Roman winery found in Jerusalem

2nd March, 2016 by Rupert Millar

A large Roman winery, dating back over 1,000 years, has been unearthed in Jerusalem.

Alex Wiegmann, excavation director, views winepress uncovered in Schneller Compound

Alex Wiegmann, excavation director, at the winepress uncovered in the Schneller Compound. Photo credit: Israeli Antiquities Authority

The winery and a bath house were uncovered during a dig at the Schneller Compound outside the old city of Jerusalem.

Famously the site of a German Protestant orphanage from 1860 until the Second World War, it was then turned into a British army base until 1948, then an Israeli Defence Force base until 2008 and the area is now marked for a housing development.

The finds though add another layer to the history of the place, with the archaeologists behind the dig thinking that a large manor house or villa is probably nearby and that the winery was part of the farm from which the owners drew their income.

As reported by The Jewish Press, the winery was described as a “complex” installation. The pressing surface was paved with a plain white mosaic, there was a press screw for squeezing the grapes in the centre and eight cells arranged around it that could be used for storing grapes immediately before they were pressed and for collecting free run juice and blending.

Next to the winery were a few remains of what was presumably the winery owner’s private bath house, a few bricks of which were stamped with the name of the Tenth Legion, a unit posted to the region to put down the Bar Kokhba revolt from 132-136 AD.

It is known that the legion’s main base was located not far away at one of the entrances to old Jerusalem at Binyenei Ha-Uma – the site now occupied by the International Convention Centre.

It is possible the soldiers were responsible for building both the bath house and the winery. Roman legionaries were often put to work on construction projects while garrisoned to keep them occupied and alleviate boredom.

The excavation director, Alex Wiegmann, told the newspaper that the finds helped paint, “a living, vibrant and dynamic picture of Jerusalem as it was in ancient times up until the modern era”.

The discovery is just the latest in a seemingly endless procession of finds across the Middle East, some of which, at their most ancient, show evidence of Ancient Egyptian winemaking or brewing and even the wine served to the slaves who built the Temple of Solomon over 3,000 years ago.

Interestingly, these two neighbouring structures neatly encompassing what made the Roman Empire so attractive to many of its subjects, were also the cornerstone of the medical doctrine practised by physicians known as the ‘methodists’.

They advocated the use of wine and baths as pain relief among other things, rather than the more standard Roman practice of inflicting more pain to nullify the first.

An article on the methodists was published on The Atlantic earlier this week and can be read here.

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