Dedicated to the military history and civilization of the Eastern Roman Empire (330 to 1453)

"Time in its irresistible and ceaseless flow carries along on its flood all created things and drowns them in the depths of obscurity."

- - - - Princess Anna Comnena (1083–1153) - Byzantine historian

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Ruins of the Forgotten Byzantine Port of Bathonea

A sea wall dating to the fourth century extends
two and a half miles around ancient Bathonea, on
a peninsula in Lake Kucukcekmece.

After a drought revealed the seawall of a Byzantine Empire harbor town near Istanbul, archeologists excavated what was a thriving ancient center. But how does it fit into the city's 1,600-year history?

(Scientific American)  -  Hidden for a millennium, it took a 21st-century drought to reveal the ruins of a long-lost port city. Five years after archaeologists discovered its four-kilometer-long seawall on a polluted lake 20 kilometers from Istanbul, they continue to unearth Bathonea, which is yielding a wealth of rare artifacts and architecture spanning a thousand years of the Byzantine era.

Excavations this year have essentially doubled Bathonea's known size, bolstering the idea that it was a well-connected, wealthy, fully outfitted harbor city that thrived from the fourth to 11th century, when a massive earthquake leveled much of it.

Bathonea is a rare and important find because little remains in Byzantium proper (now the modern city of Istanbul) of the first few centuries of the Byzantine, or Eastern Roman, Empire. The ancient urban center has been built over too many times in its 1,600-year history to leave much behind.

Located on a long-farmed peninsula on Lake Kucukcekmece, once an inlet on the Marmara Sea, Bathonea reappeared in 2007 after a drought lowered the lake's water table, exposing portions of the seawall. It turned out to be almost half the length of the wall that once surrounded Constantinople (as Byzantium had been renamed for Constantine the Great).

The wall's substantial size suggested Bathonea was a significant safe harbor for ships on their way to Constantinople beginning in the fourth century, just as the city became the seat of power for the Eastern Roman Empire.

In previous years archaeologists, led by Kocaeli University's Sengül Aydingün, have unearthed some of the seawall, a multistory villa or palace, an enormous cistern, the round foundations of a Greek temple, and the toppled remains of a Byzantine church and cemetery. Nearby, stone roads crisscross each other and 1,500 years of history.

This year they discovered a large multistory building and a series of smaller rooms adjacent to the villa that artifacts indicate was a monastery with workshops for making metal, jewelry and glass that began production in the fourth century. The jewelry molds they discovered may be the first archaeological evidence for jewelry production in Constantinople, a tradition known from historical sources.

Another key find is the exceptionally preserved, two-part network of underground water channels hundreds of meters long that kept Bathonea's cistern and buildings supplied with freshwater. They also found a Hellenistic building hiding in plain sight among 19th-century structures and a road connecting it to a second-century B.C. harbor, providing more evidence of Bathonea's earliest days.

A massive earthquake in the 11th century seems to have largely destroyed Bathonea.
Archaeologists continue to find toppled walls (including one that killed the three men found beneath the rubble) from all the buildings. Yet judging from the pottery found, some residents eked out a life at Bathonea as late as the 12th century.

Many questions remain: What was Bathonea's connection to Constantinople? Who lived there? If it was a major harbor inhabited by the wealthy and powerful—the region was a well-known country retreat for Constantinople's elite for centuries—why doesn't it appear in known historical sources? (Its name is a placeholder, inspired by two references eight centuries apart.) And what was its relationship to Rhegion, an imperial compound located just across the lake on the Marmara Sea?

To try to answer these questions, Aydingün and her team will focus next year's dig on the seaward tip of the peninsula, where ground-penetrating radar has detected underground anomalies that may be structures. They also hope to restart underwater exploration. In 2008 they discovered an edifice that may have been a lighthouse. Local lore holds that it is a magical minaret that rises in warning whenever nearby villagers sin too much.

(Scientific American)

Stamped Konstans
Hundreds of bricks stamped Konstans, made in Constantinople starting in the fifth century, were found at Bathonea. 

(New York Times)  -  For 1,600 years, this city — Turkey’s largest — has been built and destroyed, erected and erased, as layer upon layer of life has thrived on its seven hills.

Today, Istanbul is a city of 13 million, spread far beyond those hills. And on a long-farmed peninsula jutting into Lake Kucukcekmece, 13 miles west of the city center, archaeologists have made an extraordinary find.
The find is Bathonea, a substantial harbor town dating from the second century B.C. Discovered in 2007 after a drought lowered the lake’s water table, it has been yielding a trove of relics from the fourth to the sixth centuries A.D., a period that parallels Istanbul’s founding and its rise as Constantinople, a seat of power in the Eastern Roman/Byzantine and Ottoman Empires.
While there are some historical records of this early period, precious few physical artifacts exist. The slim offerings in the Istanbul section of the Archaeological Museums here reflect that, paling in comparison with the riches on display from Anatolia, Mesopotamia and Lebanon.
So Bathonea (pronounced bath-oh-NAY-uh) has the potential to become a “library of Constantinople,” says Sengul Aydingun, the archaeologist who made the initial discovery.

After the drought exposed parts of a well-preserved sea wall nearly two and a half miles long, Dr. Aydingun and her team soon saw that the harbor had been equipped with docks, buildings and a jetty, probably dating to the fourth century. Other discoveries rapidly followed. In the last dig season alone, the archaeologists uncovered port walls, elaborate buildings, an enormous cistern, a Byzantine church and stone roads spanning more than 1,000 years of occupation.
“The fieldwork Sengul has conducted over the last few years is spectacular,” said Volker Heyd, an archaeologist at the University of Bristol in England who surveyed Bathonea for two field seasons. “The discoveries made are now shedding a completely new light to the wider urbanized area of Constantinopolis. A fantastic story begins to unveil.”
In 2008, for example, Hakan Oniz, an archaeologist from Eastern Mediterranean University who specializes in underwater research, investigated a structure in the lake that local lore held was some kind of mystical minaret that appeared and disappeared in relation to the rate of sinful behavior by nearby villagers. The ruins, about 800 feet from shore, may have been a lighthouse.
Since then, Dr. Aydingun’s team and researchers from eight foreign universities have found a second, older port on the peninsula’s eastern side, its Greek influences suggesting that it dated to about the second century B.C.

Water Channels
Spelunkers explored hundreds of feet of a two-part water channel system that archaeologists discovered. The channels directed freshwater to the cistern and buildings throughout Bathonea. "They showed us that such an infrastructure can only be constructed for a very big and important settlement," Aydingün says.
Nearby, atop the round foundations of a Greek temple, they found the remains of a fifth- or sixth-century Byzantine church and cemetery with 20 burials, and a large stone relief of a Byzantine cross.

Coins, pottery and other artifacts indicate that the church suffered damage in the devastating earthquake of 557 but was in use until 1037, when a tremor leveled it — crushing three men whose bodies were found beneath a collapsed wall, along with a coin bearing the image of a minor emperor who ruled during the year of the quake.
After bushwhacking through nettle-choked underbrush a mile and a half north of the harbor, the researchers excavated a 360-by-90-foot open-air cistern or pool, as well as walls and foundations from several multistory buildings that may have been part of a villa or palace altered over many centuries.
Because the archaeologists are at the beginning of a multiyear dig at a site not known from historical sources, they are hesitant to draw many conclusions. Even the name Bathonea is a placeholder, inspired by two ancient references: the first-century historian Pliny the Elder’s “Natural History,” which refers to the river feeding the lake as Bathynias; and a work by a ninth-century Byzantine monk, Theophanes, who called the region Bathyasos.
“There is a big question mark over the name,” Dr. Aydingun said. “It’s too early to say. But the name is not important. The important thing to note is that there are buildings, roads” where “people thought there was nothing.”
“But there’s something there,” she went on. “We need a lifetime to discover what it is. But even by next year, we’ll be able to say more.”

The archaeologists know this much: The site was large. It sprawled across at least three square miles, and its sea wall is nearly half the length of the one that surrounded Constantinople itself. It was moderately wealthy; the region was a country retreat for the urban elite, drawn by its fertile hunting grounds and Lake Kucukcekmece itself, the freshwater body closest to the city. They built villas and palaces all around the region.

As seen in this stitched-together image, the pipes poking through the cistern wall look almost modern and just as ready to pour fresh springwater as they were 1,650 years ago.  At least 80 meters long, the cistern was entirely constructed from bricks stamped with the name of Constantine or his sons Constantine II and Konstans, which have mostly been discovered at imperial sites like Hagia Sophia.

Roman glass and high-end pottery dating as late as the 14th century were found throughout the site. Marble, including a gorgeous milky-blue variety, lined the walls and floors of the church and at least one of the buildings.
Also discovered were hundreds of bricks stamped “Konstans,” which were produced in Constantinople beginning in the fifth century and had mostly been discovered at imperial sites like Hagia Sophia, the sixth-century architectural marvel and primary cathedral of the Byzantine Empire for almost 900 years, and nearby Rhegion, a fifth-century compound on a hill across the lake from Bathonea, overlooking the Marmara Sea.
Bathonea was also well connected. Some pottery was made as far away as Palestine and Syria, typical of places with access to foreign goods. It had wide stone roads, the earliest dating to the Roman era.
But its relationship to Constantinople is still unclear. “I like the idea of Bathonea as a satellite port of a major city,” said Bradley A. Ault, a classical archaeologist with the University at Buffalo who has studied ancient port cities in Greece and Cyprus. “It falls in line with Athens and Piraeus, Rome and Ostia.”
If that is the case, the port may have served as a safe harbor on protected waters outside the city walls for both commercial ships and the imperial naval fleet. “In the fifth century, they had a major fleet around Constantinople,” said Robert Ousterhout, a Byzantine scholar at the University of Pennsylvania. “They had ports around the Golden Horn and the Marmara.”
Now 13 to 65 feet deep, Lake Kucukcekmece would have been a deep bay navigable by ships of all sizes, Dr. Aydingun said. Sonar has revealed what may be six Byzantine iron anchors buried in the sand just offshore, and nails commonly used in shipbuilding were unearthed at the site.
In recent years, Istanbul has been the scene of several stunning discoveries during salvage archaeology digs, most notably at the Yenikapi transit project, which unearthed a remarkable array of shipwrecks. No shipwrecks have been found at Bathonea; nor are they likely to be anytime soon, said Mr. Oniz, the underwater archaeologist. The lake is so polluted by industrial runoff that diving in it is dangerous, he said. A new water-treatment facility may make exploration possible within a few years.
The Bathonea archaeologists also hope to uncover more artifacts dating to the earliest days of civilization. In 2007, Dr. Aydingun and Emre Guldogan of Istanbul University found 9,000-year-old flint tools at the site that could be evidence of the earliest pre-pottery farming settlement in Europe. Bathonea’s role — and its real name — can be determined only through further study, Dr. Aydingun said.
Ground-penetrating radar has indicated that extensive structures remain beneath the soil. And as all of their efforts have been focused on the waterfront, the archaeologists have yet to investigate the patches of trees and brush farther inland that farmers have long avoided because their plows cannot cut through them.
Dr. Aydingun suspects there is a good reason for that. “I think all of these buildings continue,” she said. “Can you imagine?”

(New York Times)   

Hellenistic Building
It doesn't look like much, but archaeologists were excited to find this plaster-coated building hiding in plain sight because it provides more evidence of Bathonea's beginnings. Adjoined to crumbling late-Ottoman buildings, obscured by trees and brush, its walls had been slathered in a deceptive layer of plaster.
This summer the plaster was chipped away to reveal wide, rectangular blocks that are typical of Hellenistic buildings from the second century B.C. It's located on a newly unearthed road that leads to the harbor of the same era. They also found Hellenistic pottery shards in the rubble near the wall. The team speculates it may have been a warehouse.

Monastery and Workshops
Adjacent to the palace archaeologists unearthed one large building and a series of smaller ones that appear to be parts of a complex dating back to the fourth century, which included the palace, a monastery and a series of workshops for making metal, glass and jewelry.
The finds include smelting waste and rare jewelry molds. "From written sources it's known that Constantinopolis had jewelry workshops since the Roman and Byzantine times," Aydingün says. "Our findings may be the first-ever proof. But it is too early to claim it with some confidence. We are still checking with metalwork historians."

The remains of a well-appointed villa continue to yield evidence of its residents' wealth. The nine-meter walls held statue nooks and ornate wall mosaics; thousands of dirt-encrusted tesserae were found this year. Milky blue marble lined the floors and an extensive water system channeled freshwater throughout. The small graves likely once held children.

Aerial of the Little Harbor
This aerial shows about a third of the excavated site—a section archaeologists call the "little harbor" after the second-century B.C. pier shown at left. At right are newly uncovered crisscrossing roads spanning 1,500 years, the round foundations of a Greek temple, a fifth-century Byzantine church and cemetery as well as an Ottoman-era building. Hidden by trees is a newly spotted Hellenistic edifice, positioned just up the road from the harbor.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Fortress of Sergiopolis in Syria

Defending The Persian Frontier

Resafa, known in Roman times as Sergiopolis and briefly as Anastasiopolis, was a city located in the Roman province of Euphratensis, in modern-day Syria. It is an archaeological site situated south-west of the city of Ar Raqqah and the Euphrates River.

Procopius describes at length the ramparts and buildings erected there by the Emperor Justinian. The walls of Resafa which are still well preserved are over 1600 feet in length and about 1000 feet in width; round or square towers were erected about every hundred feet; there are also ruins of a church with three apses.


As you look at lonely Resafa in the desert, it is easy to forget that once it stood on one of the world's main roads, with populous towns and cities all around. It was on several great caravan roads, with Palmyra to the south, Dura-Europos southeast, and Aleppo on the west. Hardly a day passed that did not see streams of traffic converging on its walls. Caravans did not follow the edge of the Euphrates close by, as the ravines made travel difficult, and every small village expected their toll. Instead, the large caravans moved parallel to the river but farther inland. This put Resafa on the east-west trail.

Just to the north and northeast of Resafa there were two fords of the Euphrates, one at Nicephorium [ar-Rakka] and the lesser, at Thapsacus [Balis]. Elsewhere along the Euphrates the river came right up to the cliffside, forbidding an easy crossing. Thus travel from Palestine and Egypt was funneled up the broad valley between the foothills of the Antilebanon and Alawit ranges tot he west, and the higher plateau to the east called, al-Bisri [Bashan]. This eastern plateau is deeply cut many times with erosion valleys, extending the travel distance going around, or causing hardship on animal and handlers with constant ascent and descent.

The Roman-Byzantine Fortress in central Syria
was one of a series of forts protecting the eastern
frontier from invasion by the Persian Empire.

The village if Resafa had no spring or running water; it depended upon cisterns holding the winter and spring rains. The rainfall in this area is more than sufficient, enough for year-around pasturage to the south of Resafa.

The Bedouin still water their flocks with the brackish water from the open well at the north-west tip of the rampart. The rope, more than 120 feet long, shows how deep the well is. There are four immense, vaulted underground rain-water cisterns, still covered with water-tight cement.


The site dates to the 9th century BC, when a military camp was built by the Assyrians. During Roman times it was a desert outpost fortified to defend against the Sassanid Persians, and a station on the Strata Diocletiana.

It flourished as its location on the caravan routes linking Aleppo, Dura Europos, and Palmyra was ideal. Resafa had no spring or running water, so it depended on large cisterns to capture the winter and spring rains.

In the 4th century, it became a pilgrimage town for Christians coming to venerate Saint Sergius, a Christian Roman soldier said to have been martyred in Resafa during the Diocletianic Persecution. A church was built to mark his grave, and the city was renamed Sergiopolis. Indeed, it became the "most important pilgrimage center in Byzantine Oriens in [the] proto-Byzantine period", with a special appeal to the local Arabs, especially the Ghassanids.

The Persian Frontier  -  For 700 years there was an endless series of wars between the Empire and Persia in Anatolia and along the Mesopotamian border region of the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers.  Over the centuries different Roman Emperors built fortified cities like Dara to act as strong points to keep the Persians from raiding too far into imperial territory.

Resafa was planted right in the path of the Roman–Persian wars, and was therefore a well-defended city that had massive walls that surrounded it without a break. It also had a fortress.

The historian Procopius describes a raid by Arabs seeking plunder.  That caused the Emperor Justinian in the 6th century to build more massive fortifications commensurate with the city's status and wealth.  The walls consisted of 29 towers and 21 solid rectangular bastions.  Justinian installed a garrison to protect the city.

The Persian Khusrau I is credited with making an unsuccessful attack on the town.

The 638 AD Roman Syria had been overrun by invading Muslim Arabs.  There is no record of any serious attempt by the Romans to defend the Resafa Fortress.  The fortress was to defend Syria against Persians.  With Persia no longer a threat the troops may have been moved other fronts to face the Arabs.

In the 8th century, the Umayyad Caliph Hischam ibn Abd al-Malik (r. 724–743) made the city his favoured residence, and built several palaces around it.

The massive walls, formed of massive blocks of stone, surround Resafa almost without a break. It is possible to follow the sentry-walk for hundreds of yards at a stretch, and to enter the guard-houses where Byzantine garrisons kept watch over the desert.
There are three rectangular gates, the big central one for wagon traffic, two flanking entrances for pedestrian and horsemounted traffic. Roman arches, formed of white gypsum, sit on columns with Byzantine capitals. The gypsum is quarried fifteen miles away, and the white stone glitters like quartz crystals in the sun.

Fortifications at Sergiopolis (Rusafa).
Plan of part of the circuit-wall.
Above, section of a tower.
Below, elevation and section of part of the circuit-wall.

Elevation and plan of a part of the circuit-wall,
with stairs and a projecting tower.

Saints Sergius and Bacchus
Sergius and Bacchus were very popular throughout Late Antiquity.  In the Byzantine Empire, they were venerated as protectors of the army.  A large monastery church, the Little Hagia Sophia, was dedicated to them in Constantinople by Justinian I, probably in 527.  Sergius was a very popular saint in Syria and Christian Arabia.
The city of Resafa, which became a bishop's see, took the name Sergiopolis and preserved his relics in a fortified basilica. Resafa was improved by Emperor Justinian, and became one of the greatest pilgrimage centers in the East. 
Sergius and Bacchus were Roman citizens and high-ranking officers of the Roman Army, but their covert Christianity was discovered when they attempted to avoid accompanying a Roman official into a pagan temple with the rest of his bodyguard.  After they persisted in refusing to sacrifice to Jupiter in Emperor Galerius' company, they were publicly humiliated by being chained, dressed in female attire and paraded around town.
Galerius then sent them to Barbalissos in Mesopotamia to be tried by Antiochus, the military commander there and an old friend of Sergius.  Antiochus could not convince them to give up their faith, however, and Bacchus was beaten to death.  The next day Bacchus' spirit appeared to Sergius and encouraged him to remain strong so they could be together forever.
Over the next days, Sergius was also brutally tortured and finally executed at Resafa.
Speculation  -  If you read between the lines of history I think you see here two Gay Christians being honored.
(Saints Sergius and Bacchus)

Syria Resafa Sergiopolis North Entrance detail.

North gate of the city of Resafa.

Inside the Basilica of Saint Sergius
At one stage the city was known as Sergiopolis as it was named after a Saint. It was a pilgrimage for people visiting the grave of Saint Sergius, a martyred Christian soldier. A church was built to mark his grave and it became an important pilgrimage center in Byzantine period.
From the north gate, the Via Recta formed the main thoroughfare of the city. It is now no more than a pathway overgrown with grass, but lining it on either side there are still blocks of marble, the broken stumps of pillars and chunks of wall from the past.
The street leads to a first building of some size: the martyrium, a church where, at an early date, the bodies of Saint Sergius and his companions Bacchus and Julia were laid to rest. It is a basilican church with an apse. The floor and walls are made of gypsum stone found in Rasafa and the great monolithic columns are of rose-colored marble. The apsidal chapels are well preserved; the capitals and the archway carved like lace.

Underground water cistern at Resafa
There are still substantial sections of the city walls to be seen and some of the main buildings. Most impressive are the underground water cisterns which were needed because the city had no spring or running water. The massive underground cisterns were used to collect water from the winter and spring rains.

(al.amidache.free.fr/sergiopolis)      (Books.google.com)      (Aleppo Orthodox)

(Resafa)      (Procopius Buildings 2)