Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Sugga: Ancient Junction and Elif Mausoleum

Photos by Jack A. Waldron

Along the ancient road turned modern over the centuries, the larger Elif Town is located only 3 kilometers west of the much smaller Hisar Village, where the Mausoleum of Hisar, or, the Hisar Memorial Tomb is located.  Though both can be proud of their ancient Roman mausoleum tombs, Elif, known to the ancient Romans as Sugga, appears to have a retained its wealth over the centuries, and has built a grande park around their monument, the Mausoleum of Elif, making it a centerpiece of the community (pictured above and below).

Perhaps Elif (or, ancient Sugga) deserves its larger status, as both in ancient times and today, it sits at the junction of roads connecting Doliche (modern Duluk) and Zeugma (gateway across the Euphrates), with the ancient capital Samosata.  

Though large and important, we know very little about ancient Sugga, because there is very little written history of the community, but as we can see from the various building fragments on display in the park (pictured above and below), the ancient city did showcase some spectacular structures.  Most of the ancient building blocks of Sugga have either been quarried for newer structures, or, remain underneath the town that lay over them, in dormant for future excavations.

The name Sugga was apparently given when the Romans established the settlement, and may mean 'boar', 'pig' or 'swine'.  The etymological origin of 'sugga' appears to be inherited from Sauraseni, inherited from Sanskrit, inherited from Proto-Indo-Iranian ('suHkaras'), inherited from Proto-Indo-European, ('suh-keh', meaning pig, swine).

There is however one grand monument that remains to remind us of the wealth provided by this rich land, the Mausoleum of Elif, built some 1800 years ago.

As with the Mausoleum of Hisar, which shares a number of design similarities, the Elif Mausoleum was erected at the end of the 2nd or beginning of the 3rd centuries CE.  It is important to point out that a full restoration of the Elif Mausoleum was completed in 2013, the year I began my tenure in Turkey.

As you can see from these photos, there are three levels in the design, what is called a high basement (referring to a basement above ground level), a body (or, main mass/section), and a vaulted roof (meaning, that it is supported by arches).  Pictured below, a wooden door once again protects the ornate entrance to the tomb chamber.

The mausoleum was built of finely dressed stone, of which any missing blocks have been carefully sculpted and set into position during the restoration.  The only fully walled facade of the mausoleum faces to the north, with the other facades being arched.  

There is an opening or entrance at platform level in the the northern facade, and we may assume that it was necessary during ancient times to access the platform (pictured below).

The pyramidal roof of the Elif Mausoleum is supported by three arches that rest atop pseudo-columns in the Corinthian order, and which share the load through connecting stone block at each corner of the monument with larger pseudo-columns in the Corinthian order.

Featured on the front facade of the mausoleum are two heads of Medusa, which strike out from beside each Corinthian capital on the inside, between the capital and the top of the arch (pictured above and below).

Medusa, the mythical abhorrent female with snakes for strands of hair, who would turn all to stone for merely gazing upon her, is prominantly visible in reliefs encompassing the whole of the tomb.  Pictured above and below, the Medusa relief at the top right corner of the front facade.

There is a deeply religious aspect with regard to the inclusion of such a number of Medusa figures incorporated on the Elif Mausoleum.  As we will see below, the mythical figure surrounds the tomb with terr(or)ific affect!

Such pronounced use of the Medusa relief expresses an absolute belief in her metaphysical powers to ward off grave robbers, or,  to those who might consider encroaching on or entering the inner sanctum of the tomb in an effort to abscond with some family grave goods.

As you can see in the photo below, there is a decorative frieze that wraps around the entire structure, only not at the top of the building under a pediment as is usual, but at the top of the high basement, directly aimed at eye level.

The Medusa images are flanked with draping garlands, perhaps a sign that the interred was a victor in battle, a soldier of high rank and honor.  After all, ancient Sugga is thought to have been settled by Roman soldiers, who in return for their service received land.

Other objects that can be found in the 'Medusa Frieze' are scissors (pictured below, center right), mirrors (pictured below, center left), what appear to be sward and shield (pictured below, far right center).

One of the more interesting reliefs in the 'Medusa Frieze' is a Pan flute or Syrinx (pictured below just off the corn).  This may intend to recreate the traditional music that would have accompanied the ceremony when laid to rest, or, perhaps the deceased played they flute.

Pictured below, a close-up of the Pan flute.  The Pan flute is also called a Syrinx, which refers to the female nymph of the same name, who was a follower of Artemis, and was known for her chastity.  One day after being chased to the river's edge by Pan, she asked the river nymphs to save her.

The river nymphs changed her into hollow water reeds, which when the breath of frustrated gods blew across them, made an eerie sound.

I am currently based on my sailboat in Izmir, and plan to spend the winter getting caught up on these blog posts.  The plan is for me to continue to explore ancient sites by cycle and sail, and I can see when I look at my map of ancient sites, that there are too many everywhere I go.  Still, I never find it dull or boring to finally reach a new site to examine.

The fragment pictured below was sitting across the street from the mausoleum, and my guess is that it was a replica meant to be used in the monument restoration, but seems to have cracked during production.

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

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Saturday, February 18, 2023

Hisar Roman Mausoleum: Nobleman, Soldier, or Administrator?

 Photos by Jack A. Waldron

The ancient village of Hisar is located not far from the Septimius Severus Bridge over the Karasu river, and sits along the same main road that ran parallel to the Euphrates. I use the word "ancient", because we know a community existed here in ancient times, as it does today.  Pictured above, a Roman mausoleum dating from the 2nd-3rd century CE, that sits at the center of the village of Hisar.

The village resides in the Araban district, which is part of Gaziantep, an area of Turkey made famous by its production of pistachio nuts, baklava with goats milk, and of course its human history, that dates back to the time sapiens expanded out of Africa.  As you can see in the photo below, the deceased was entombed within the base of the mausoleum.

So, relatively speaking, the Hisar Mausoleum could be considered a modern structure, yet, 1800 years old.  For whom it was built, we do not know?  However, based on the quality of the tomb, we can guess that they were wealthy, a nobleman of a ruling class in the area perhaps, or a soldier made rich, probably in charge of local food production for the Roman Empire, with some title/s, or something to this effect.

The four-sided building supports a 10 meter high pyramidal roof that is crowned with an intricately sculpted square Corinthian capital (pictured above).  Pictured below, the support beams of the pyramidal roof building up to the square peak.

Three pseudo Corinthian columns in L-shaped positions support each of the four corners of the mausoleum, which gives the structure superb strength in combating earthquakes (pictured below).

The square platform base from which the four columns rise is about 4 meters by 4 meters.  It is believed that a dedicatory statue once adorned the center of the platform, based on evidence of mounting clamps to secure such a statue.

It's wanders such as this mausoleum that make Turkey such a magical land!  Upon setting out on my journey, I was not aware of this tomb, but only happened to see it on a local map a few days before my arrival.

As you can see from the large amounts of graffiti on the monument, some locals are not accustom to valuing such antiquities, and I for example am a rare tourist to even visit it, not to mention considering it an international treasure.

Surrounding the mausoleum are a fair number of stone block piles, suggesting there is a larger story to be uncovered here in this small village, someday, by some entity, hopefully to tell the greater history of Hisar.

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

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Monday, January 9, 2023

Septimius Severus Karasu Bridge: Restoration Complete?

 Photos by Jack A. Waldron

Now I am getting confused!! Exactly how many 'Septimius Severus' bridges are there in Eastern Turkey?!?  Well (say the signs), there are three, so far!  And most likely, many more, because the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus was very active in northern Mesopotamia.
As with the Septimius Severus Bridge over the Nymphaeum river (aka. the Cendere Bridge) and the Septimius Severus Bridge over the Göksu river, the Septimius Severus Bridge over the Karasu river was also built to improve the quick transport of trade goods, materials, livestock, military personnel and equipment, over the tributaries that emptied into the Euphrates.

Having been born in Leptis (modern day Al-Khums, Libya), where the 3rd Augustan Legion was stationed, Septimius Severus was not only familiar with the Middle East and northern Mesopotamia, after becoming emperor in 193 CE, he was very active in the region.

As a matter of historical geographic importance, not to mention the importance of the construction of all these bridges (and more in the region) by Septimius Severus during his reign, he defeated his rival Pescennius Niger, who had been proclaimed emperor by the Syrian legions, at the Battle of Issus in Cilicia in 194 CE, which is not too distant from the bridge pictured here.

As large swaths of northern Mesopotamia were either directly or indirectly opposed to Rome and/or Septimius Severus, and the fact that a number of the vassal kingdoms supported Pescennius Niger, Septimius Severus sought to further suppress these lands, and to bring them under Roman control.

Later in the year of 194 CE, Septimius Severus moved south from Roman Kommagene, and east from Roman Antiokhia, to annex the Kingdom of Osroene/Osrohene, aka the Kingdom of Odessa, establishing it as a Roman province.

These lands began from the eastern bank of the Euphrates.  Just a stone throw from this series of Septimius Severus bridges, and the one pictured here.  Pictured above, an undated photo of a semi-intact Septimius Severus Bridge over the Karasu river.  Pictured below, the tallest arch of this four/five arched bridge, as seen from northwestern bank.

With regard to the road and its series of bridges crossing the many tributaries that feed the Euphrates along its western bank, it is important to recognize that this road kept all transport within the Roman Empire prior to expansion beyond.

As you can see from these photos, the bridge had reached a state of near complete loss.  Who could say when the next excessive flood might wash it completely away?

I have commented on the restoration of antiquities in prior blogs, and I will say again, sometimes they work, and sometimes they don't.  The restoration of the right back support wall of the theater at Rhodiapolis ended in pure tragedy, fitting Ashlar Isodomic, Coursed Trapezoidal, Pseudo-Isodomic, and the poorest attempt at 'Lesbian' Polygonal, to a theater requiring pure 'Lesbian' Polygonal blocks up to the analemma back wall.

As long as the restoration is absolutely necessary (as in the case of this bridge), follows the original architectural design (barring historical modifications that make this impossible), and does not detract in the extreme from the aesthetics of the antiquity, well then, go for it.

Most of the upper sections of the bridge were lost, leaving only the tallest of the arches, and the feet of the other arches.  Luckily, historical drawings and early photos of the bridge, as well as the one remaining arch, have given the restoration the ability to replicate the original structure.

The Septimius Severus Bridge over the Karasu river was approximately 30 meters long, and 8 meters in height.  Pictured above, I am standing on the northwestern bank landing of the bridge looking to the opposite side of the river.

Pictured above, a water spout extends out from the same platform, which is designed to allow rainfall to escape the bridge, as originally, stone hand-rails blocked water from emptying over the edges as it cascaded down the ramparts on either side of the tallest arch (pictured below).

Pictured above, the remaining arch of this four-five arch bridge, which was the tallest.  Pictured below, the same arch in an undated photo.

Pictured below, the northwest bank landing platform of the bridge.

As in ancient times, clamps were placed between the cut stone blocks (either made of lead or iron), which helped to hold the structure together.

This bridge being purely Roman, and an important passage south from ancient Samsat to the Zeugma Euphrates crossing and checkpoint into and out of the Empire, it necessarily deserved its dedication.  As with the Cendere Bridge, there were two columns at each end of the bridge (totaling four), with one of them being dedicated to Septimius Severus.

Another of the columns was dedicated to his wife, Julia Domna, and the others to his sons Geta and Caracalla, with the dedication to Geta being defeated by Caracalla after Geta had been murdered by his brother.

As you can see from these photos, an awful lot of work went into the restoration of 'portions' of this bridge, but to my surprise, the bridge was only partially restored, and I don't understand how this could have happened.  Pictured below, an arial photo (not mine) of the completed incomplete restoration.

This bridge was locally significant during ancient times to modern day Elif, Hisar, and Hasanoglu, of which all three villages contain magnificent ornately sculpted monumental Roman tombs.  I will write about these in my next posts!

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

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