Israeli archaeologists have published a 360-degree analysis of a rural, prosperous Christian city – the Byzantine settlement of Pi Mazuva – most likely destroyed by Persian invaders in 613.
The remains of the Byzantine settlement of Pi Mazuva had been excavated in 2007 during road works near the Israeli city Shlomi and Kibbutz Hanita, in northwestern Israel near the Lebanon border.
The finds include Christian iconography, a large house and a colorful, high-quality, partially preserved mosaic floor.
The findings were published in the June edition of Atiqot, a research journal produced by the Israel Antiquities Authority, and initially reported in Haaretz. The principal investigators were Gilad Cinamon, Yoav Lerer, Gabriela Bijovsky and Rina Talgam.
According to the publication published in English, the settlement in the fourth and fifth century Jerusalem was called « Talmud » as part of « forbidden areas » and according to Jewish law (halacha) not considered part of Jewish territory. At the same time, certain commandments for Jews in the land of Israel were still maintained in the area.
« Although we do not have any documents from Christian sources regarding this settlement for the time being, all evidence points to an almost entirely Christian population, » Cinamon told Haaretz.
In addition to the colorful mosaic, researchers also found pottery, a bronze cross, Arab-Byzantine coins, a rare sixth-century bronze weight, and cross-carved stones. Four structures were excavated in two seasons, spanning narrow alleys. The researchers write that the bronze weight « teaches about the economic well-being of the rural community. »
The 5 by 5 meter mosaic shows floral motifs, animal and human figures and fragments of Greek inscriptions, which have not been deciphered more than ten years after their unveiling. The researchers said it was probably created by experienced artists and decorated the floor of a local villa. According to Haaretz, it was transferred to a local archaeological museum in Kibbutz Ein Dor, near Nazareth, where it is currently on display to the public.
The pastoral illustrations include images of cats, a rabbit eating grapes, a cup, birds, a young man, fruit plants, and a woman who seems to personify abundance and agricultural fertility.
« The motifs are eclectic, on the one hand they point to a continuity of classical traditions and on the other hand they turn away from them, » the researchers wrote. « This mosaic joins many other mosaic floors created after the conquest of Muslims, indicating that local Byzantine traditions continued in the 7th to 8th centuries. »
The room contained Christian artifacts, but did not appear to be a chapel, but rather a hall where guests were received in a family’s prosperous farm.
The coins found at the site date from the Byzantine and early Islamic periods, except for one, which was minted in Lyon, France, in the year 314 or 315.
The site was first discovered in 2007 during road construction and has only been partially excavated. Most of the site was refilled with sand pending future archaeological investigations.
A community near the site in question today retains the Byzantine era name and is called Kibbutz Metzuba, derived from the Byzantine name of the settlement Pi Mazuva.
The Byzantine Empire and the Sassanian Persian Empire were at war between the 1960s and 628, the last of a series of conflicts between the two powers. The Persians invaded modern-day Israel and conquered Jerusalem in the year 614, with the help of some Jewish allies persecuted by the Byzantines.
According to the researchers, there were about 140 Christian settlements in the region during this period, including 63 churches or monasteries. Another 13 settlements had a mixed population. Many of these Christian sites in Galilee were destroyed during the Persian invasion.