Upcycled Ancient Temple Offers Glimpse at Wine Life in the Roman Empire

A rare 1,500-year-old wine press at Antiochia ad Cragum substantiates southern coastal Turkey's status as an important ancient winegrowing region

Upcycled Ancient Temple Offers Glimpse at Wine Life in the Roman Empire
The Roman temple ruins at Antiochia ad Cragum, in modern-day Turkey (B. Kreimer)
Mar 12, 2021

For the Roman Empire, Antiochia ad Cragum was a strategically and economically important city on the Mediterranean coast of what is now Turkey. It also made plenty of wine and, apparently, was well ahead of the curve when it comes to the trendy art of repurposing: Archaeologists have uncovered a wine press built into Antiochia’s temple ruins.

“The installation was probably constructed no earlier than the early 4th century A.D., when the temple fell into disuse,” British School at Rome assistant director for archaeology Dr. Emlyn Dodd told Unfiltered via email. Based on the age of nearby amphora kilns, the press could’ve been in use until the 7th or 8th centuries. “In terms of structure, this is the only ‘built’ wine press found in the broader region,” explained Dodd, author of Roman and Late Antique Wine Production in the Eastern Mediterranean (Archeopress, 2020). “All others are carved into the bedrock.”

The temple press at Antiochia ad Cragum
The temple press at Antiochia ad Cragum is one of only two temple-adjacent Greco-Roman presses ever discovered. (ACARP 2012)

The urban press features a waterproof plaster floor for further pressing grapes after foot trodding, likely with a mechanical wooden lever. Archaeologists also discovered a terra-cotta pipe for channeling press juice into a fermentation vat. “A rare find,” said Dodd, who estimates the press could have crushed up to 130 tons of grapes annually.

The press was discovered in 2012 by the University of Nebraska at Lincoln’s Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project (ACARP). “The production of wine appears to have been one of the more robust industries in [Antiochia],” ACARP excavation director Prof. Michael Hoff explained via email.

Per Dodd, the press most likely produced sweet passum, or raisin wine, from locally grown, sun-dried grapes. “[Passum] was a famous product of this region and exported widely across the ancient Mediterranean,” he says. The wine was also popular in Rome’s Jewish community, and may have been used for early Christians’ Eucharists.

The press offers more evidence of the importance of southern coastal Turkey as an ancient wine region, Dodd says, and offers new clues to where Romans built wineries and how they repurposed buildings. Dodd believes that other Antiochia winemaking facilities likely exist—ACARP may have recently found a grape-trodding floor at the temple ruins’ baths as well. But for now he’s chasing another Roman legend: Falernian, the cult wine of 121 B.C.


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