ZEUGMA, A JOURNEY TO THE PAST WITH ANCIENT MOSAICS
Gaziantep, a city at the southeast of Turkey, is best known for its pistachio nuts and baklava. But there is more than that, stunning ancient mosaics! Forty-five kilometers away from Gaziantep, at the tiny village of Belkis; ancient city Zeugma, from almost 2000 years ago, was unearthed. It is considered among the four most important settlement areas under the reign of the Kingdom of Commagene. Before the Birecik Dam flooded most of the site forever, the superb mosaics unearthed at the Roman site of Belkis-Zeugma were moved to a modern museum. The museum showcases virtually complete floor mosaics retrieved from Roman villas, providing a detailed insight into past centuries as well as incredibly well-preserved highlights like the Gypsy Girl and the Birth of Venus mosaics.
In the Hellenistic Era the city was called “Seleukeia of Euphrates”. Named after the founder Selevkos Nikador, one of the generals of the Alexander the Great, in 300 B.C. In 64 B.C. Zeugma was conquered and ruled by The Roman Empire. The city was renamed as Zeugma, meaning “bridge-passage”. Since Zeugma was on the silkroad connecting Antiach to China, the city was very popular. In 256 A.D. Zeugma city experienced an invasion and it was fully destroyed by the Sassanians. Before it recovered, an earthquake hit the city. Indeed, the city never gained the prosperity once achieved during the Roman rule. In the 5th and 6th Centuries the city was ruled over by the Early Byzantine domination. In the 10th and 12th centuries a small Abbassid residence settled in Zeugma. Finally a village called “Belkis” was founded in the 17th century under the Kingdom of Commagene. During the Roman Era, since some high ranking officials and officers of the Roman Empire were positioned around Zeugma, they transferred their cultural understanding and sophisticated life style into the region. In this respect, samples of beautiful art appeared in the form of steles, rock relieves, statues and altars. This unique trend in sculpture and art made the newly emerging Zeugma art well recognized in whole region. At that time, there was a wooden bridge connecting Zeugma to the city of Apemia on the other side of Euphrates, and current excavations revealed that there was a big customs and a considerable amount of border trade in the city.
65.000 seal imprints (in clay) called “Bulla”, were found in the excavations carried out in “Iskele üstü”. These seal imprints were used in sealing papyrus, parchment, moneybags and customs bales are good indication of volume of the trade and the density of transportation and communication network once established in the region.
Mars Statue :
Mars, a 1.50 cm tall bronze statue from Roman Era, is the Roman equivalent of “Ares” the war God, representing power and abundance.
Zeugma carry utmost importance archeologically thanks to the Roman villas and the unique floor mosaics found in them. Unfortunately only a small number of which could be brought to daylight by the excavations.
The materials used on a mosaic panel varies from one period to another: in the beginning only black-white pebble stone and then colored pebble stones was used in mosaics. In some early Greek and later in Roman mosaics we see stones with cubical, quadrangle and triangular prism shapes with the ”Tesserae” technique.
They also used glass in the Helenistic Era after pebble stones which enabled the artist to use infinite shades of colors. Apart from these two main materials marble and pieces of ceramic, ceramic Tesseraes pieces of Terracotta and finally gold and silver had been used.
Last November, 3 new mosaics had been excavated by archaeologists in Zeugma, to discover more of the mysteries of the history.
If you want to take a journey to the stunning pieces at Zeugma yourself:
Just like Zeugma, many regions in Anatolia have been the cradle of many civilizations housing many pieces of art…. Being the successors of these riches, Turkish ceramics companies are very much aware of their responsibility to continue the ceramics and mosaics tradition with a modern touch.