Ancient city archives uncovered

Lumps of clay with various seal stamps once sealed archived documents made from papyrus or parchment. © Asia Minor Research Center

Evidence of the highly developed administrative system in the Roman Empire: Archaeologists have excavated the remains of the document archive of the Syrian-Roman city of Doliche in southern Asia Minor. Finds of over 2,000 clay seal impressions, which were once used to seal stored documents, testify to this function. In addition to evidence of the ancient “official building,” the motifs of the seals also reflect the beliefs of people in the 3rd century AD, the scientists say.

The focus was on the area of ​​today's Gaziantep metropolis in southeastern Turkey, near the Syrian border. There was also an important city there in ancient times: Doliche was founded around 300 BC. It was founded in the 1st century BC and then developed into a trading city during the era of Seleucid rule. Visitors were also drawn to a nearby sanctuary dedicated to a storm and thunderstorm god worshiped in northern Syria and Anatolia. However, Doliche only reached its full height under the rule of the Romans, who had already been in power in 30 BC. BC began. The special thing about it is that they linked the traditional god of the city with their beliefs and ultimately worshiped him under the Latin name Jupiter Dolichenus. This developed into an important cult form that eventually spread to all parts of the Roman Empire. This brought importance and prosperity to the place of origin.

A rich site

But in 253 AD, Doliches' heyday came to a violent end: as a result of a war between the Roman and Persian Empires, the Great King Šāpūr I destroyed the city. After the fire, the city center was no longer rebuilt. However, this turned out to be a stroke of luck for archeology, as many structures from the period up to 253 AD were preserved and not built over. Since 1997, an archaeological project involving the University of Münster has unearthed numerous interesting traces from antiquity. Now the international research team reports another significant find in the remains of Doliche.

These are the traces of a building of which the foundation made of solid limestone blocks has been preserved. “The structures reveal a sequence of rooms that come together to form an elongated building complex,” says Engelbert Winter from the University of Münster. The full extent is still unclear, but so far it has been proven to be eight meters wide and 25 meters long. The archaeologists explain that the massive construction of the foundation walls indicates that the building complex must have been multi-story.

Clay traces of burned archive documents

As they report, the former function of the building is clear from the number of special finds: more than 2,000 seal impressions prove that it was the Doliches municipal archive. These objects are stamped lumps of clay ranging in size from approximately five millimeters to two centimeters. They were used to seal documents such as contracts made from papyrus and parchment, the experts explain. The archive documents themselves were apparently destroyed in the great fire of 253 AD, but the clay seals remained. According to the team, the building and the traces of its former contents are important finds. Although there were archives for storing documents in every city, only a few such buildings of the Roman Empire have been identified so far.

In addition, the motifs of the seal impressions provide interesting information about the administrative practices and cultural influences of the region's residents: “The images of the official city seals have a direct urban connection. “As a rule, they show their most important deities such as Jupiter Dolichenus, the main god of the city,” says Michael Blömer from the University of Münster. The impressions of the smaller private seals also show a wide range of images and symbols that reveal a lot about the cultural influence of the residents of Doliche. “The gods on the seals provide insights into people's religious environment. Mythical figures or rare private portraits indicate a strong Greco-Roman influence,” says the archaeologist.

It will continue to be exciting to see what the team will discover, as the excavations of the remains of Doliche will continue: “It is impossible to predict when such an urban excavation project will be over. I still see good opportunities for the next generation,” says Winter.

Source: University of Münster

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