Peraea and the Dead Sea
21. Waters of Callirhoe - (Zara)
On the east bank of the Dead Sea two locations with thermal springs were famous in antiquity: Kallirrhoe and Baarou or Baaras.
The springs were praised by Roman and Jewish historians for their curative properties and the sweetness of their waters. Josephus (Jewish War I, 657-659; Antiquities XVII, 169-176) describes the visit of King Herod the Great to the hot springs of Kallirrhoe, just before his death in 4 BC. The king "crossed the Jordan to take the warm baths at Kallirrhoe, the waters of which descend into the lake Asphaltitis and from their sweetness are also used for drink".
It was above all thanks to this historical account of King Herod's visit that the name of the Baths of Kallirrhoe was preserved to our days. But where are the springs of Kallirrhoe to be located?
Josephus' account clearly indicates that Kallirrhoe was on the east side of the Dead Sea and that the hot springs were situated near the shore.
The geographical position was also confirmed by Pliny (Nat. Hist. V 16) "on the same side" (as the fortress of Machaerus) and Ptolemy (Geogr. V 16), who gave the cartographic coordinates. Later, the site sank into oblivion and nothing was remembered about the thermal baths until the 19th century, when explorations were carried out in the mountains of Moab.
Rediscovery. In 1807, Seetzen reached the oasis of 'Ayn ez-Zara south of Wadi Zarqa Ma'in. He was the first to suggest its identification with ancient Kallirrhoe. Other scholars later recorded archaeological remains near the shore. Except for Tristram, who ventured down the difficult descent from the eastern plateau in 1872, all the others came by boat, including the study groups of the Deutsche Evangelische Institut für Altertumsforschung in 1961 and 1965, who reinvestigated and recorded the archaeological monuments (Donner, Schult and Strobel).
The discovery of the Madaba Map confirmed the site's identification. On it the Baths of Kallirrhoe are placed near the Dead Sea, between two large watercourses which discharge into it, the southern one representing Wadi Mujib, and the northern one Wadi Zarqa Ma'in. Under the legend THERMA KALLIROES, the thermes of Kallirrhoe, three pool-like buildings or spring houses and two palm trees are shown. On the left is a round pool or spring enclosed by a rounded wall, with the water emptying into the Dead Sea. It is followed by a square building with an apse and an outlet for the water on the west side. The third construction on the right is fed by a water course originating at the foot of the mountains. It seems to run through a basin or pool with a dividing wall.
The representation shows a mixture of styles: the round pool on the left and the bisected building on the right are both viewed from above, as is the square basin in the middle, while the apse of this structure is depicted from the front, the same as the two palm trees.
Christa Clamer, "The Hot Springs of Kallirrhoe and Baarou", in The Madaba Map Centenary 1897-1997, Jerusalem 1999, 221-222 (extract) See also the complete article
P. O'Callaghan (Supplément au Dictionnaire de la Bible, ad v. "Madaba", col. 650)
The mosaicist clearly distinguishes between Baaras and Callirhoe; by the way, this has been demonstrated by Manfredi. On the bank of the river, three springs are represented that separately run into the sea. The main spring is the one in the center: this spring is characterized by a big construction in form of an apsis, whereas the southern spring raises more eastward, at the foot of the mountain; palm groves attest the fertility of the region. These are the hot springs of Callirhoe, abundant of therapeutic water, where Herod the Great, at the end of his life, tried to get some comfort... Today this is the site of Zara, 4 km south of Zerqa Ma'in, that, by its localisation and by the ruins found there, corresponds better to Callirhoe represented on the map...
Michael Avi-Yonah (The Madaba Mosaic Map, Jerusalem 1954, 40)
The springs of Callirhoe are mentioned by Josephus in connection with King Herod´s last disease (Antiq. XVII, 171; War I, 657) and in the Midrash (Genesis R. 37), as well as by Pliny (V, 16), Ptolomaeus (V, 15,6) and Solinus (35,4). The mosaicist seems to have derived his information from St. Jerome's Questiones hebraicae in Genesis X,19, where waters of the hot springs are described as flowing into the Dead Sea ("ubi aquae callidae prorumpentes in mare mortuum defluunt") . The identification is with "Uyun es-Sara".
Herbert Donner (The Mosaic Map of Madaba, Kampen 1992, 39-40)
The hot springs of Kallirrhoë, situated at 'Ayn az-Zara on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea, become famous because King Herod the Great (37-4 BC) stayed there before his death at Jericho and his entombment at Herodeion near Bethlehem (Gabal Furedis or Fardes). The mosaicist represented three of the constructions there (from left to right): a round pool from which water flows into the Dead Sea; a square reservoir with an apse (a so-called Nymphaion), also with a water course to the sea; a building bisected by a wall or dam to which water flows from the foot of the mountains and from which water runs into the sea, probably a bathing reservoir with flowing hot water which could be mixed, when required, with cooler water or minerals. Remains of these constructions can be seen there even now, although they are difficult to interpret. The bathing reservoir mentioned in the third place might be identical with what people call al-Madas. Two palm-trees indicates de abundance of water and the fecundity of this area.
José M. Blázquez ("The Presence of Nature in the Madaba Mosaic Map", in The Madaba Map Centenary, Jerusalem 1999, 251)
Pools. A pool was represented in the mosaic of Megalopsychia in Antioch. The two water mills of the mosaic of the Great Palace of Constantinople pour water in a pool. (See also the complete article)
For more sources and bibliography see:
F.-M. Abel, Géographie de la Palestine.I (Paris 1933), s.v. "Kallirhoe", 461.
Map Section 3 Place Sources