Cultivated Crops during the Time of the Babylonian Talmud

As in earlier periods, the staple crops were wheat, barley and dates. A daily grain market is referred to at Nehardea (Avodah Zarah 38b) and the twin towns of Hini and Shili, somewhere near Sura, were also well-known grain markets (Beitzah 25b; Bava Metzia 63b, 72b). The consumption of thick wheat or barley porridge with bread is mentioned in the Bavli in connection with the Jewish community at Husal, near the Euphrates between Nehardea and Sura (Nedarim 49b). Barley and dates were used to make beer and wine, and date syrup continued to be one of the important traditional sources of sweetener until the import of processed sugar in the late twentieth century; by contrast, cane sugar was a luxury at this period. Palms were normally cultivated in plantations and as cover crops (e.g., Eruvin 15a). Other cultivated fruit trees included figs, olives and pomegranates. Viticulture is also mentioned in the vicinity of Ctesiphon, Nehardea, Pumbadita, Sura, Pum Nahara and Harpanya: with the exception of Ctesiphon, all lie close to the Euphrates (Simpson 2003a: 354). The ‘fermenting, sweetening and keeping’ of wine is mentioned on an Aramaic magic bowl from Babylonia (Naveh & Shaked 1993: 134-35) and the transport of wine in wooden barrels and different types of jars is mentioned several times in the Bavli: one type referred to as a dequre is described as narrow, perforated and easily stackable, suggesting that it might refer to the ubiquitous bitumen-lined torpedo jars of the Parthian-early Islamic periods (Simpson 2003a: 354-55).

St. John Simpson, “The Land behind Ctesiphon: The Archaeology of Babylonia during the Period of the Babylonian Talmud”, in The Archaeology and Material Culture of the Babylonian Talmud, ed. Markham J. Geller (Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2015), 20-21.