The Upper Tigris in Antiquity: a disappearing cultural heritage

Anthony Comfort and Michal Marciak have written a study of the upper Tigris in antiquity, published in August as How Did the Persian King of Kings Get his Wine? (Archaeopress Archaeology, 2018). This monograph examines an area which has been mostly inaccessible to scholars and looks likely to remain so – despite its great interest and strategic importance during the conflict between Rome and Persia.

The Kasrik gorge from the north (Photo by Michał Marciak 2014)
The Kasrik gorge from the north (Photo by Michał Marciak 2014)

The publication follows completion of the Ilısu dam, not far from the point at which the modern borders of Turkey, Iraq and Syria meet. When filled the reservoir created by the dam will do serious damage to the environment but also to the cultural heritage of the region; it is obliterating various sites along the river Tigris which are crucial to our understanding of the region’s history and archaeology.

The east bank fort at the Kasrik gorge (Photo by Anthony Comfort 2005)
The east bank fort at the Kasrik gorge (Photo by Anthony Comfort 2005)

Apart from the importance of the valley for river and road transport, there are also many rock reliefs which are described in the monograph. It is very sad that the current security situation in South-East Turkey makes many of these reliefs, as well as the sites along the river itself, inaccessible. In Iraqi Kurdistan the situation is better but the Tigris valley there is still difficult to visit for researchers and visitors.

The ‘citadel_ of Hasankeyf (Photo by Anthony Comfort 2005)
The ‘citadel’ of Hasankeyf (Photo by Anthony Comfort 2005)

At least now the world can have some idea of what is being lost as a result of the Ilısu dam and of what has already disappeared under the waters of the Eski Mosul dam in Iraq. But much of importance remains and needs to be studied further; The monograph provides an introduction to the region’s history and archaeology. The authors intend that it also promote further research in a notoriously difficult part of the world.

Header image: The old bridge at Hasankeyf in May 2006 (photo by Anthony Comfort)

About the Authors

Anthony Comfort is an independent scholar associated with the Centre for the Study of Greek and Roman Antiquity at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. After a career in the secretariat of the European Parliament, he completed a doctoral dissertation dealing with the roads on the frontier between Rome and Persia at Exeter University under the supervision of Stephen Mitchell. He is a specialist in the use of satellite imagery for archaeology in the Middle East but is now responsible for a project concerning the Roman roads of south-west France, where he lives.

Michał Marciak, PhD (2012), Leiden University, is an Assistant Professor at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków (Poland). He has published extensively on Northern Mesopotamia, including two monographs Izates, Helena, and Monobazos of Adiabene (Harrassowitz, 2014) and Sophene, Gordyene, and Adiabene: Three Regna Minora of Northern Mesopotamia Between East and West (Brill, 2017). He is currently also the Principal Investigator of the Gaugamela Project (in cooperation with the Land of Nineveh Archaeological Project of the University of Udine, Italy) which is dedicated to the identification of the site of the Battle of Gaugamela (331 BCE).

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Sincerest thanks to Anthony and Michał for preparing this post for the Archaeopress Blog. Their new book is available now in paperback and PDF eBook editions:

How Did the Persian King of Kings Get his Wine? The upper Tigris in antiquity (c.700 BCE to 636 CE) by Anthony Comfort and Michał Marciak. Archaeopress Archaeology, 2018.

Printed ISBN 9781784919566, £32.00.

Epublication ISBN 9781784919573, from £16 +VAT if applicable.

HERCULES’ SANCTUARY IN THE QUARTER OF ST THEODORE, PULA

Alka Starac describes the surprise discovery of a Roman temple in Pula, Croatia

The Roman colony of Iulia Pola Pollentia Herculanea present-day Pula-Pola Croatia
The Roman colony of Iulia Pola Pollentia Herculanea, present-day Pula-Pola, Croatia

The rescue excavations during 2005-2009 in the northern part of the ancient centre of Pula, Hrvatska, conducted over an area of 4000 square meters and at an average depth of 6 meters, revealed at first the foundations of St Theodore’s Church along with a female Benedictine monastery built in the 15th century. The church was pulled down during the construction of Austro-Hungarian barracks at the end of the 19th century. It was the only building complex which had definitely been expected to be revealed during the excavations, as it was the only one recorded in historical sources. It was considered likely that there might be Roman city ramparts as well, but it turned out that the assumed ramparts were in fact the wall of a Domus and a sewer situated inside the adjacent Public Thermae, destroyed in Late Antiquity and completely forgotten since then. In addition to the rich and well-preserved Domus and Public Thermae, the remains of an Early Christian and pre-Romanesque church were found below and inside St Theodore’s Church.

The biggest surprise, however, was the discovery of the foundations of a Roman temple surrounded by portico, containing the deposit of more than 2000 almost fully preserved amphorae of Lamboglia 2 type, placed for drainage and levelling of the temple terrace. Excavations at the end of the 19th century only just reached the rear temple foundation wall without entering the sacred enclosed area, so no one could assume the existence of a temple located within the barracks yard and hidden beneath the foundations of the monastery. Also, no one could know that the southern foundation wall of the 15th-century church, reaching five meters in depth, in its lower parts was the southern wall of the Early Christian church and the outer foundation wall of the northern portico wing surrounding the Roman temple, dividing the sacred terrace from the adjacent Thermae located at a lower level. At this point, the continuous sacred verticale measuring five metres in depth was documented, comprising the historical period of 2000 years since the Roman colony of Pola was founded.

But this exciting archaeological story did not end there. Descending into the lower stratigraphical layers in the sacred temple yard, the pre-Roman continuity of the cult place worshipped by the ancient Histri during the Hellenistic period was documented. It turned out that the Histrian cult place, active throughout three centuries until the foundation of the Roman colony, was placed next to a water spring in the karst terrain. A well, four meters deep, was built at the spring during the construction of the temple terrace, appearing above the ground beside the entrance to the temple. A limestone square building block with a club in relief is the only clear link with a certain deity found in the excavations, and this is obviously Hercules. Hercules is well known for having a strong ties with the Roman colony of Pola, honoured as a divine patron of the colony that carried his name among other titles, and a protector of the city Gate of Hercules decorated with his head and club in relief.

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Location of the Hellenistic rectangular paved sanctuary inside the Roman walls of the portico of the sanctuary and a well at the spring on the left side

My new book, dedicated to the sanctuary of Hercules, deals with the urban history of the Roman temple with portico, the role of Hercules in local tradition and gives an interpretation of the archeological remains. It offers a hypothetical reconstruction of the temple and portico based on the excavated foundations, scarce fragments of architectural decoration and Vitruvian rules. The inscriptions possibly related to the sanctuary are discussed, and finally the hypothetical calculations of the building period duration and construction costs are added.

Block with a club in relief
Block with a club in relief

The discovery of a completely-unknown Roman temple with temenos and portico rarely happens. The entire structure was demolished to the ground and replaced by much more modest buildings in Late Antiquity, so the lack of historical information is unsurprising. This sequence of events resulted in the loss of elements of the architectural decoration; only a few fragments secondarily used in later buildings survived. Instead of a typical Late Republican sanctuary enclosed by a three-winged portico with open front side, Hercules’ sanctuary shows an inverse plan with a portico wing closing the front side of the temple. The foundations of two portico wings were identified, while the third wing remains an assumption. The temple was a tetrastyle prostyle, only a little smaller than the Temple of Rome and Augustus at the forum of Pola. Following the collection of data of the cult of Hercules in Pola, Hercules emerges as the central figure of the sanctuary, which is also related to the presence of a spring as well as an ancestor, hero and founder cult.

I am grateful to David Davison and Rajka Makjanić, who gave me the opportunity to publish the results of my work concerning Hercules’ sanctuary.

Alka Starac
Archaeological Museum of Istria
PhD, Senior Museum Counselor, Head of excavations
alkastarac46@gmail.com

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Sincerest thanks to Dr Starac for providing this blog. Her book, Hercules’ Sanctuary in the Quarter of St Theodore, Pula (Archaeopress Archaeology, 2018), is available now in paperback (£32.00) or PDF eBook (from £16+VAT).

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Maryport. A Roman Fort and Its Community

David J. Breeze introduces his latest book on the Roman fort at Maryport, Cumbria, where the collection of Roman inscribed stones and sculpture, together with other Roman objects, remains the oldest archaeological collection in Britain still in private hands

On the west coast of Cumbria lies the 18th century planned town of Maryport. On its northern edge, sitting on the seaward side of a whaleback ridge rests a Roman fort, its earthworks still visible. To its north, but not visible, is an extensive extra-mural settlement, larger than the fort. Here probably lived the families of soldiers, merchants, priests, innkeepers, prostitutes and other people eager to relieve the soldiers of their pay. In the 16th century the owners of the estate, the Senhouse family, started collecting the inscriptions and sculpture found on their land. Today, their collection is on display in the Senhouse Roman Museum located just beside the fort.

 

A corner in the museum where some of the altars are displayed
Altars on display at the Senhouse Museum, Maryport

 

This altar erected by M Censorius Cornelianus records both his transfer to the Tenth Legion Fretensis based in Judaea and that his home was Nemausus, modern Nîmes
This altar erected by M. Censorius Cornelianus records both his transfer to the Tenth Legion Fretensis based in Judaea and that his home was Nemausus, modern Nîmes

It is unique in that it is the oldest archaeological collection in Britain still in private hands, though it has been placed in the care of the Senhouse Museum Trust. It is also of international importance. The museum contains many altars dedicated by the commanding officers at the fort. These were probably dedicated annually, on the day that all soldiers swore allegiance to the emperor and the Roman state, or on the birthday of the emperor. Many date to the reign of Hadrian and it would appear that we have one for each year of his reign. From this we can determine that each commander served about 3 years. The altars dedicated by the commanding officers of 3 regiments stationed at Maryport in the second century had interesting careers. Although many originally came from the western provinces of the Empire, including North Africa, their military service took them on to the Danubian provinces and to Judaea. Several rose many grades up the hierarchy, one becoming the chief financial officer of the province of Britain – and played host to the Emperor Hadrian, probably at his home in Italy.

The altars dedicated by the commanding officers and their families were to the gods of Rome, Jupiter, Juno, Mars, Mercury, Neptune and so on. Local gods are represented, including Belatucadrus, the deity of the local tribe. There are also many items of sculpture which provide insights into religious life on the northern frontier. These include depictures of the horned god found elsewhere in northern Britain as well as the unique Serpent Stone, a large phallic stone standing 1.3m high. There is also information on burial practices at the site within the 5 cemeteries which have been identified.

The cemetery north of the 1870 altar find spot excavated by Ian Haynes and Tony Wilmott
The cemetery north of the 1870 altar find spot excavated by Ian Haynes and Tony Wilmott

 

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Maryport: A Roman Fort and Its Community by David J. Breeze (Archaeopress, Oxford 2018)

The new book brings together all the known evidence from the fort, its extra-mural settlement, older and more recent excavations and the artefacts, as well as using evidence by analogy, to provide a view of life at a fort on the very edge of the Roman Empire.

Maryport: A Roman Fort and Its Community is available now in paperback (£14.99) and PDF eBook (£10+VAT) editions.

For visitor information please see the Senhouse Museum website:
http://www.senhousemuseum.co.uk/

Sincerest thanks to David J. Breeze for taking the time to write this article about his latest publication with Archaeopress. You can read his earlier blog post, Bearsden: the rediscovery and excavation of a Roman fort.

Recent Archaeopress publications that might be of interest:

Bearsden: The Story of a Roman Fort by David J. Breeze (Paperback, £20; PDF £16+VAT)

Roman Frontier Studies 2009 Proceedings of the XXI International Congress of Roman Frontier Studies (Limes Congress) held at Newcastle upon Tyne in August 2009 edited by Nick Hodgson et al. (Hardback, £120; Paperback, £90; PDF, £16+VAT)

Latrinae: Roman Toilets in the Northwestern Provinces of the Roman Empire edited by Stefanie Hoss (Paperback, £30; PDF, £16+VAT)