Archeological Site of Zeugma

Date of Submission: 13/04/2012
Criteria: (ii)(iii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Turkey to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Province of Gaziantep, District of Nizip, Village of Belkıs
Coordinates: N37 3 13.28 E 37 52 1.74
Ref.: 5726
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Description

Zeugma is10 kilometers away from Nizip located within the boundaries of Gaziantep. The provincial capital of Gaziantepis 50 kilometers away in westerly direction. Nizip is the biggest town among those surrounding Gaziantep.

Situated in South-eastern Turkey, Zeugma, literally “bridge” or “crossing” in ancient Greek, owes its name to the fact that it was located at the major ancient crossing point on the river Euphrates. The ancient term Zeugma actually referred to the twin cities on the opposing banks of the river. They were Hellenistic settlements established by commander Seleucus Nicator around 300 BCE. Today the name Zeugma is usually understood to refer to the settlement on the west bank, called Seleucia after the founder, while the one on the East bank was called Apamea after his Persian wife Apama. The twin settlements were crucial in the cultural policies of the Seleucid empire aiming to achieve the integration of Greco-Macedon and Semitic cultures in the region. In 64 CE, Seleucia came under the rule of the Commagene Kingdom, and then from 72 CE, it was the major eastern frontier city of the Roman Empire. With two Roman legions based in Zeugma in the first century CE, the strategic importance and cosmopolitan nature of the city increased greatly. Due to its crucial position on commercial routes and to the volume of its traffic, Zeugma was chosen by the Romans for toll collecting. Zeugma prospered and functioned as a major commercial city as well as a military base.

The preserved parts of the ancient city include the Hellenistic Agora, the Roman Agora, two sanctuaries, the stadium, the theatre, two bathhouses, the Roman legionary base, administrative structures of the Roman legion, the majority of the residential quarters, Hellenistic and Roman city walls, and the East, South and West necropoles.

The archaeological site of Zeugma is of immense historical significance for understanding the ancient integration of Hellenistic and Semitic cultural spheres and the birth of syncretistic hybrid cultures in the region. 

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Zeugma is home to archaeological remains that reflect the complicated, sometimes ambiguous, yet extremely varied character of the ethnicities which mingled within the city to form new syntheses. Most of these remains date from the period between the first century BCE (the time of Antiochus, king of Commagene) and the third century CE, when the city was sacked by the Sassanian King Shapur in 253 CE.

The site is the foremost city of the eastern frontier of the Hellenistic and Roman worlds possesses structures which shape and decoration were formed by that unique position such as two syncretistic sanctuaries that attained unparalleled features under the Commagene Kingdom (64 BCE-72 CE) and Roman houses decorated with exquisite mosaics mostly dated to the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE.

Zeugma has a unique position in Commagene since syncretised cults and the ruler cult of the Commagene kingdom are represented by two sanctuaries consecrated by Antiochus in the city. These are the main sanctuary on top of Belkıs Hill and the sanctuary in the Hellenistic Agora. Archaeological findings unearthed during the excavations carried out in these sanctuaries show that the city played a key role in Antiochus’ efforts to link the Greek and Persian cultural spheres, in accordance with the kingdom’s key position between these two worlds, on the Euphrates. On Belkıs Hill, where the city's foremost sanctuary is perched, three colossal cult statues have been discovered, while many others were found in pieces on the slopes of the hill. These statues most probably belong to the deities of the Commagenian pantheon. This sanctuary is the single example in Commagene where both Antiochus' syncretised Commagenian pantheon and his ruler cult are represented with several cult statues in a temple or a temenos (sacred enclosure wall).

The Roman houses of Zeugma are in the style of city villas with courtyards, covering around 600-800 square meterseach. What makes the houses especially important is that after being demolished during the devastating Sasanian sack of the city in 253 CE, they were mostly uninhabited and kept intact. As such, in a way comparably to Pompeii, due to its dramatic end, the site is a depository of invaluable information on daily life in a major Roman frontier city in the mid-third century.

The architectural decoration of the houses mainly consists of exquisite mosaics and frescoes. Zeugma mosaics are a unique collection of pictorial art reflecting private taste in a cosmopolitan city in the Hellenistic and Roman East. The figural mosaics include unique pictorial renderings of ancient literature and mythology. The mosaics found in the Roman houses at Zeugma date to the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE, and depict scenes from Greek and Greco-Roman mythologies and popular novels, some with captions in Greek. Some also bear signatures of mosaicists as well as names of patrons who commissioned the implementation of the mosaics. Most representations of mythological scenes in Zeugma mosaics are so far ichnographically unknown, unique depictions that might be emulating famous works of the Roman World.

Criterion (ii): The archaeological site of Zeugma is of immense historical significance for understanding the ancient integration of Hellenistic and Semitic cultural spheres and the birth of syncretistic hybrid cultures in the region. 

Zeugma has a unique position in Commagene since syncretised cults and the ruler cult of the Commagene kingdom are represented by two sanctuaries consecrated by Antiochus in the city.  These are the main sanctuary on top of Belkıs Hill and the sanctuary in the Hellenistic Agora. Excavations carried out in these sanctuaries revealed important findings such as the dexiosis stelai showing Antiochus in hand-shaking position with the Gods, which have intrinsic importance for the cult of the Commagenian pantheon and Antiouchus' ruler cult.  On Belkıs Hill, where the city's foremost sanctuary is perched, three colossal cult statues have been discovered, while many others were found in pieces on the slopes of the hill. These statues most probably belong to the deities of the Commagenian pantheon. This sanctuary is the single example in Commagene where both Antiochus' syncretised Commagenian pantheon and his ruler cult are represented with several cult statues in a temple or a temenos (sacred enclosure wall).

Archaeological finds from both sanctuaries in Zeugma show that the city played a key role in Antiochus’ efforts to link the Greek and Persian cultural spheres, in accordance with the kingdom’s key position between these two worlds, on the Euphrates.

Criterion (iii): There are many Roman houses decorated with exquisite mosaics and frescos mostly dated to the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE. Zeugma mosaics are a unique collection, of pictorial art reflecting private taste in a cosmopolitan city in the Hellenistic and Roman East. The figural mosaics include unique pictorial renderings of ancient literature and mythology. The mosaics found in the Roman houses depict scenes from Greek and Greco-Roman mythologies and popular novels, some with captions in Greek. Some also bear signatures of mosaicists as well as names of patrons who commissioned the implementation of the mosaics. Most representations of mythological scenes in Zeugma mosaics are so far ichnographically unknown, unique depictions that might be emulating famous works of the Roman World. Zeugma is home to an immense treasury of ancient pictorial arts.

The Roman houses of Zeugma are in the style of city villas with courtyards, covering around 600-800 square meterseach. What makes the houses especially important is that after being demolished during the devastating Sasanian sack of the city in 253 CE, they were mostly uninhabited and kept intact with all their finds. As such, in a way comparably to Pompeii, due to its dramatic end, the site is a depository of invaluable information on daily life in a major Roman frontier city in the mid-third century.

Criterion (iv): On Belkıs Hill, where the city's foremost sanctuary is perched, three colossal cult statues have been discovered, while many others were found in pieces on the slopes of the hill. These statues most probably belong to the deities of the Commagenian pantheon. This sanctuary is the single example in Commagene where both Antiochus' syncretised Commagenian pantheon and his ruler cult are represented with several cult statues in a temple or a temenos (sacred enclosure wall).

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Zeugma was designated as 1st and 3rd Degree Archeological Site. The first scientific excavations within Zeugma were launched in 1987 and today the excavation works are being carried out by the University of Ankara.

Several Roman residential complexes were excavated, and the mosaics and frescoes found in them were relocated to the Gaziantep Museum. In 2005, the direction of the Zeugma excavations and the coordination of all scientific works on the site were placed by Turkey’s Board of Ministers under the direction of Ankara University, allowing comprehensive and long-term plans for the excavations to be developed. At the same time, the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism allocated funds for the expropriation of land, security against looting, restoration, conservation and archaeological excavations. Construction of a shelter structure for the conservation of two Roman Houses and their mosaics was launched in 2006 and completed in 2010, enabling the display of mosaics and frescoes in situ.

Excavations on the site are continuing in tandem with similar conservation and shelter projects so that as much of the finds as safely possible can be kept in their original context and are currently being carried out in the Hellenistic necropolis, the city’s main sanctuary on Belkis Hill, and the necropolis.

Since 2005, the site is being systematically expropriated. Among the adverse effect on the site, the most important is that of agriculture in areas that have not been expropriated yet. Illegal excavations have been a great problem in the past but have largely subsided since 2005 throughout the extreme security precautions as well as partial expropriation.

The primary concern for preservation on the site is posed by the material of the structures. The major source is a natural rock formation that is highly perishable when exposed to the elements. To overcome this problem, special conservation materials and techniques have been developed by a team of conservators at Ankara University and geologists at Middle East Technical University.

Comparison with other similar properties

The World Heritage Site Mount Nemrud, where colossal statues of the deities of the Commagenian pantheon are also found, is a burial sanctuary and therefore differs from the sanctuary in Zeugma in function and form. However, the two sites are closely related. Zeugma is one of the three cult centers where the Commagenian pantheon and ruler cult are attested epigraphically and the only one that has remained intact. The one in Arsamea on the Nymphaios was partly destroyed, while the comparable site of Samosata was completely flooded due to a dam project.

The Roman houses of Zeugma are in the style of city villas with courtyards, covering around 600-800 square meterseach. What makes the houses especially important is that after being demolished during the devastating Sasanian sack of the city in 253 CE, they were mostly uninhabited and kept intact with all their finds. As such, in a way comparably toPompeii, due to its dramatic end, the site is a depository of invaluable information on daily life in a major Roman frontier city in the mid-third century.