Sunday, November 18, 2018

Amorium: Abduction of 42 Martyrs

Photos by Jack A. Waldron

After investigating the ancient sanctuary of Pessinus, I continued south to ancient Amorium, the city of the 42 Martyrs.  Founded during the Hellenistic period, the location of the city must have garnered importance as a garrison along the road running north and south through the heart of Anatolia.  The unexcavated city within the massive fortifications awaits discovery, as, over the millennia it has been built upon and filled with the dust of time.
Pictured below is a section of the Hellenistic city wall, and as can be seen, the wind swept scape has slowly brought the lower plain up to the top of the defensive fortifications, while the inner sanctuary has been completely filled in.
The South Gate, with the defensive wall rising above it and Towers to either side can be seen in the photo below.  Surveys have revealed 30 towers situated around the upper or Hellenistic city, while it is suspected that there are 40 towers in all along the defensive walls.  One can image something similar to the defensive walls of ancient Pydnee, though sections of the walls at Amorium show signs of later Roman and Byzantine construction.
As the city remained of military importance throughout its early existence, the minting of its own coinage from the 2C BC to the 3C AD is a sign of its status.  
Later, under Byzantine rule the city retained its strategic importance, and continued to expand outside the old city walls.  Pictured below, a view of the village of Hisar in the distance, with one of the many Towers on display in the foreground.
A view of the city wall from the plain below shows just how high it truly is (pictured below).  As with so many ancient sites throughout Turkey, excavation awaits the funding and the determination to make this land the mecca of ancient cities.
Looking out over the city walls from the acropolis mound (pictured below), the minaret of the Hisar mosque can be seen in the distance.  The center of the village contains numerous antiquities, which indicates the direction of the Byzantine expansion, and perhaps the focus of future excavations.
This land is a fertile paradise, with water a plenty, and rays of sun that penetrate the dry climate to depths of your bones.  The reasons that human civilization grew from this soil are obvious, and why this land was fought over can be made sense of, as long as it was the land that was defended, and not the warping of the mind.
Looking out over the expanse of the plain, one might be transported to the roots sewn in Iowa, Nebraska or the like, and from these fields a Christian marker (pictured above) reminds us of the souls plowed under, and for what?
The name of the small Byzantine church that sits atop the fill within the city walls is not known (pictured above), but what would not have been lost in the prayers of those who once administered this Eastern Christian sanctuary, was the date of March 6th, which commemorated the execution of the 42 Martyrs.
The 42 Eastern Roman officials captured in the 838 AD sacking of the city by Abbasid Caliph al-Mu'tasim, were held in ancient Samarra in modern day Iraq (pictured above).  Refusing to convert to Islam, the 42 Martyrs were executed on the banks of the Tigris River in 845 AD.  The spiral of the Great Mosque of Samarra, built between 848 and 851, and commissioned by Abbasid Caliph al-Mu'tasim, still stands today as a testament to his reach, as well as his influence and wealth.
Along the bottom of the walls of this Byzantine church both inside and out, graves were cordoned off and covered with rough blocks of stone.  Probably dating from the later period of Byzantine rule; a decline in wealth, upon attacks from those not like minded, and in order to be closer to their god and sanctuary, all the more reason to seek the comfort of closeness in time of turmoil.
Byzantine antiquities can be viewed all around the village of Hisar, most prominent are the numerous stele that have been collected and situated along the outer walls of the village houses (pictured below).
Something that I find interesting is the architecture that is displayed on stele during the post establishment of the Roman Christian church, which not surprisingly, reflects the common architectural style of the major buildings throughout the land, that of Greek and Roman style temples (pictured above).  It must not be forgotten that the old gods and their monuments did not just suddenly disappear from the cultures of the Mediterranean with the acceptance of Christianity by the Roman emperor.
The stele pictured above is carved with the typical motif of a Greek or Roman temple, yet, during the time that this stele was decorated, Christian churches of a much different architectural design had already been built many years prior.
One such church was the Church of Laodikeia, which was designed and built in the 4C AD, and is one of the first seven Christian churches ever built, and is not too distant from Amorium.
Wreaths of glory, grape vines for wine, bulls heads of sacrifice, honey of bees, mirrors of beauty, oil lamps, shields and swords of gallantry; all things that were valued in life, were hoped for in the afterlife, and thusly adorned the stele of the dead.
Many stele were repurposed in other buildings and various constructions, such as walls, fountains, walkways, and so on.  In the courtyard of the Hisar mosque, a grave member/stele has been repurposed as a decorative facade for fountain fixtures (pictured below).
This sort of repurposing can be seen throughout the towns and villages of Turkey, so, when traveling through these small towns and villages, be sure to look closely.
The antique water well pulley sits in place as if it has been there for thousands of years, and notice the well hole in the ground, which is covered with a sheet on tin.
Pictured below, a future fountain wall sits alongside a side road waiting for repurposing.  Notice below how Christianity is slowly making way into the culture of the past; here, the newly adopted Christian crosses are prominantly sculpted within the doors of the Greek/Roman temples, which are only lightly engraved in the stone.
Pictured below, with the Hellenistic city mound/walls rising in the background, a Byzantine era baths complex has been excavated and seemingly abandoned.
The rusted awnings and inaccessibility are a testament to the lack of interest in this site by tourists, and thus, no longer a priority, it has been allowed to become extremely overgrown.
I always ask myself, 'Why don't the guards who are tasked with protecting these sites from looters take more interest in preserving some sort of accessibility to these antiquities?', because basically, most of them just sit around all day drinking tea, while waiting for their pension to kick in.
Amorium was very difficult to discern and walk around, especially within and atop the Hellenistic city, as there are no trails cut, signposts placed, or information boards provided.  Notice the high cut boots that the guard is wearing, and for good reason, because the scrub in these fields can rip your clothes and cut your skin with a vengeance, not to mention the enormous snakes and scorpions!
Near the guard house, which can be seen in the top left of the photo above, there is a Byzantine era building with numerous large rooms separated by well preserved walls.  From what I could deduct, this was an administration building or basilica, which had been constructed from odd blocks and marble members quarried from earlier Roman and Hellenistic buildings.
This sort of repurposing on such a grand scale signals a number of possibilities; one, that there was a lack of funds and/or will to invest in new building materials, two, a lack of artisans to carry out such skilled work, three, a gathering together of the pieces left in ruin following some sort of destruction, four, some inconceivable event that is lost to time.  Perhaps this is all that could be mustered by the Byzantines following their retaking of the city after the sacking carried out by Abbasid Caliph al-Mu'tasim in 838.
As can be seen in the map below, Amorium was a principle Theme within the Byzantine Empire.
Known as the Theme of the Anatolics, these were a mesh of military-civilian provinces and cities ruled by powerful strategoi, or, military governors, whose armies played an important role in guarding the provinces and cities from attack or invasion from the enemies of the Byzantine Empire.
Today, Amorium is just a sleepy little hamlet out in the middle the windswept Anatolian plain, its history mostly forgotten by the locals, its antiquities shunned by the tourists, its wealth of place long passed, and be that as it may, I must declare, that this lowly traveller finds absolute solace in the fact that there is still a place to come to called Amorium.

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

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