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Ancient Greek mosaics discovered in Southern Turkey

Posted by
on January 09, 2017 at 02:28 PM

Archaeologists from Turkey rejoiced as they discovered three beautiful ancient Greek mosaics in glass tiles, from the historical city of Zeugma, that are estimated to be roughly 2,220 years old! The most exciting aspect of the discovery made in October last year, is that these mosaics are well preserved and in great condition. The unearthing was done by a team of 25 students led by Professor Kutalmis Görkay of Ankara University under the Zeugma excavation project conducted by Oxford Archaeology and supported by Packhard Humanities Institute and the Ministry of Culture of Turkey, back in 2014.

© Courtesy of internet sources

The Turkish government in 2007, decided to commence work on a dam reconstruction project near the city of Zeugma situated in the present-day province of Gazientep in southern Turkey, along the Syrian border. Construction work could cause flooding and archeologists dreaded loss of ancient treasures waiting to be uncovered. So a team of archeologists embarked on a journey to search and salvage as many relics as they could. Their search led to the unveiling of the stunning mosaics that too in immaculate condition. These mosaics are vivid and beautiful examples of ancient art. 

The city of Zeugma was founded in 300 BC by Seleucus I Nicator, a general of Alexander the Great. He had named it Selukia-on-the-Euphrates, after himself. In 64 BC Romans conquered it and gave it the name Zeugma. It was a very important city in the early BCs because of its location on the border of Greco-Roman and the Persian Empire. In ancient greek, “Zeugma” means "bridge" or "crossing". The city acted as a bridge which everyone had to cross. With the decline of the Roman empire, even the city of Zeugma declines and fell in to the hands of Persian rulers. It was forgotten until recent discoveries. Known for its art and architecture, at its peak, the city was home to 80,000 people. Which is why, protection of Zeugma’s mosaics was of utmost concern. They are some of the most extraordinary specimens to survive from the ancient world.

The mosaics were found from a gigantic building, the Muzalar House, that was thought to have been inhabited by one of the city's most elite families. According to the professor, at that time, many homes had mosaics, as a symbol of prosperity and to make an impression on guests. The owners put up mosaics to show what they were interested in or wanted to be seen to be interested in. The mosaics had great social value, as it was the topic of discussion for home owners and their guests. “They were a product of the patron’s imagination. It wasn’t like simply choosing from a catalog,” Professor Kutalmis Görkay told the media. “They thought of specific scenes in order to make a specific impression. For example, if you were of the intellectual level to discuss literature, then you might select a scene like the three muses. They are also a personification of good times. When people drank near this mosaic, the muses were always there, accompanying them for atmosphere.” 

One mosaic is that of the nine muses that is, Clio, Euterpe, Thalia, Melpomene, Terpsichore, Erato, Polymnia, Ourania, and Calliope. The central portrait is that of Calliope, the muse of Epic poetry and arts, who according to ancient Greek poet Isiodos, was the greatest and finest of them all. The nine muses are a source of inspiration to many artists as they discovered many art forms. Some of them even developed tools related to the arts. The muses were looked up to and summoned by Greek and renaissance artists and portrayed in their artwork. The mosaic of Thalia, the muse of comedy and idyllic poetry is in great condition and stands out particularly. The experts believe that the face was done in glass pieces specially designed for the purpose. 

Second Mosaic is that of Oceanus, the divine personification of the sea and his sister, Tethys, with various fishes and sea creatures around them. Their children were the ocean nymphs or the 3,000 Oceanids. According to the archeologists, the glass used for this mosaic was specially made for it. The third mosaic is that of the sea God Poseidon in a chariot surrounded by sea creatures.

Usually, the excavated mosaics and artifacts are left in place after discovery, as moving exposes them to the risk of damage. But after a robbery at site, they decided to relocate them to a local museum. The Turkish government established the Zeugma Mosaic Museum to store those found in Zeugma and other sites. “From now on, we will work on restoration and conservation. We plan to establish a temporary roof for long-term protection”, announced Görkay. "We estimate that the ancient city has 2,000 to 3,000 houses. Twenty-five of them remain under water. Excavations will be finished in the Muzalar House next year." Even today, the city is 80 percent underwater but archeologists continue their explorations at one of the most important trade centre of the Eastern Roman Empire, to decipher the life of the people then. 

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