Let the Wine Flow

Excavations uncover the largest winery of the Byzantine world

Byzantine storage jar found at Yavne

Byzantine storage jar found at Yavne
Photo: Yaniv Berman, IAA.

Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne. Today, southern France is synonymous with excellent wine. But during the Byzantine period (c. fourth–seventh centuries C.E.), great wine came from the Holy Land. Recent excavations at the site of Tel Yavne, located along Israel’s southern coast between Tel Aviv and Ashdod, revealed one of the largest wineries in the ancient world. The winery, excavated by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), covered 2.5 acres and produced as much as 2 million liters of wine a year. The wine was a high-quality white wine, famous throughout the Byzantine world as Gaza wine, since it was shipped from nearby Gaza to the major port cities of the Mediterranean world.

A section of a winepress from Yavne.

A section of a winepress from Yavne. Photo: Nathan Steinmeyer

Although other Byzantine-era wineries have been discovered in Israel, Yavne waslikely the main production center for Gaza wine. The site features all aspects of wine production, including five large-capacity wine presses, each measuring nearly 2,500 square feet. The wine also would have been produced relatively quickly, within just a few months of the grape harvest, as the Gaza vintage required very little fermentation. The wine was mass produced at Yavneh for about 200 years, in the fifth and sixth centuries C.E., when much of the area was Christian.

The Yavneh winery was well constructed with evidence for extensive planning. Two paved roads through the middle of the site provided easy access to the various wine presses as well as drainage for rainwater. The uniformity and planning of the facility suggests the winery was likely owned by a single person or group rather than being an informal or casual production site. Yavne was well known in history for producing wine, and other wineries and vineyards have been discovered in the area dating back to at least the Persian period (c. 539–332 B.C.E.).


The free eBook Life in the Ancient World guides you through craft centers in ancient Jerusalem, family structure across Israel and articles on ancient practices—from dining to makeup—across the Mediterranean world.
Excavation co-director Jon Seligman with a Gaza jar

Excavation co-director Jon Seligman with a Gaza jar. Photo: Yaniv Berman, IAA

In addition to wine presses, the facility also included four large warehouses and kilns for the mass production of uniform wine jars. Known as Gaza jars, these storage vessels became synonymous with the Gaza wine produced at Yavne. According to excavation co-director Jon Seligman, these jars would have been instantly recognizable, similar to Coke bottles today. Thousands of these jars were made at the site each year, each holding around 12 liters of wine.

The Yavne excavation is one of many salvage excavations that the IAA carries out every year to protect and document archaeological sites that are in the path of development. This particular site was intended to be the location of a new highway. With such an important discovery, however, planners are now proposing to build a bridge over the site. Once the bridge is complete, the IAA plans to turn the site into an archaeological park that can be visited by the public.


Yavne excavation video (English)
Video: Yaniv Berman, IAA.


Read more in BHD:

Ancient Wine of Gaza: 1,500-Year-Old Grape Seeds Found in the Negev By Robin Ngo

Byzantine Wine Press Uncovered in Israel By Noah Wiener

Did This Winery Get Noah Drunk? By BAS Staff

Where Did Jesus Turn Water into Wine? By Robin Ngo

 

Members, read more in the BAS Library:

Searching for Cana: Where Jesus Turned Water into Wine By C. Thomas McCollough

Have We Found Naboth’s Vineyard at Jezreel? By Norma Franklin, Jennie Ebeling, Philippe Guillaume, Deborah Appler

Not a BAS Library or All-Access Member yet? Join today.

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