Masada Wins

For thousands of years, the date palm was a staple crop in the Kingdom of Judea, as it was a source of food, shelter and shade. Thick forests of the palms towering up to 80 feet and spreading for 7 miles covered the Jordan River valley from the Sea of Galilee in the north to the shores of the Dead Sea in the south.

So valued was the tree that it became a recognized as a symbol of good fortune in Judea. It is chronicled in the Bible, Quran and ancient literature for its diverse powers, from an aphrodisiac to a contraceptive, and as a cure for a wide range of diseases including cancer, malaria and toothache.

However, its value was also the source of its demise and eventual extinction. The tree so defined the local economy that it became a prime resource for the invading Roman army to destroy. Once the Roman Empire took control of the kingdom in 70 AD, the date palms were destroyed in an attempt to cripple the Jewish economy. They eventually succeeded and by 500 AD the once plentiful palm had completely disappeared, driven to extinction for the sake of conquest.

But all was not lost, because in 1963, the late archeologist Yigael Yadin began excavating Masada, a mountaintop fortress built over 2,000 years ago on the shore of the Dead Sea where King Herod built a spectacular palace. Masada was the last stand of a small band of Jewish rebels who held out against three Roman legions for several years before committing mass suicide in A.D. 73.

Buried beneath the rubble, Yadin unearthed a small stockpile of seeds stowed in a clay jar dating back 2,000 years.
The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. The Roman Legions are long dust but today in a reborn Israel, Masada's seeds are growing again.


Texan99 said...

Did they have a special date palm species in Judea? No one could bring a suitable replacement from somewhere else before 1963?

Grim said...

There are allied species, yes, which is fortunate because it can be crossbred to them in order to broaden the genetic pool available for propagation. The Romans were interested in wiping this one out, though, as they were interested in wiping out Masada (and Judaism in general, destroying the second Temple and conducting massacres in Jerusalem in the process).

Eric Blair said... I mean, the Romans certainly didn't treat Judea kindly, but the two big revolts, in AD70 and AD135, were centered on the cities, and a more likely culprit for the demise of the date palm industry was much later, during the middle ages, during the Crusades.

This bit from wikipedia agrees with what I know of the Roman period: The whole middle east doesn't turn in the steaming pile it is now until the Arabs conquer the place.

"It is sometimes claimed that date growing as a commercial fruit export stopped at the end of 70 CE, when the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans.[8] However, study of contemporary sources indicates that the date industry continued in Palestine throughout the Roman period and that, indeed, the Roman Imperial treasury collected a good deal of the profits.[9] Asaph Goor in his 21-page article History of the Date through the Ages in the Holy Land never mentions any such Roman devastation of the date palms, but rather cites numerous contemporary accounts attesting to the continuing extent of date cultivation through the Roman period. Goor only detects a decline in date cultivation through the period of Arab rule and especially during the Crusades, when he notes that the devastation of the region was particularly hard on the palm plantations. However, despite this, extensive cultivation persisted in Jericho and Zoara, until the agrarian economy collapsed around the 14th century. Goor attributes this final decline to a change in the climate, and quotes several later travelers to the area as to the rarity of date palms, including Pierre Belon, who in 1553 scoffed at the idea that the region could have ever produced the bounty of dates reported in ancient sources.[6]"