Archaeologists with the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) recently discovered ancient vats for producing fish sauce about 2km south of Ashkelon. Fish sauce (garum) was a popular condiment in the Mediterranean diet during the Roman and Byzantine periods, but archaeologists have rarely found the installations used to produce it. These vats are among the few discovered in the Eastern Mediterranean.
One explanation for the seldom discovery of garum installations is the fact that producing fish sauce is a smelly business. According to Dr. Tali Erickson-Gini from the IAA, ancient sources describing garum production “report that the accompanying strong odors during its production required its being distanced from urban areas.” This is exactly what archaeologists found to be the case at Ashkelon, as the production site was about 2km away from the main city.
In addition to its uncommon nature, this discovery is significant because of what it tells us regarding the spread of Roman Culture. According to Dr. Tali Erickson-Gini, “The discovery of this kind of installation in Ashkelon evinces that the Roman tastes that spread throughout the empire were not confined to dress but also included dietary habits.”
The Roman site, together with its garum installations, was eventually abandoned. However, being a favorable area for cultivating vineyards, a Byzantine monastic community was established there in the 5th century CE. The community made a living from wine production, as evidenced by three winepresses built next to an elaborately decorated church. Little of the church survived to be uncovered, but architectural fragments found on site show that it was decorated with impressive mosaics and marble. Nearby, archaeologists unearthed a large kiln complex used to produce wine jars. Apparently, the jars were for exporting wine.