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Biblical Archaeology Review 48:2, Summer 2022

Largest Winery of the Byzantine World

Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne. Today, southern France is synonymous with excellent wine. But during the Byzantine period (fourth–seventh centuries C.E.), great wine came from the Holy Land. Recent excavations at Tel Yavneh, located along Israel’s southern coast, revealed one of the largest wineries in the ancient world. The winery, excavated by the Israel Antiquities Authority, 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 major Mediterranean port cities.

Yavneh was likely the main production center for Gaza wine. The site features installations for all stages of wine production, including five large-capacity wine presses, each measuring nearly 2,500 square feet. It also had four large warehouses and kilns for the mass production of uniform wine jars, known as Gaza jars, each holding about 3 gallons.

Yavneh’s winery operated for some 200 years, in the fifth and sixth centuries, when much of the area was Christian. But even before this period, the region was already well known for producing wine, with wineries and vineyards dating back to at least the Persian period (c. 539–332 B.C.E.).

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