Ruins of one of the world's oldest synagogues found in Russia

Archaeologists found traces of the synagogue’s foundations and walls, in addition to marble menorahs


One of the world’s oldest synagogues dating back nearly 3000 years has been unearthed by a team of archaeologists near the Black sea in Russia.

A team from the Phanagoria Archeological Expedition discovered the ruins of the synagogue which formed part of the ancient Greek city of Phanagoria.

Phanagoria was founded in 543 BC by Teian colonists who fled Asia Minor in consequence of their conflict with the Persian king Cyrus the Great. The city served as a bustling hub for trade and travel.

With the support of Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska’s Volnoe Delo Foundation, archaeologists from the Russian Academy of Science who are exploring remains from the city, have found traces of the synagogue’s foundations and walls off Russia’s Taman Peninsula. 

Inside the rectangular structure, which is 21 m deep and 6 m wide, were several menorahs, altars, fragments of marble steles, including one bearing the word synagogue in the original Ancient Greek. The team also found tablets with dates from the first century.

One fragment has the inscription “synagogue” written in Hebrew, while other fragments have inscriptions stating, “house of prayer” and “synagogue”.

Researchers say the synagogue date back to the Second Temple Period (597 BC to AD 70) and stood for approximately 500 years until Phanagoria was sacked and burned by barbarian tribes.

The foundation said: “The analysis of the fragments of the preserved decoration allows us to conclude that the synagogue was erected at the turn of the millennium and existed for at least 500 years.”

They added: “The presence of a robust Jewish community within the city already in the 1st century AD is corroborated by depictions of menorahs on amphorae and tombstones from that era. 

“Historical records from the medieval period also affirm the notion that Jews constituted a significant portion of the city’s inhabitants.

“Notably, Theophanes, an 8th-century Byzantine chronicler, and Ibn-Hordadbeha, a 9th-century Arabian geographer, both referred to Phanagoria as a “Jewish city”. 

“Contemporary historians believe that the Jewish community of Phanagoria mirrored the city’s cosmopolitan character.”

Previously uncovered evidence has indicated the presence of a robust Jewish community within the city by at least the 1st century AD.

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