Byzantine wine factory

Excavations in the city of Yavne in Israel have discovered a vast 1,500-year-old industrial complex thought to be the largest wine production centre known from the Byzantine period.

The factory complex encompasses five large wine presses, each covering an area of about 225m2, with treading floors where the grapes were crushed by foot, compartments for fermentation, and huge octagonal vats where the wine was collected (below). Conch-shaped embellishments on the wine presses reflect the wealth of the factory owners. Excavations also revealed four warehouses, between the wine presses, where the wine would have been aged in elongated amphorae known as ‘Gaza jars’. Many examples of these amphorae, both intact and fragmented, have been found at the site, as well as the kilns where the clay vessels were fired.

The site was clearly carefully designed, with well-planned access between the different areas, and was producing wine on a commercial scale – at around 2 million litres a year. ‘Gaza and Ashkelon wine’, named after the ports through which it was distributed, was hugely popular in the ancient world, and it appears that this complex was the main production centre for it. From here, vast quantities of the wine were transported to the ports and then across the Mediterranean.

The excavations, conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority as part of a development project, also revealed older wine presses dating to c.2,300 years ago, suggesting an ongoing tradition of wine production at the site spanning many centuries.

Text: Amy Brunskill
Images: Assaf Peretz, Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority

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