Sunday, January 17, 2021

Melitene: Hellenic, Roman and Byzantine Malatya Pt.1

Photos by Jack A. Waldron

The site sign pictured above translates as 'Battalgazi Wall' (Battlegazi being the modern district name), followed by 'Roman Wall' (the Southwest Tower of which we can see behind the sign), both of which fail to hit the bullseye, because the sign should read 'Militene'.  
We will begin our exploration of this ancient area quite late in its history, that being the late middle era, that begins with the Romans.  Future posts on the area will work their way back to the beginning recorded human history, which to a great extent began here, in what today we call Malatya.  
As you can see in the map above, the city walls encircled a massive area, but like all cities, Militene too had humble beginnings.  When the Roman Empire took direct administration of the Cappadocian Kingdom in 17 AD, Melitene became the most important eastern administrated city on the upper Euphrates.  However, the location of the city at that time was not where the site is today.  The original site was located around Arslantepe, a site which has been inhabited since before the Bronze Age, and, which will be explored in future posts.
The remains of the Melitene site we explore today are of a Roman origin, established in 72 AD as a base camp for the XII Roman Legion of the Thunderbolt (having been relocated from nearby Arslantepe), and which grew as a result of family expansion, increased trade and travel along the route between the far east and Caesarea (that also passes through Comana Chryse).  Melitine was an important Roman boarder entrance and exit gate with southern Armenia along the Euphrates.  Pictured above, a view of the first tower east of the southwest corner, along the southern wall.  And below, a view of the same tower from inside the wall.
As mentioned in the Comana Chryse blogpost, the road between Caesarea and Melitene was improved and expanded upon by Emperor Septimius Serverus following his victory over Pescennius Niger in 193 AD, a victory that consolidated his position as Emperor of the Roman Empire.  Melitene would remain the base camp of the Twelfth Legion until Septimius Serverus expanded the boarder of the empire to the Tigris.
Between the 3C-5C AD, Melitene was an important imperial mint of coinage for Rome, no doubt the wealth created through its being a center of trade between the Far East and West was a key factor in this development.  As we will see further on, the walls of this Roman city will attest to its wealth and strength.  As you can see in the photo above, I am still standing at the southwest corner of the Roman Wall, which encircles the entire city, and the camera is looking east along the outside of this section of wall.
Pictured above, having traveled about 300 meters down the southern wall from the southwest corner, the camera is now looking back along the outside of this southern section of wall toward the southwest corner.  The large square structures you see along this section of wall are towers.
Turning away from the southwest corner in these two photos (pictured above and below), the camera is now facing east along the southern wall, and we can see another tower in the distance.
After taking the photos above, I returned to the southwest corner of the city wall and proceeded north along the western wall.  Having traveled about 200 meters north of the southwest corner, I turned back around and snapped the photo below.  In the distance, you can see the blue sign of a gas station that is directly across the street from the southwest corner of the city wall.
In the foreground of the photo above you can see large square lumps along a straight path, these are the wall towers.  Turning back north in the photo below, the lumps grow larger and their shapes more defined as we approach the Western Gate.
One of the most challenging aspects with regard to such antiquities is, just how much should the structures be restored, if at all?  I have seen beautiful ancient theaters transformed into pristine new theaters, which I find very non-aesthetic.  I've also see structures with new blocks or other various building members that have replaced the missing or damaged pieces, and this can work quite well.  Further down in the post, you will see what a restoration of these walls looks like, and then you can be the judge.
The tower pictured above and below is one and the same, and as you can clearly see, it retains the shape of its original construction.  In the photo below, some of the original facing blocks are still in situ at the bottom of the tower (lower left of the tower).
A litter further on comes the next tower (pictured below), that sits directly beside a small street allowing access to the center of the city.  A small path beginning from the street runs behind the ancient city walls and its towers, and having sighted an ancient structure some 200 meters back within the walls, I parked my bike to go have a look.
In the photos above and below, I am standing inside the west wall of the city looking out from behind the collapsed tower.
Turning back south within the west wall, the path leads behind the tower previously shown, and continues on to the mystery hidden structure.
Sitting in the middle of a farmers field about 50 meters within the central section of the west wall is the large structure pictured below.  Though this structure must be identified in some archeological survey, I have not been able to locate a description or the purpose it served. 
This building is probably not be a complete early Roman built structure, and has most likely been modified or reconstructed during the Late-Roman Byzantine, Seljuk and/or Ottoman periods for various uses, (namely a church or mosque), though the blocks used in its construction are most likely to have been quarried from previously standing Early-Roman structures, as well as newly fabricated materials from the Byzantine period, during the construction of the city wall, which were built during the 6C AD by the emperors Anastasius and Justinian.
I say the building dates from the Late-Roman, Byzantine, Seljuk and/or Ottoman periods because we know that the remains of the city wall we see today are reconstructions of the original Byzantine walls, and that this building was also probably altered and reconstructed during these periods.
By looking at the various sizes and shapes of the blocks used in the outer walls of this building, I think we can conclude that this building is a hodgepodge of members quarried from preexisting structures.
Since most of the standing walls around the city generally follow the path of the older Late-Roman walls, they mostly date from the 8C AD.  Therefore, I suspect that the building pictured has also been greatly modified, and probably dates from around the same period.  The arch over the door, with its pointed crest style keystone, must certainly offer a hint as to the period of its construction.
Though the building in question appears to be too small to be caravansaray (caravan + palace = travelers inn), it may have functioned as a store for goods, or, due to its proximity to the city wall, an armory for weapons or, a barracks for soldiers.  However, let's be a bit more romantic and imagine that these building blocks once were part of the cella of an ancient temple dedicated to an ancient god or goddess of the East, much like the temple at Comana Chryse, which was dedicated to Ma-Enyo.
The pre-Christian Roman practice of respecting the deities of any particular temple after taking over the administration of a city, would have built on the theme of the previously worshiped god or goddess, maintained or rebuilt the structure, and helped fund its continuation and practice.  Later, the Christian Romans and Byzantines would often convert these temples into churches, either through wall construction, expansion either within or outside the standing building, or they might rebuild the structure in its entirety.  The apse in the wall pictured above hints that this may have been constructed for use as a church building, and further, may later have served as a mosque.
Looking at the blocks used to construct the inner walls of this building, I can say with some certainty that they are exactly the same as the facing blocks used in the city walls.  So, it is quite possible that this building was constructed by the Byzantine Romans during the 6C AD, at the same time the city walls were constructed, and further, that a lot of the building materials used came from the pre-Byzantine period.
It is quite conceivable that this building could have been constructed from the remnants of the church Saint Polyeuctus of Melitene, or one of the Roman temples, or theaters, or agoras, etc.  Today, we don't know the location of these ancient structures, and as we'll see in the following blogpost on Melitene, every successive ruling group deconstructed, and then reconstructed the cities structures.  As mentioned earlier, it is possible that this building stands on the site of the ancient church or temple.
Pictured above is painting of Saint Polyeuctus of Melitene, who on the 10th of January 259 AD, became the first Christian martyr in Melitene under the rule of the Roman emperor Valerian.  Polyeuctus was a Roman army officer of some wealth, who converted to Christianity, and according to the writer Symeon Metaphrastes, with a great passion that was inspired by his friend Saint Nearchus.  Symeon writes:
"Enflamed with zeal, St. Polyeuctus went to the city square, and tore up the edict of Decius, which required everyone to worship idols.  A few moments later, he met a procession carrying twelve idols through the streets of the city.  He dashed the idols to the ground and trampled them underfoot."
The authorities tortured Polyeuctus as his wife Paulina and their children could arouse no sympathy from the Melitene ruling elite.  Eventually, he was beheaded and buried in a church in his name, the church of St. Polyeuctus in Melitene.
A great church was dedicated to Polyeuctus in Constantinople in 524-527 by Anicia Juliana, a late antique Roman imperial princess of the eastern empire, who was the wife of the patron of the Church of St. Polyeuctus, magister militum Areobindus Dagalaiphus.  The painting above depicts the beheading of Polyeuctus in Melitene, and comes from 1000 AD book Menologion of Basil II.  Polyeuctus' feast day within the Catholic church is the 7th of January, and celebrates the patron saint of vows and treaty agreements.
For what ever the intended purpose or later functions this building were, it is of great historical importance, and deserves to be protected and preserved.  Now, returning to the western city wall and turning north toward the Western Gate (pictured below), we can see in the foreground the towers that we examined above, and in the distance along the wall, we can see a newly restored tower shining white under the intense afternoon sun.
As you get closer to the restored portion of the western wall you can see there is a sizable gap between the unrestored tower next to the small road and the first restored tower.  In between these towers sits a row of old houses that are separated from the wall by a narrow street that runs along the inside of the city wall.
The portion of the wall that remains unrestored runs beneath the small street in the form of a terrace or berm, and eventually meets the tower, as you can see in the photo below.
Personally, I see no reason that at least this section of wall should not be restored.  I did not have access to the inner chambers of these towers, but, by examining what is left of the unrestored towers, I can imagine that in the case of these restorations, the ancient remains of these towers are intact within.
Further, I am trusting that before any restoration was undertaken, a complete and thorough survey had been done of the previous and current unrestored walls and towers to give confident blueprint of what existed 1200 to 1400 years ago.
As you can see in the photo below, the darker stone blocks at the bottom of the tower show what remained of the outer covering of the tower prior to restoration.  After another twenty or so years, perhaps almost nothing would have remained.
My feeling is, that this restoration was necessary for a continued understanding of this structure.  A like restoration has also taken place at the Hittite city of Hattusa, and I must say that it offers a similarly impressive understanding for both the tourist, and the archeologists who studied the techniques used in its construction, including materials and methods.
From 527-565, Emperor Justinian I reorganized the Eastern portion of the empire, with Melitene remaining the capital of the province under a new name, Third Armenia.  The walls of the city during the following centuries would witness ongoing battles between West and East, Christian and Islamic, and ethnic troubles.
Melitene is a strategic city that sits on the boarder between East and West, with the great Euphrates providing the widest moat between them.  In the painting above, the Rashidun Caliphate army can be seen scaling the great walls of Melitene, which occurred not long after the death of Muhammad in 632 CE.  There were four Caliphs during the 25 year rule of the Rushidun Caliphate, and at the time of the siege of Melitene in 638 CE, the Caliph was Umar (or, Omer), who was a personal companion of Muhammad, and ruled until his assassination in 644 CE.
Melitene continued to be a front line military outpost serving which ever side managed to gain control of the city, with the Byzantine side suffering greatly due to incursions launched into the empire from these great walls.
Pictured above, you can see my bicycle leaning against the south tower of the Western Gate.  Of more artistic interest however, is the puppet prop drawn on the whiteboard of my 7th grade class at TED Malatya.  Pairs of students created there own backdrops for their puppet performance (in English), and these two students drew a strikingly familiar picture!
I cannot imagine trying to scale these walls during a siege.  I assume that the inner chambers of the towers are fully functional, and perhaps one day I can return to see and photograph inside.
The restored portion of the city wall can be seen in full from end-to-end below.  Now comes an interesting question.  If the money were to become available, would you support the restoration of the rest of the city walls?  As you will see below, there are great portions of unrestored wall that encircle the entire city.
The great Western Gate that once gave access to the main road from Comana Chryse and Caesarea Mazca, still leads us into the city center.
Pictured below, now standing within the Western Gate, we can see the water spouts protruding from the structure, which allowed water to drain from the surfaces below the parapets.
Looking south along the inside of the Western Wall, the most interesting aspect to me is the lack of any access to the top of the wall.  Were ladders that could be withdrawn used from the inside to access the top of the walls?  This would mean that an advancing enemy would have to jump from the wall, break a leg, and/or be shot down as they landed.
A little further north along the wall, we can see that all sorts of modern day functions continue to threaten the city walls.  Here, a gas station uses a portion of the wall as a back fence and used parts depot.
Many of the facing blocks are still miraculously in place, though they are slowly being destroyed due to lack of attention and regard.
The question remains . . . , should the remaining walls be restored, refurbished, rebuilt, etc.?
Behind this gas station is a tower in fairly good condition, though, it doesn't come close to the height it once reached.
These facing blocks have been locked into place for around 1400 years, and I personally see no problem in securing them, restoring the feet of these towers and walls, and perhaps even restoring portions to their original height.
Pictured below, the lonely remains of a once great tower are slowly eroding to the level of the modern street below.
Moving around the city walls from the western side (pictured above) to the eastern side (pictured below), beyond the canal (which as a river, dates from ancient times) you can see the East Wall of the city, here featured with the houses of locals built on top or in between sections of wall.
I suppose eventually, some of these houses will become so dilapidated that they will give way to the archeologists . . . , no rush.
The East Wall (pictured above), continues on to the south, sometimes visible, sometimes not, until it reaches the South Wall (pictured below), of which the southwest portion was discussed earlier in this post.
A large section of the South Wall, including numerous towers, forms a walking park with a trail, and a water channel with small bridges, which is sourced by a spring (pictured below).
Though the Byzantines had made slow progress in the defense of the empire against the invading Arabs, such as the defeat of Umar in the Battle of Lalakaon in 863 CE, Melitene would not be retaken by the Byzantines until the successes of the Byzantine general John Kourkouas between 927-934 CE.
Following the retaking of Melitene by the Byzantines in May 934 CE, Greek and Armenian settlers were brought in to supplant the Muslim inhabitants, who, if they refused to convert to Christianity were driven out of the city.
Oh, if these walls could talk, what stories would they weave, what yarns would they twist in order to win the battles that still rage amongst, and within us?
Pictured below, and to the best of my research, these are the remains of the Roman Baths.  Further, as far as I know there is no name given to the baths, and I am not sure if any excavation work has been done on the site.
The bath building is quite large, and when compared with the modern house sitting next door, it must have reached a height of around three stories.  The area is very overgrown, and appears to be a popular dump site for unwanted household trash.
Of course, the baths would have been decorated with mosaics, which were a common feature of such public buildings.  The mosaic pictured below is on display at the Malatya Archeological Museum, and was produced during the Roman or early Byzantine period.
A very unfortunate aspect with regard to archeological displays at museums throughout the Mediterranean is that there is often little or no information on where the pieces came from exactly.  This mosaic may or may not have come from the Roman Bath complex . . . , the display didn't say.
There are numerous Roman and Byzantine era stele on display around the courtyard of the museum.
The stele pictured here is carved with the top of a Roman temple, with what appears to a laurel wreath of victory in the center of the pediment and an arrow feather (or, a comb) in the lower right corner, a mirror depiction appears under the right side acroterion, and what looks like a shield with the christogram Chi Rho, under the left side acroterion.  If this is indeed Chi Rho, then this stele may date back to the time of Constantine the Great, or at least, in memory of the first Christian emperor.
I still don't know the location of the Necropolis in Melitene, but, I will continue to search for a city plan of the ancient site.
Normally, ancient necropolises were located along the main roads approaching the city, or on hills or in cliffs surrounding the city.
Again, no information is given with regard to where exactly these stele were found.  Also, I wish for convenience the curators and archeologists would include translations of the inscriptions.
During the 6C CE, Melitene was established as the Syrian diocese of Melitene.  The city and surrounding bishoprics continued to spread the the Christian faith without much opposition until the Seljuks sacked it in 1058.  The Byzantine defeat at the hands of the Seljuks in 1071 at Manzikert was a blow that would see the eastern portion of the empire slowly unraval.
The three stele pictured below look like they could have originated from a much earlier period, such as the neolithic, and they may have, though it is more likely that it was produced out of poverty.
Clearly inscribed with the symbol of the Christian cross, these may be defacement marks on much older period stele, or, were done for re-branding and reuse.  
However, they were most likely produced by a non-professional due to a lack of funds.  A more interesting possibility is that they were done in secret, without name designation or epitaph, in order to avoid persecution following the Danishmend takeover of the Melitene in 1101 CE.
Though remaining under Byzantine control following the Seljuk attack, the future of Melitene as a secure Christian frontier city became more and more doubtful.
The Byzantine era sarcophagus pictured above and below is on display in the courtyard of the Malatya Archeological Museum.
An Armenian Greek Orthodox soldier known as Gabriel of Melitene, who had climbed the ranks of the Byzantine army, came to govern the city from 1086 to 1100, when Bohemond of Antioch was defeated in the Battle of Melitene during the First Crusade.
Pictured above, what appears to be a Byzantine era sculpture of a lion.  Below, a spectacular collection of Roman and Byzantine glass in exquisite condition on display at the Malatya Archeological Museum.
During the Battle of Melitene, Bohemond of Antioch was captured and held for ransom.  In an attempt to rescue him during the Crusade of 1101, a complete column was nearly wiped out.  It wasn't until 1103, that the Count of Odessa and future king of Jerusalem was able to negotiate the release of Bohemond, win back Melitene, and bring life back to the faltering escapades of the Christian movement, if not for a short period of time.
The Danishmends would seize Melitene again in 1103, upon which they captured and executed Gabriel of Melitene.  Pictured below, a hoard of Hellenistic coins found at Aslantepe, the neolithic site near Melitene, which we will begin to explore in future blogposts.

*All photos and content property of Jack A. Waldron (photos may not be used without written permission)

**If you'd like to help with future postings, please feel free to support them through PATREON: