Archaeological digs in Jaffa, one of the oldest port towns in the world, are unearthing a fascinating multi-cultural heritage spanning diverse cultures and thousands of years.
A thriving Hellenistic expansion, a Greek piece of wisdom embedded in a mosaic and a Byzantine-era wine press are just a few of the fascinating finds that connect Jaffa– today part of metropolis of the bustling Israeli city of Tel Aviv– to a rich Greek past.
Numerous construction and public works projects have led to a host of new discoveries, including burial sites, residential complexes, farms and assorted artifacts dating from prehistory to today.
They reveal snapshots of everyday life (and death) in one of the oldest continuously-inhabited cities in the world and the level at which ancient cultures interacted with each other.
Jaffa’s importance as a port in antiquity is referenced in the Bible as the harbor through which Solomon imported cedars from Lebanon for the Temple in Jerusalem. It is also said to be the place from which Jonah set sail for his misadventure in a whale’s digestive system.
Archaeologists believe Jaffa was already fortified in 2000 BC– almost 4,000 years ago– and went through various stages of development under various conquerors and civilizations, including Phoenicians and Persians.
The city boomed in the early Hellenistic period, or the 4th and 3rd centuries BC, when it expanded for the first time into its fertile eastern lowlands, where the archaeologists found remains of scattered dwellings and farms from this era.
In one of these farms, they uncovered jar handles from various parts of the Greek world, attesting to a wealthy owner and the international nature of the city.
After a decline in status for several centuries, the city boomed again during Byzantine times, with numerous exciting finds including a wine press, a grave marker bearing a Byzantine cross and a mosaic believed to be from a cemetery bearing some Greek wisdom to the dead.
The Greek text on the mosaic reads: ΕΥΨΥΧΙΤԜ ΣΑΝΠΑΝΤΕΣ ΟΙԜΔΕΤΑΥΤΑ (Εὐψυχ(ε)ίτω- σαν πάντες οἱ ὧδε· ταῦτα).
Leah Di Segni, a Hebrew University expert in ancient Greek inscriptions, explains in a paper published on an Israeli website documenting archaeological finds that the text roughly translates to “Be of good courage, all who are buried here. This is it!” – or, in other words: that’s life!
As Di Segni explains, the expression εὐψύχει is meant as a blessing to the deceased and farewell from the living, acknowledging that death is the common destiny of all.
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