The well-preserved remains of a 1,500-year-old mosaic floor of a Georgian church or monastery were unearthed during an excavation in the coastal city of Ashdod, the Antiquities Authority announced this week. The mosaic was discovered in August on the ancient tel, or archeological mound, of Ashdod-Yam , under the direction of Dr. Alexander Fantalkin of the Archeology of Tel Aviv University and the Department of Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations, and the Prof Angelika Berlejung of the University of Leipzig.
According to the authority, the mosaic includes a Greek commemorative inscription of four lines dedicated to the builder of the structure, Bishop Procopius, as well as the year of its construction, based on the Georgian calendar.
Its inscription in Greek indicates: “By the grace of God (or Jesus), this work was built from its foundations under Procopius, our most holy and sacred bishop, in the month God of the third indiction, year 292”, a date of Georgian calendar that would correspond to 539 of the current Gregorian calendar.
Notably, Dr. Leah Di Segni, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who deciphered the inscription, said that the date, according to the Georgian calendar, corresponds to the year 539 CE, which makes it the earliest occurrence of calendar use Georgian in Israel.
“This was many years before it was used in Georgia,” said Segni.
The ancient city of Ashdod-Yam on the coast of what is now the southern part of the city of Ashdod was one of the most important cities of the coast of Israel in the Byzantine period.
The authority’s Ashkelon district archaeologist, Sa’ar Ganor, said Ashdod is believed to be home to the largest community of Jews of Georgian origin in the world.
“Testimony of the presence of real Georgians in the Land of Israel since the Byzantine period has been found dozens of kilometers from Ashdod, [as well as in] Jerusalem and its surroundings,” said Ganor. “But this is the first time you discover a Georgian church or monastery on the Israeli coast.”
Ganor continued: “It’s interesting that, like today, Ashdod was a focus of attraction for the Georgians.”
The archeologist added that according to historical sources, the famous Georgian prince and bishop Peter the Iberian lived in Ashdod-Yam before his death.
“And now, we seem to have discovered real evidence of his influence in the Byzantine city of Ashdod-Yam,” he said.
“This public structure, which has just begun to come to light, is part of an extensive archaeological complex in the southern part of modern Ashdod. Now we are working hard to raise additional funds to continue the archaeological excavation of Ashdod-Yam ».
There are signs of the presence of Jews of Georgian origin not only in Ashdod and its surroundings, but also in Jerusalem, but in the first city was its largest community and one of the oldest cities in the world.