the assistance
of invisible (and obviously unholy) powers. One would presume that as
Bishop, Eusibius would have had occasions for calling on the provincial
governor in his praetorium at Caesarea, but one would wonder if he knew
that the courtyard's well was being used for the very "forbidden
sorcery" that he condemned.
more Details in Excavations
Artifacts Found in the Well
this cartoon, a citizen dictates a curse to a professional scribe
from Smithsonian Magazine)
curse tablet before cleaning & preservation
curse tablet implored various deities to make a certain wrestler
"fall down and make a fool of himself".
(illustration from Smithsonian Magazine)
a complete map of courtyard features, please see this map from
the Roman and Byzantine Period.