Evidence of early Jews in Portugal unearthed
|Archaeologists of the Jena University found this marble plate with a Hebrew inscription at an excavation site in the south of Portugal [Credit: Dennis Graen/FSU]|
The earliest archaeological evidence of Jewish inhabitants in the region of modern-day Portugal has so far also been a tomb slab with a Latin inscription and an image of a menorah -- a seven-armed chandelier -- from 482 AD. The earliest Hebrew inscriptions known until now date from the 6th or 7th Century AD.
For three years the team of the University Jena has been excavating a Roman villa in Portugal, discovered some years ago by Jorge Correia, archaeologist of the Silves council, during an archaeological survey near the village of São Bartolomeu de Messines (Silves). The project was aiming at finding out how and what the inhabitants of the hinterland of the Roman province of Lusitania lived off. While the Portuguese coast region has been explored very well, there is very little knowledge about those regions.
The new discovery poses further conundrums. "We were actually hoping for a Latin inscription when we turned round the excavated tomb slab," Henning Wabersich, a member of the excavation reports. After all, no inscriptions have been found so far and nothing was known about the identity of the inhabitants of the enclosure.
|The place of discovery is a Roman villa near Silves [Credit: Dennis Graen/FSU]|
In the Roman Empire at that time Jews usually wrote in Latin, as they feared oppressive measures. Hebrew, as on the re-discovered marble plate, only came back into use after the decline of the Roman supremacy, respectively in the following time of migration of peoples from the 6th or 7th century AD. "We were also most surprised that we found traces of Romans -- romanised Lusitanians in this case -- and Jews living together in a rural area of all things," Dennis Graen says. "We assumed that something like this would have been much more likely in a city."
Information about the Jewish population in the region in general was mostly passed down by scriptures. "During the ecclesiastical council in the Spanish town Elvira about 300 AD rules of conduct between Jews and Christians were issued. This indicates that at this time there must have been a relatively large number of Jews on the Iberian Peninsula already," Dennis Graen explains -- but archaeological evidence had been missing so far. "We knew that there was a Jewish community in the Middle Ages not far from our excavation site in the town of Silves. It existed until the expulsion of the Jews in the year 1497."
In the summer the Jena Archaeologists will take up their work again. Until now they have excavated 160 square metres of the villa, but after checking out the ground it already became clear that the greater part of the enclosure is still covered in soil. "We eventually want to find out more about the people who lived here," Graen explains the venture. "And of course we want to solve the questions the Hebrew inscription has posed us."
Source: Friedrich Schiller University Jena via AlphaGalileo [May 25, 2012]