The Phanagoria archaeological expedition conducting excavations in the Kuban has discovered one of the oldest synagogues in the world in what is today southern Russia.
The base and contours of the walls of the synagogue were found on the Taman Peninsula near the Black Sea coast by archaeologists supported by Oleg Deripaska’s Volnoe Delo Foundation.
Phanagoria was the largest ancient Greek city on the Taman peninsula, spread over two plateaus along the eastern shore of the Cimmerian Bosporus. Today the site is located at a short distance to the west of Sennoy in Krasnodar Krai, Russia.
There was a large Jewish community in the city in the first century CE, with images of menorahs on amphoras and tombstones of this period attesting to the Jewish presence.
Medieval historians also confirm that the Jews made up a significant part of the population of the city: the 8 CE Byzantine chronicler Theophanes and the 9 CE Arab geographer Ibn Khordadbeha both called Phanagoria a “Jewish city”.
“An analysis of the surviving details of its decoration allows us to conclude that it was built at the turn of the millennium and existed for at least 500 years,” the Foundation said in Tuesday’s announcement.
Ritual marble menorahs — described by the archaeologists as “unique” and “different from those in the Middle East” — as well as tables for liturgies and fragments of marble steles, (including one bearing the ancient Greek inscription “synagogue”), were found inside the building.
Also among the finds were marble tablets “house of prayer” and “synagogue” dated to 16 CE and 51 CE respectively, indicating the Phanagoria synagogue existed during the Second Temple period. The synagogue is certainly the oldest to have been found in Russia, and possibly is the oldest to have been discovered worldwide.
The building is rectangular, 21 meters long and 6 meters wide, containing a complex of two rooms, each with an area of more than 60 square meters.
The structure was also distinguished by rich decoration, with marble columns and tables and walls that were painted and tiled. The the roof was tiled as well.
The Phanagoria Synagogue was destroyed around the middle of the 6th century CE when the city was plundered during an attack by the Huns, who torched all the buildings.