Fifth-century Samaritan estate discovered in Israel

Archaeologists working for the Israel Antiquities Authority have uncovered the remains of a 1600-year-old estate from a Samaritan settlement.

The discovery was made in the Sharon Plain near the Mediterranean coast in central Israel. The archaeologists were surveying the area ahead of new neighborhood construction initiated by the Israel Lands Authority. One of the key findings was a fifth-century Greek inscription, which reads: “Only God help the beautiful property of Master Adios, amen.”

“The inscription was discovered in an impressive winepress that was apparently part of the agricultural estate of a wealthy individual called Adios,” explains Hagit Torge, director of the excavations. “This is only the second such winepress discovered in Israel with a blessing inscription associated with the Samaritans. The first was discovered a few years ago in Apollonia near Herzliya.”

Near the winepress the archaeologists discovered stone quarries with rock-cut depressions used for cultivating grapevines, apparently part of Master Adios estate. “‘Master’ was an honorific given to senior members of the community and attests to the high social standing of the owners of the estate,” says Torge. “The location of the winepress is near the top of Tel Zur Natan, where remains of a Samaritan synagogue were found with another inscription, and reveals Adios’ high status.”

The Zur Natan Samaritan synagogue was transformed into a church in the sixth century. A compound was discovered nearby in the past, featuring large rooms and spaces for producing wine, oil and flour. In one of these a Pompeian donkey mill was found, used to grind flour and incised with a seven-branch candelabrum.

The archaeological site discovered in Israel – Photo by Yitzhak Marmelstein, Israel Antiquities Authority

The inscription in the winepress is additional testimony to once-extensive Samaritan settlement in the southern Sharon Plain during the Byzantine period. The Samaritans were originally brought to this country as part of Assyrian policy and first settled on and around Mount Gerizim. Over the years the population grew and expanded to the southern Sharon Plain among other places. They maintained their special customs and traditions, which resemble Jewish traditions in many aspects. During the Byzantine period the Samaritans revolted against the government in an attempt to maintain their identity. After the revolts the community diminished in size and returned to the Mount Gerizim area. Today the Samaritan community in Israel is less than a thousand people.

Top Image: Photo by Galeb Abu Diab, Israel Antiquities Authority

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