Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Aezani: Sanctuary of Meter Steunene Pt.3

Photos by Jack A. Waldron


In the photo above, you see a thin line of trees snaking across the wheat fields in the distance, and it is just the other side of that river, known today as the Koca Cay (the Penkalas in ancient times), where the Sanctuary of Meter Steunene, the oldest sanctuary at Azanoi, is located.
Furthermore, the whole area adjacent and downriver from the ancient dam is the SW Necropolis, which matches in scale the North Necropolis.  Buried, grown over, collapsed and destroyed, the tombs of the ancients are scattered all over a massive area.
The path leading to the area is hardly navigable, as the tractors used by the farmers has taken its toll, however, I was on a mission to locate one of the most sacred sanctuaries of the ancients, that of Meter Steunene. 
After spotting this dismantled tomb about 50 meters out in the middle of a famers wheat field, I tried to do as little crop damage as possible as I snaked my way through waist high stalks to investigate it.  This is not the Sanctuary of Meter Steunene, however, there is a deep underground pit in the middle of the tomb that does resemble a bothros.
The arch pictured below was once supported by the columns still standing in situ.  It is unclear if the roof of the tomb would have supported a sarcophagus, such as the one pictured below, which comes from the area, and is now on display at the Kutahya Archeological Museum.
It is very likely that such a magnificent tomb would have been constructed for a prominent citizen, or perhaps a worrier of stature, and it is not unlikely that a sarcophagus such as the one pictured below, which depicts scene of battle, would have been purposed for this tomb.
The sarcophagus pictured probably dates from the 1-3C AD, is Roman, and was obviously sculpted for a prominent member of the Aizanoi community.  
The battle scene is continuous through three sides of the sarcophagus, while the entrance to the temple type sculpture on one end is flanked by depictions of Eros, or Cupid if you like (pictured below).
Votive statues, such as the one pictured below, would have been left at the tomb with hopes and prayers for the deceased.  As for the use of the possible bothros seen in the tomb pictures above, the votive statue would have been thrown down into it, where the goddess Meter Steunene dwelled.
While searching for the Sanctuary of Meter Steunene, I came across the tomb pictured below.  I found this tomb to be interesting for its roof, which appears to have been sculpted out of a massive slab of stone.
On display at the Kutahya Archeological Museum are some ancient burial remains that have been excavated from tombs such as the one pictured above.
Gold jewelry, such as the example pictured below, that were favored by the deceased, or perhaps offerings to be carried into the afterlife, were placed in the burial tomb with the remains.
Yet another tomb stumbled upon, with its shallow depth and fallen arch, this tomb may have left the grave robbers wanting for greater spoils.  Still, the Sanctuary of Meter Steunene alludes my capture.
This beautifully crafted bowl on display at the Kutahya Archeological Museum is an exquisite example of an article that would be laid in a tomb with the deceased, probably ladened with a favorite food, brush, herb or incense, or perhaps some glass  Roman bracelets.
If you look to left of the photo below, there is an abandoned guard house standing in the shade.  Long abandoned, there was nobody to direct me to the Sanctuary of Meter Steunene.  The perfectly fitted marble platform in the foreground of the photo is was/is an interesting curiosity.  It appeared to be freshly excavated, though, where is the tomb?
The word brothai comes from ancient Greek, meaning "hole" or "trench", and we may add "depression", and common to quite a few ancient sites we can find such manmade structures that served ritual activities involving a connection to gods, or in the case of Meter Steunene, goddess.
Pictured above and below is the Sanctuary of Meter Steunene, though these photos are not mine.  I was not successful in locating the sanctuary, however, as with a number of my past travel blunders, I vow to return to ancient Aizanoi in or to locate the elusive site.  As you can see fro the photo, it has the appearance of a mini-Stonehenge.  Of course, there are theories that Stonehenge was built by immigrants from the Eastern Mediterranean, and such a structure as this could be strong evidence to support such theories.
The sanctuary is dated to the 2C BC, as taracotta cult figurines offered to the underworld were found in the now collapsed cave during the 1928 excavations.  Kybele, the Mother Goddess of the Phrygians, and ruler of nature, and the forest beasts of the mountains, would have been consulted at the sanctuary, as she was the protector of civilization from the chaos of the wilderness.
In Homers' Odyssey, Odysseus digs a brothos to offer libations to the dead in the underworld, while at ancient Morgantina in Sicily (pictured above), two bothroi located in the sanctuary of Demeter were most likely used to collect the blood of sacrificial animals in order to attract the spirits of the dead.  Bothroi are common at Bronze Age and Iron Age sites throughout Greece, and also can be found in Greek colonies, such as the Morgantina site in Sicily.  To find such an ancient bothers in Turkey however, is a very exciting experience, and I vow to return to Aizanoi to locate it!
Entering a sanctuary of a different sort, the archeological depot at Aizanoi is home to some very impressive antiquities that shouldn't be missed.  While I am not sure if the arched entrance pictured above was restored in situ, the dolphins sculpted into its top corners are beautiful, and a theme repeated in mosaics of the same same period.
The wealth of the citizens of the ancient city can be attested to by the magnificently carved tomb facades such as those pictured here.  As I cannot see any christian reliefs in these two pieces, they would appear to be pre-late Roman.
In the two following tomb facades, the Roman eagle is clearly displayed in the pediment of both, which would date these to the imperial Roman period or earlier.
Again, the precision work is a display of exact mathematical squareness and measurement, something that is often lacking in late-Roman and early-to-late-Byzantine sculptural work.
Continuing on with the pre-christian Roman cultural theme, the altars picture below would have offered relief and a sense of sanity to those who bought the use of the prop along with a sacrificial chicken or goat or what not, in order to gain favor amongst the gods for some desire, hope or perhaps escape from a sin.
Unfortunately, these pieces can be so commonly found beneath the surface of a farmers field, that they no longer hold the value that they should, thus, they are often damaged by the machinery used to extract them, or simply by the plows being dragged over them repeatedly.
As one might see a modern city wall decorated with reliefs of dogs, cats, fish and so on, I imagine the pieces pictured below may have had a similar function;
Sea monsters captivating the psyche of the ancients as the gobble-up fish, or sea farers returning from a long voyage of dangerous adventure.
Pictured below, what appears to be a ship encountering a sea monster, which is not of the highest quality, but nevertheless, does capture the imagination.
Wreaths and garlands, heads of Medusa and bulls, all meant to telegraph a message to the passers by, for whom such images reach deep in the cultural psyche, much like a statue of satan might today.
The buildings of ancient Aizanoi were numerous, as well as elaborately decorated.  This was a rich city situated at a central point leading to Nicaea, Byzantium and beyond.
Aizanoi was a market place for the forest bounty and farm products of the Aizanitis, which would be sold to buyers from large cities far and wide.  I highly recommend a visit to this wonderful ancient city.

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

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