Ancient Roman Garum Factory Discovered at Ashkelon

A rare find of a first century fermented fish sauce factory holds clues to the ancient Jewish diet.

Aerial view of Garum factory site Garum Factory Discovered at Ash

Credit: Asaf Peretz, IAA

From the first century B.C.E. to the seventh century C.E., the ancient Romans were a dominant force in the Middle East. As Anthony J. Saldarini points out in Babatha’s Story (Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 1998), “Independent, self-contained ethnic groups unrelated to their surroundings are a scholar’s fantasy. The social and political world these [first-century Jewish] people lived in was Greco-Roman.” Archaeological evidence has shown that ancient Jews of Jesus’ time wore Roman clothing. A find announced by the Israel Antiquities Authority further confirms that this cultural influence extended to the predominant local cuisine.

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Excavations have revealed a small Ancient Roman Garum factory.  The Garum, an odorous fermented fish sauce, was produced some 2 kilometers from the ancient city of Ashkelon. Historical sources mention this special fish sauce as the dominant condiment of the ancient Roman diet. Further, they report that its production was sufficiently malodorous that it could not be undertaken too close to urban areas. This is one of very few such finds in the eastern Mediterranean. It serves to confirm that the ancient Jewish diet was strongly influenced by the diet of the Romans who conquered them.

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The Byzantine wine-producing kilns Garum Factory Discovered at Ash

Credit: Asaf Peretz, IAA

The site was revived as an industrial area over several time periods, including the 5th century C.E., when a Byzantine-era monastery ran a bustling wine business. The monastery left behind fragments of mosaics and the remains of large kilns, used to fire wine jars.

The excavation where the Ancient Roman Garum factory was found, was led by Dr. Tali Erickson-Gini from the Israel Antiquities Authority. It was underwitten by the Ashkelon Economic Company. Children from Kibbutz Yad Mordecai and students of the Makif Vav middle school volunteered on the project. The Roman site was abandoned and in the Byzantine Period, there is evidence that a monastic community made wine there. Wine presses, which were later turned into refuse pits, were discovered.

Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Canaan and Egypt: Ancient Fish Trade

The Philistine Marketplace at Ashkelon

The Garum Debate

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