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Ancient City of Zeugma

Zeugma is 7 km northwest of  Seyir Tepe. Oceanus, the Titan god of the ocean with a river monster flowing from his shoulders and his wife Tethys; Achilles, the warrior hero of Troy, whose parents disguised him as a girl to thwart a prophecy that he would die in battle; the winged god of love and symbol of beauty Eros, riding on a dolphin with his fishing rod; Demeter, goddess of the harvest, with her crown of wheat ears… Zeugma is the home of incomparable mosaics depicting the gods of Greek mythology. Once adorning the bottom of a pool, a dining room wall or a floor, they have survived for thousands of years.

The ancient city where various hues of stone were employed to such amazing effect was the artistic centre of its age. Zeugma was situated on seven hills, near today’s village of Belkıs,  10 km east of Nizip. It covered about 20,000 m2, and retained its importance through the ages, since it was at the most easily forded point on the Euphrates, and on strategic military and trade routes.

Due to its geographic location, Zeugma is an important research center for many disciplines: ancient world history, archaeology, religion and culture. Zeugma represents Gaziantep on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites Tentative List.

Excavations have been carried out here since 1971, endeavouring to bring the 2,300-year-old city to light and add it to the cultural heritage of humanity. New findings are frequently added to the rich Zeugma collection, thanks to the dedicated work carried out amidst the dirt and dust. The discoveries are so many that two important museums have been gained. The first is the Zeugma Mosaic Museum, with the largest collection of mosaics of any in the world. The Korugan Museum – protective structures built at the excavation site, allows year-round touring of the ruins, and showcases the magnificence of the ancient city on the banks of the Euphrates. The museum encompasses the Dionysos and Danae villas, with their mosaics, columns, frescoes and water pipes in the locations in which they were found. The walkway routes are designed to let visitors see as much as possible. The layout of the Roman villas can be clearly seen, and the museum provides information about life in them in the period. 

If you come to Zeugma in summer, you will be able to watch the excavation work at close hand. 

Zeugma, meaning “bridge” or “crossing”, was on one of the main transit points across the Euphrates River, on the trade routes from north to south, and from east to west. The Hellenistic settlement was founded in the 300s BC by Seleucus Nicator, one of Alexander the Great’s generals, as twin towns on either side of the river. He named the town on the west side “Seleucia Euphrates”, and the eastern town “Apamae”, after his Persian wife, Apama. Because its location was so strategic, a Roman legion was stationed here in the early years of the empire. Zeugma was an important Roman eastern border town, and the archaeological findings reflect the meeting and mingling of different cultures that occurred here.

In the 1st century BC, the city was given to the Commagene kingdom as dowry when Mithridates I. Kallinikos of Commagene married the daughter of the Seleucid king, Laodice.  Antiochus, the son born of this marriage, used income from the city to build the incredible, giant statues of the gods on top of Nemrut Mountain.

With villas overlooking the Euphrates, river trade and lively social life, Zeugma became a centre of attraction and the largest city of the time. The city experienced its most brilliant period under Roman rule, when it had both financial wealth and military power.

The merchants, military commanders and wealthy people who settled here built many villas on the terraces above the Euphrates. To decorate these, highly-skilled artists used coloured stones from the river in floor mosaics depicting scenes from mythology, and painted the walls with frescoes.

These good times were abrubtly brought to an end when Zeugma was conquered and sacked by the Sassanid king, Shapur I, and further destroyed by a subsequent earthquake.

Zeugma advanced greatly in the arts, especially under the Romans, and the floor mosaics in the villas of the wealthy rivalled their counterparts in other parts of the world. In Turkey, mosaics of similar quality are found only at Ephesus.  The Zeugma mosaics and other findings prove the status of the city re the arts, and are of great archaeological importance.

The world record number of bullae (clay seal imprints) recovered during rescue excavations here also highlight the importance of Zeugma as a trade and communications centre.

One fourth of the city, whose mosaics so impressed the whole world, was lost under the water when the Birecik Dam was built. The villas near the river were among the places flooded, and the artifacts recovered during the salvage excavations now constitute the richest collection in the Zeugma Mosaic Museum. 

The museum’s wonderful Statue of Mars, with branches in the right hand and a spear in the left, was discovered lying on its back in the Poseidon villa, in a thick layer of burnt material.

Estimates of what lies in the rest of the city have been made based on ancient sources and archaeological data. From coins, we know that there was a temple of Tykhe, goddess of fortune and fate, in the Acropolis on the highest hill of the city. This eagle-like hill overlooking the surrounding plain reflects the size and splendour of Zeugma. Below ground in the north are public buildings including an agora, odeon and baths; in the west, a theatre and military barracks; in the northwest, workshops; and a necropolis on the city’s south and west sides.


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