Archaeologists have discovered a large wine-making complex from the Byzantine era in Israel that sheds new light on the ancient wine trade in the region.
- The old complex could produce 2 million liters of wine a year
- The wine became known as “Gaza wine” and was exported to the whole region, including to Europe
- Ancient writers described it as a “light white wine” that was “pleasant to the taste”
Israel’s antiquities authority said the site was uncovered during the last two years during development work in the city of Yavne, 30 kilometers south of Tel Aviv.
The complex is the size of a modern football pitch and is believed to be around 1,500 years old.
The stone constructions are so well-preserved that it is still easy to visualize the winemaking process — from the platform, where piles of grapes open under their own weight, to grape-stamping floors and collection basins.
Winemaking on an industrial scale
Researchers believe that the plant can produce about 2 million liters of wine a year.
Excavations uncovered a cluster of five wine presses, several warehouses, kilns for making clay storage vessels and tens of thousands of fragments and jars.
Dozens of intact wine jugs were also found, made in large kilns on site and could hold up to 25 liters.
The excavation team said these were known as “Gaza jars” after the nearby port from which they were sent abroad.
Such jars have been found throughout Europe, a proof that the wine was in great demand.
Israel’s antiquities authority said the discovery showed Yavne was a winery in the Byzantine period.
A staple from the Byzantine era
Excavation director Jon Seligman said the wine produced in the area was known as “Gaza wine” and was exported to the entire region, including Egypt, Turkey, Greece and possibly southern Italy.
He said old texts described it as a light white wine that was “pleasant to the taste”.
Researchers believe that the Yavne site was the most important production facility for the wine.
“This was a prestige wine, a light white wine, and it was taken to many, many countries around the Mediterranean,” Seligman said.
Wine was a common drink in ancient times, served to children as well as adults.
Seligman said wine was not just an important export and source of enjoyment.
“Besides that, this was an important source of nutrition and it was a safe drink because the water was often polluted so they could drink wine safely,” he said.
ABC / wires