Construction on the massive Birecik Dam located on the Euphrates River was completed in 2000, causing flood waters to rush into Southern Turkey. For six months the waters continued to rise some 4-inches every day, threatening a world of archaeological remains that had only begun to be uncovered in Zeugma. The rising waters brought about an immediate emergency to salvage the artifacts left behind by the Roman civilization that once prospered here.
One of the most amazing artifacts in the area is a collection of mosaics. Mosaics adorned the houses of wealthy residents that lived here thousands of years ago. The mosaics found at Zeugma are said to be some of the most incredible examples of art from the ancient world.
As a result, the quickly drowning site caught the attention of many archeologists from around the world. It was Professor Kutalm?? Görkay of Ankara University and his team that began excavating the area, and almost immediately they uncovered well-preserved examples of richly colored mosaics, and more.
The elite residents of Zeugma adorned their homes in mosaics, often depicting mythological scenes. The mosaic a homeowner selected had a lot to do with who they were as a person, their level of knowledge, and how they wanted their guests to view them.
Long before the remains of this once prosperous Roman civilization were uncovered, thousands of years of history unfolded here. During the third century BC, one of Alexander the Great’s commanders, Seleucia I Nicator founded the region on the west side of the river, calling it Seleucia.
Then, in 64 BC, the town was conquered by the Romans and renamed Zeugma. In Ancient Greek Zeugma translates to “bridge” or “crossing.”
During the imperial period, Zeugma gained a lot of popularity due to its geographic location. Zeugma was the last Greco-Roman city before you reached the Persian Empire. Roads here were often traveled, and the town was lush with trade routes and politics.
In other words, Zeugma was a prosperous commercial city that had around 20,000-30,000 residents at its peak. In fact, during the imperial period, Zeugma was recognized as the empire’s most economically important eastern border region.
The good times never last forever. As the Roman Empire saw its fortunes declining, the Sassanids from Persia attacked the city in 253 AD, demolishing the many luxurious villas that dotted the area. The newest residents to the city lived a much more simple lifestyle, the remains of their buildings would not stand up to the test of time.
For 1,700 years the incredible architecture and prosperous life the Romans created remained forgotten.
As the flood waters rose higher and higher, there was a lot of pressure to excavate the city. The image below shows the floodwaters rising up over an example of a mosaic.
Below, here is the same mosaic (pictured above) after it was saved and restored from the rising waters.
Professor Kutalm?? Görkay describes the mosaics to Archaeology.org, “They were a product of the patron’s imagination. It wasn’t like simply choosing from a catalog. 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.”
The mosaic pictured below features Oceanus and Tethys, known as Ancient Greek and Roman ocean deities.
Pictured below is Poseidon seated on his war chariot, he is known as the God of the sea.
Thalia is pictured in the mosaic below, she is known as the idyllic muse of poetry and comedy.
Today, 25% of the ancient town’s western bank is submerged 200-feet underwater and the eastern bank of the city is completely underwater. Still, there remains so much to be uncovered and learned in Zeugma.