Byzantine Estate Discovered in Israel's Sharon Plain

Greek Inscription Discovered in Ancient Winepress, part of 1,600-year-old Samaritan Estate.

Archaeology tells a story - sometimes in broad concepts, but often in small details and personal stories. Recently, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) uncovered an inscription which gives us a glimpse into the life of an individual who lived about 1,600 years ago.

In advance of a neighborhood development project, the IAA began excavating at Tzur Natan in the southern Sharon Plain. They uncovered a winepress with a mosaic inscription which reads: “Only God help the beautiful property of Master Adios, amen.” Prof. Leah Di Segni of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem translated the inscription from its original Greek. Hewn into the bedrock nearby archaeologists discovered depressions used in ancient times to cultivate grapevines. It appears the impressive winepress was part of an agricultural estate belonging to a man named Adios.

The inscription was discovered in an impressive winepress.  Photo:   Yitzhak Marmelstein , courtesy of the IAA

The inscription was discovered in an impressive winepress. Photo: Yitzhak Marmelstein, courtesy of the IAA

This is only the second such winepress discovered in Israel with a blessing inscription associated with the Samaritans.
— Dr. Hagit Torge

The winepress and inscription date to the early fifth century C.E., during the height of Samaritan settlement and prosperity in the southern Sharon Plain. Samaritans were originally settled near Mt. Gerazim by the Assyrians, whose policy in war was to displace and relocate their captives to discourage them from rebelling. Over time as the population grew, Samaritans settled also in the Sharon Plain. According to the IAA’s press release, the inscription in the winepress is an additional testimony to once-extensive Samaritan settlement in the southern Sharon Plain during the Byzantine period.

The inscription.  Photo:    Galeb Abu Diab  , courtesy of the IAA

The inscription. Photo: Galeb Abu Diab, courtesy of the IAA

Aside from his Samaritan legacy, what can we know about Adios? For a number of reasons archaeologists believe he was a man of significant means and social status. Dr. Hagit Torge, the excavation director, says that the term “‘Master' was an honorific (title) given to senior members of the community and attests to the high social standing of the owners of the estate.” She adds that the winepress was located near the top of Tel Tzur Natan, where remains of a Samaritan synagogue were previously discovered. This proximity to the synagogue and Tel acropolis also reveals Adios' high status.

During the sixth century the synagogue was remodeled into a church. Past discoveries near the structure revealed a wine, oil, and flour production compound. In one of the compound’s large rooms a ‘Pompeian Donkey Mill’ inscribed with a menorah was found. In ancient times, a donkey would have been used to turn a heavy stone, grinding the grain into flour.

All these clues and discoveries piece together to give us a picture of the world ‘Master Adios’ lived in. On a broader scope, the winepress, the inscription and the surrounding estate inform our understanding of Samaritan life during the 5th century. All in a day’s work for the IAA!

Abby VanderHart, FIAA Contributor

News RSS