Ancient Pitcher  


Yavneh-Yam 1992-1999




By Moshe Fischer
Archaeological Project Yavneh-Yam
Department of Classics
Tel Aviv University
May 2004
Website Next Season Planned for July-August 2005

    “Judas Maccabaeus fell upon the Jamnites [people of Yavneh-Yam], too, by night and set fire to the fort and the ships, so that the glare of the flames was visible as far as Jerusalem, two hundred forty stadia away.” This passage, which we read in The Second Books of the Maccabees, 12: 9, 39-46 is about Yavneh-Yam – the harbor of the people of Yavneh. We have tried to divulge its secrets during the past decade. As we can see, Yavneh-Yam witnessed the Greco-Jewish conflict of the time of the Maccabees and archaeological evidence vividly depicts it.

Exploration of the site, identification and historical sources

    Yavneh-Yam (Iamneia-on-the-Sea) is located on the Mediterranean coast along natural anchorage places (Fig. 1) approximately equidistant (20 km) from Ioppe/Jaffa and Azotus/Ashdod (Fig. 2). In the XIX century, the place was visited by G. Rey (1859), V. Guérin (1863), F. G. D. Bedford (1863), Ch. Warren (1867), C. R. Conder and H. H. Kitchener (1875), C. Clermont-Ganneau (1874 and 1881), and finally F. M. Abel (1914). V. Guérin was the first to identify the site (Khirbet edh-Dherbeh) with the port of Iamneia, which he called Maiumas Iamnia, although such a name does not occur in ancient sources. The site is mentioned in various written sources such as the El Amarna letters (15th century BCE) where it is called muhazi (harbor); it is called “the harbor of Iamnia” (Yavneh) in Greek, Latin, Aramaic, and Arabic sources such as jIamneitw'n limhvn (Iamniton limen; Ptolemy, Geography 5,16,2); mahouza d’Yamnin (The Life of Petrus the Iberian 123), maoza d’Yamnias (Johannes Rufus, Plerophoriae 76), mao(u)za Iamnias (ACO III: 38, 51, 146-147), Mahuz Yubna (Muqaddasi ,985) or mahuz e-tani (Idrisi, 12th century).

    There were two sites which bore the name Yavneh, as was common along the southern section of the Israeli Mediterranean coast in antiquity. Inland Yavneh was identified with Tell Yavneh (Yibna, today Yavne), about 8 km southeast from the harbor. The Roman writer Pliny the Elder from the 1st century CE speaks explicitly of Iamneae duae, altera intus (“the two towns of Iamneia, one of them inland”); the geographer Ptolemy implies this as well. In the Madaba Map (mid-6th century CE), inland Yavneh is denominated in the Greek by Javneel, which is also Iamne; therefore, it is evident that Iamneia equally means Yavneh. In late medieval maps, Yavneh-Yam is named Portus Jude, Iamneia quondam Portus Iudeorum, Iamneia Iudeorum portus, thus identifying Yavneh-Yam as the harbor of Jewish inland Yavneh. The latter was famous for its Jewish Academy and as the seat of the leading Jewish institutions after the Destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (year 70 CE). In recent times, Yavneh-Yam was called minet rubin (the Harbor of Reuben), reflecting the Muslim tradition of identifying the area with the burial place of the Biblical Reuben.

History of Surveys and Excavations (see Fig. 3)

    Reifenberg’s first air photographs of the site from 1950 were followed by Dothan’s archaeological survey published in 1952. The first archaeological excavations in Yavneh-Yam were carried out by Kaplan in 1966-1969 (Kaplan 1993) in the eastern ramparts; he attributed the monumental “triple gate” to the Middle Bronze Age IIA (Kaplan 1975) (marked on Fig. 3: “Kaplan excavations”). Kaplan assumed that the enclosure was a square of 800 x 800 meters and that the western section was eroded away by the sea, but this was undermined by recent underwater surveys. Several rescue excavations carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority between 1968 and 1992 within the area of the site and its vicinity, including underwater surveys, have revealed remains from the Neolithic period to the Early Islamic period. Monumental structures from the Byzantine period were unearthed between Areas A and B including an elaborated mosaic pavement (marked on Fig. 3: IAA excavations). Many of these finds, including those of the Tel Aviv University excavations, are on display in the Regional Museum “Beit Miriam,” in Kibbutz Palmahim.

The Tel Aviv University (TAU) excavations

    Five seasons of excavations have been carried out by the Yavneh-Yam Archaeological Project between 1992-1999 on behalf of the Department of Classics and Institute of Archaeology, Tel Aviv University (marked on Fig. 3: Areas A, B, C and T). Corroborating the results of the excavation of the site and the examination of the finds, the following stratigraphy and chronology of the site can be proposed:











12-15 CE






Early Islamic

9-11 CE






Early Islamic

7-8 CE







5-7 CE






Late Roman

4 CE






Early Roman

1-3 CE







3-2 BCE







5-4 BCE







First half of 6 BCE






Iron Age III

Second half of 7 BCE






Iron Age II







LateBronze II

14-13 BCE





*So far only sporadic finds have been retrieved by rescue excavations.

Stratum XI (Late Bronze Age II, 14th – 13th centuries BCE)

    Remains from this period are so far limited to ceramic finds, such as fragments of “white slip ware” and milk bowls, which were retrieved mainly in mud bricks of the later Stratum IX.

|Page 2|Page 3|

View Yavneh Yam maps and sketches

View Yavneh Yam Photo Gallery

Find academic tools for biblical studies at Dove Look for academic tools and books for biblical studies at Dove Books.  

Return to Home Page
Return to Articles and Commentary