Condiment of the ancients: 2,000-year-old Roman fish sauce factory found in Ashkelon

“Long before pasta and pizza, the ancient Roman diet was based largely on fish sauce,” said Dr. Tali Erickson-Gini of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

By World Israel News Staff 

Vats used to produce a fish sauce, among the few known in the Eastern Mediterranean, were recently uncovered by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) in the southern Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon, according to the authority.

The excavation was underwritten by the Municipality of Ashkelon and the Ashkelon Economic Co. in preparation for the establishment of the Eco-Sport Park, says IAA.

It “revealed evidence of 2000-year-old Roman and Byzantine culinary preferences,” said a statement.

“Long before pasta and pizza, the ancient Roman diet was based largely on fish sauce. Historical sources refer to the production of special fish sauce that was used as a basic condiment for food in the Roman and Byzantine eras throughout the Mediterranean basin,” said Dr. Tali Erickson-Gini of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

“This is a rare find in our region, and very few installations of this kind have been found in the Eastern Mediterranean,” she added, noting that it showed that “Roman tastes that spread throughout the empire were not confined to dress but also included dietary habits.”

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The Roman site was eventually abandoned, says IAA, explaining though that during the Byzantine period, in the fifth century C.E.,  “a monastic community began to thrive there, making a living from wine production: three wine presses were built next to an elaborately decorated church.

“Little of the church has survived, but architectural fragments found at the site show that it was decorated with impressive marble and mosaics. A large kiln complex was located nearby that produced wine jars. These appear to have been used for exporting wine, which was the primary income for the monastery.”

“Ashkelon is one of the most ancient cities in the world, and from time to time we find additional proof of that,” said Ashkelon Mayor Tomer Glam.

“The recent excavation in one of its beautiful new neighborhoods produces a combination of the city’s rich past, its present development, and its future progress,” according to the mayor.

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