Gaziantep, Turkey’s southeast province, was
until recently best known for its highly developed industrial areas, pistachio
nuts and baklava.
Forty-five kilometers away from Gaziantep close
to the town of Nizip on the Euphrates is the tiny village of Belkis, whose
inhabitants carefully tender their groves of pistachio trees. The nuts are their
sole source of income. Yet not all wealth can be measured in currency, and the
villagers' real asset is the magnificent ruins of the ancient city of Zeugma,
which has stayed buried beneath the pistachio groves for nearly two thousand
years. Belkis/Zeugma is considered to be among the four most important settlement areas
under the reign of the Kingdom of Commanage.
In the Hellenistic Era the city was called
“Seleukeia of Euphrates”. The ancient city of Zeugma, originally, was
founded by Selevkos Nikador, one of the generals of the Alexander the Great, in
300 B.C. At that time the city was named after the general and called “
Selevkaya Euphrates.” And the population in the city was approximately 80 000.
In 64 B.C. Zeugma was conquered and ruled by Roman Empire and with this shift
the name of the city was changed into Zeugma to mean “bridge-passage.”
During the Roman rule, the city became one of
the attractions in the region, due to its commercial potential originating from
geo-strategic location. Because, the Zeugma city was on the silkroad connecting
Antioch to China with a quay on the river Euphrates. In 256 A.D.
Zeugma experienced an invasion and it was
fully destroyed by the Sassanian King, Sapur I. The invasion was so dramatic
that Zeugma was not able to recover and thrive for a long time. To make the
situation even worse, a violent earthquake hit the city and buried it beneath
rubble. Indeed, the city never gained the prosperity once achieved during the
Roman rule. In the 4th Century A.D. Zeugma settlement became a Late Roman territory.
During the 5th and 6th Centuries the city was ruled over by the Early Byzantine
domination. As a result of the ongoing Arab raids the city was abandoned ance
again. Later on, in the 10th and 12th centuries a small Abbassi residence
settled in Zeugma. Finally a village called “Belkis” was founded in the 17th
century. Later on Belkis/Zeugma became one of the four major attractions of the
Kingdom of Commanage. During the Roman Era, troops called “Schythian Legion”
consisting of Anatolian soldiers was positioned around Zeugma. For about two
centuries the city was home to high ranking officials and officers of the Roman
Empire, who transferred their cultural understanding and sophisticated life
style into the region.
Thus the military formation acquired a Roman
character and gave rise to an artistic trend of necropolis sculpture. 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. Zeugma became considerably
rich, owing to the liveliness created by Legion formation. 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.
This hypothesis is proved to be true from the
findings in the excavations carried out in “Iskele üstü.” In this site 65
000 seal imprints (in clay) called “Bulla”, were found in a place which is
believed to serve as the archives for the customs of ancient Zeugma. The seal
imprints 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.
M. Semih SUMMAK (PhD.)
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