AVEDAT (Ovdat ; Ar. "Abde") (Heb. עָבְדַת), former town in the central Negev, probably named after the deified Nabatean king Obodas; a unesco World Heritage Site. It is referred to in ancient sources as Oboda (tabula Peutingeriana) Eboda (Ptolemaeus 5:16, 4), and Oboda (Stephanus Byzantinus s.v.).
The site was discovered and mapped in 1870 by E.H. Palmer and C.F. Tyrwhitt-Drake, while a more detailed survey was made by A. Musil in 1902. Survey expeditions conducted
more detailed investigations in 1904 (A. Jaussen, R. Savignac, and H. Vincent) and 1913/14 (C.L. Woolley and T.E. Lawrence), with trial digs at the site by D.H. Colt in 1937. Large-scale excavations were undertaken in the 1950s directed by Michael Avi-Yonah (1958) and Avraham Negev (1959–60). Negev resumed excavations in the 1970s (with R. Cohen) and later in 1989 excavated on the acropolis. More recent excavations were conducted at the site by T. Erickson-Gini (1999–2000). Avedat is situated near the point where the two main routes from *Petra and *Elath converge to form one road leading north to Ḥaluẓah and the Mediterranean coast. Here, in the third century b.c.e., the *Nabateans established a road station for the supply of their caravans with water and food (campsites existed to the north and east of the acropolis), as is shown by the pottery and coins dating back to that period. The diverse nature of the archaeological finds indicates that Avedat occupied a position of great importance in Indo-Arabian commerce. Little more is known of the first few centuries of the city's existence, but it is clear that the site was abandoned at the beginning of the first century b.c.e., perhaps as a result of Alexander Jannaeus' (*Yannai's) conquests in the central Negev. A road leading to Oboda was established in the late first century c.e. and was guarded by a series of small forts. The Nabatean settlement reached its zenith during the reign of Aretas iv (9 b.c.e.–40 c.e.), when a large temple was apparently built on the city's acropolis, though very few remains of it have survived. The Nabatean town appears to have extended over the northern part of the mountain ridge at the edge of which the acropolis was situated. A Roman army camp, situated north of the city, has the remains of a Nabatean building of the first century c.e., on its western side under the principia. A Nabatean fort dating to the first and second centuries c.e. was also excavated at En Avdat not far to the southwest of Oboda. A building built of fine ashlars which has been identified as a temple was unearthed to the northwest of the town. In the days of Aretas iv, Avedat was the site of a flourishing ceramic industry. A potter's workshop for the manufacture of the thin painted Nabatean ware was excavated in the eastern part of the city.
By the mid-first century c.e. the Nabatean trade diminished and Avedat began to decline. The Roman conquest in 106 c.e. and the city's annexation to the Roman Empire produced little change. Thamudic and Safa'itic tribes intruded into the area at the beginning of the second century c.e. and scores of inscriptions in their dialects have been found at Avedat. They indicate that these tribes were responsible for the city's destruction sometime after 126 c.e. In about the mid-third century the Romans incorporated southern Ereẓ Israel and Transjordan into their chain of defenses to protect the Empire's southern frontier. Avedat, situated on this line, became a settlement for discharged soldiers who received land grants and other benefits in return for guaranteed military service in times of emergency. A new residential quarter was established on the southern end of the mountain ridge at Oboda. It was not fortified, but consisted of a number of well-built houses along two short roads. A temple dedicated to Zeus-Obodas and to Aphrodite was built, or rebuilt, on the acropolis. A burial cave on the southwestern slope also dates to this period. The Roman settlement was short-lived and the latest Roman epigraphic remains are from the end of the third century. The houses of the residential quarter close to the North Tower were rebuilt c. 300 c.e. and were still in use at time the site was rocked by an earthquake in the early fifth century c.e.
Avedat flourished in the Byzantine period (in the early sixth century). On the acropolis a large citadel, two churches, and a monastery were built. The settlement itself moved down to the western slopes of the mountain ridge. The Byzantine dwellings consisted of houses erected over rock-hewn caves. These caves served for storing and processing agricultural produce. A small bath-house which drew its water from a nearby well was built in the valley west of the city. Extensive remains of dams, irrigation canals, and the many other water-storage installations, as well as winepresses and fruit-drying apparatus, all demonstrate that in the Byzantine period Avedat's economy was based mainly on agriculture and wine production.
The citadel and two churches were razed and the city itself suffered partial destruction in the Persian invasion in 614. Twenty years later, the Arab invaders found there hardly more than a village. While there is evidence of partial rebuilding and repair, the total absence of early Arabic pottery indicates that after the middle of the seventh century the city was completely deserted.
The ancient city of Avedat has been reconstructed by the Israel Department for Landscaping and Preservation of Historic Sites and is open to visits by the general public. An experimental agricultural station was established in 1959 near Avedat, with research conducted on methods of ancient desert agriculture, under the direction of Michael *Evenari. The farm was based on methods presumed to have been used by the builders of the ancient terraces and runoff systems in the Negev. The farm made use of field walls and installations that had been preserved at that location since ancient times.
N. Glueck, Deities and Dolphins (1965), index; A. Negev, Arim ba-Midbar (1966); idem, in: iej, 11 (1961), 127–38; 13 (1963), 113–24; idem, in: Sefer Eilat (1963), 118–48; idem, Avedat (Heb., 1962); idem, in: Archaeology, 14 (1961), 122–36; Palmer, in: pefqs (1871), 1–80; A. Musil, Arabia Petraea, 2 (Ger., 1908), 106–51; Janssen et al., in: rb, 13 (1904), 404–24; 14 (1905), 74–89, 235–44; Woolley and Lawrence, in: Palestine Exploration Fund, Annual, 3 (1914–15), 93–107. add. bibliography: M. Evenari, L. Shanan, and N. Tadmor, The Negev: The Challenge of a Desert (1971); Y. Tsafrir and Z. Meshel, Archaeological Survey at En Avdat (1977); A. Negev, The Masters of the Desert (1983), S.V. Eboda; Y. Tsafrir, L. Di Segni, and J. Green, Tabula Imperii Romani. Iudaea – Palaestina. Maps and Gazetteer. (1994), 114–15; A. Negev, "Obodas the God in a Nabatean-Arabic Inscription from the Vicinity of Oboda and a Review of Other Nabatean Inscriptions," in: R. Rosenthal-Heginbottom, The Nabateans in the Negev (2003).
[Avraham Negev /
Shimon Gibson (2nd ed.)]