1,400-year-old Byzantine city found in northern Israel

1,400-year-old Byzantine city found in northern Israel

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The remains of what was once a prosperous Christian village that was destroyed by Persian forces some 1,400 years ago have been discovered in northern Israel.say archaeologists.

The Byzantine rural settlement ofPi metzuba the Western Galilee appears to have come to an end in the early 7th century when Persia invaded the region as part of its broader conflict with the Byzantine Empire.

The highlight of the excavation was the discovery of abuilding marked with christian symbols - which housed a high-quality mosaic decorated with floral, animal and human figures inspired by pagan iconography.

This and other treasures were unearthed in a salvage excavation after the ruins of the Byzantine city were discovered during road widening works between the city of Shlomi and the Hanita kibbutz, just south of Israel's border with Lebanon, researchers reported last week in Atiqot, a magazine published by the Israeli Antiquities Authority.

While the excavation was done in 2007, it took several years for experts to study and publish the finds from the Byzantine city, says Gilad Cinamon, the AIA archaeologist who led the excavation.

The site appears in previous archaeological studies, but had not been thoroughly excavated before. It is not known from Byzantine sources but researchers believe it to be the city of Pi Metzuba, which is mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud, the compendium of Jewish religious law compiled in the 4th and 5th centuries in the Galilee.

The name Metzuba or Metzub was preserved in the Crusader, Mamluk and Ottoman settlements in the area, and today it remains in the nearby Metzuba kibbutz, Cinamon notes.

The crosses on the doors

The Talmud lists Pi Metzuba among a group of cities in western Galilee that are not considered part of the land of Israel, but whose Jewish residents must still fulfill all the commandments prescribed for the inhabitants of the holy land. However, what archaeologists discovered there were the remains of a markedly Christian settlement from the late Byzantine period, with crosses adorning the door lintels, pottery, and other everyday objects.

Although for now we have no documents from Christian sources on this settlement, all the evidence points to an almost entirely Christian population"Cinamon says toHaaretz.

Pi Metzuba was relatively large for a rural town, stretching for at least 50 dunams (5 hectares or 12 acres), he says.

So far only a small part of the site has been excavated. Most of the buildings discovered were small, modest houses connected by narrow alleys, with the exception of a large well-built structure in the center of the city.It was inside that building that archaeologists recovered the large mosaic, as well as a bronze cross, which may have been part of a chandelier, and a door lintel decorated with a cross..

These finds, along with the scale of the building, initially led archaeologists to think that they were excavating part of a monastery or a church, Cinamon says. However, apparently not.

"Now it is well understood that the mosaic decorated the living room of a self-sufficient urban villa owned by a very wealthy family," he concludes. "And this is quite a rare find for this area in the Byzantine period.”. The mosaic, which measures about five by five meters, is only partially preserved and was studied by Rina Talgam, a professor of art history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Mosaic motifs suggest that the space was used to entertain the guests of this wealthy family, Talgam reports in Atiqot. Within a border of acanthus leaves, various images of country life are depicted: a rabbit eating grapes, a wild boar, pecking birds, and a hunting scene, among others. In the center of the mosaic there is a woman with a crown holding a cornucopia, pomegranates and yellow fruits

There are some Greek letters surrounding the central image but the inscription is fragmentary and cannot be deciphered. Even so,this figure can be interpreted as a personification of agricultural abundance and fertility, and it could well be a representation of Tyche, the Greek goddess of fortune, Cinamon says.

Tyche functioned as a tutelary deity for the towns and cities of the Greco-Roman world. Like many elements of pagan culture, it was absorbed into Christian iconography not as a goddess herself but as a personification of cities and remained a popular motif in the Byzantine period.

The Persian invasion

We don't know who lived in the luxurious Pi Metzuba villa, but the owners likely didn't enjoy their mosaic for long.

Under the tesserae, archaeologists found a rare silver weight that was used until the end of the 6th century, as well as a coin from the early 7th century, meaning that the impressive piece of soil must have been placed around 600.

But just over a decade after that, the entire region was embroiled in conflict that likely led to the destruction of Pi Metzuba.

The Byzantine Empire and Sassanid Persia fought a long and bloody war from 602 to 628, during which the Persians invaded and occupied the Galilee and the rest of the Holy Land beginning in 613.

In time, the Byzantines defeated their enemies and regained their lost territories in the Levant, but the war exhausted the two empires and left them vulnerable to the growing Islamic caliphate of Arabia, which launched its invasion of the Levant only a few years later. in the 630s.

Although we cannot be sure what caused the destruction and abandonment of Pi Metzuba, the site was only sparsely inhabited after the Persian occupation and early in the Islamic period, making it likely that the settlement was heavily damaged in the Byzantine war. Persian, says Cinamon.

In Galilee alone, of the approximately 140 Byzantine settlements, around 60 were destroyed during the Persian invasion.says the archaeologist.

By contrast, while archaeologists still debate how violent the subsequent Arab conquest of the Levant was, in the Galilee there is no evidence of widespread destruction at the hands of Muslims.

"The Islamic conquest was not involved in any destruction, as they were very aware of the economic value of the agricultural interior of this area," says Cinamon.

After being unearthed in 2007, the mosaic was removed from the ruins of the Pi Metzuba village and is now on display in a local archaeological museum on Kibbutz Ein Dor, near Nazareth. The ruins of the ancient Byzantine city were put through conservation work and then covered again, Cinamon says.

This is not unusual in Israel, a country where any construction project that breaks new ground must be preceded by a salvage excavation, which invariably tends to uncover some vestiges of the past..

When authorities are unable - or unwilling - to modify development plans and raise the funds necessary to preserve an ancient site, "landfill" is seen as the best way to protect the remains from looting, vandalism and erosion.

"The road was widened and the rest of the site is covered by an olive grove," says Cinamon. "It is well preserved underground and hopefully future generations can rediscover it, one day."

Via Israel News.

Video: Israeli archaeologists uncover remnants of 1,500-yr-old Byzantine era church