Friday, September 24, 2021

Cendere Bridge: Lucius Septimius Severus Bridge

 Photos by Jack A. Waldron


From Heraclea (about 25 kilometers north), the mountain road slowly drops into a lush green valley surrounded ancient sites and monuments built by the Hittites, Greeks, Commagene, Romans, Byzantines, and more.  Pictured above, the Lucius Septimius Severus Bridge, which is an interesting name, because not too distant from here in lower Adiyaman another bridge that was constructed under the patronage of Roman Emperor Septimius Severus goes by the same name . . . , today.  We’ll refer to this bridge as the Cendere Bridge (Turkish translation for bridge, Koprusu).

The bridge crosses the Cendere Creek, also known as the Chabinas Creek (the name found on the dedicatory inscription blocks), which is a tributary of the Katha River (known in ancient times as the Nymphaios River).  The arch of 34.2 meters makes this span the second largest single arched Roman bridge known.  It’s length is 120 meters, while it’s width is 7 meters.

Pictured above, the Cendere Bridge as seen from the new road and bridge half a kilometer away.  The creek flows out of the mountain gorge under the massive arch, and into ancient Commagenean lands.

The Roman era Cendere/Chabinas bridges (I say ‘bridges’, because apparently there were at least two Roman bridges built at this site), both to supply and defend Eastern Anatolia.

The first Roman Cendere Bridge is thought to have been built during the reign of Emperor Vespasian 69-79 CE, then rebuilt by the Roman Legion XVI Gallica (garrisoned at ancient Samosata) 193-211 CE.  The most precise date for the building of the current bridge is 200 CE, not 197 CE as previously thought, as the Eastern campaign against the Parthians began in 197 CE.  By 200 CE the war was over, and the new bridge was constructed to facilitate communications and movement.

The 9-10 meter high columns at both ends of the bridge are a dedication to the Roman Emperor Lucius Septimius Severus, his second wife Julia Domna, and their sons Caracalla and Publius, as stated in the inscriptions, except one is missing.

Pictured above, the column dedicated to Caracalla remains in situ, however, the column dedicated to Publius was met with a fatal blow. 

After Caracalla had his brother Publius assassinated, all inscriptions and monuments to him were removed throughout the empire by order of Caracalla.  This is the reason only Caracalla’s column stands at the Sincik or, Northern end of the bridge.

Pictured below, the dedicatory inscription to Caracalla from the cities of Commagene.

The bridge was restored in 1951 and again in1997, and initially, traffic was allowed up to 5 tons, but with the new road and bridge, all vehicular traffic has been stopped.

Please imagine a kilometers long column of Roman soldiers and equipment passing over this bridge on their way to Samosata.

Pictured below, one of the repetitive inscriptions explaining the construction of the bridge by the Roman Legion XVI Gallica, garrisoned in Samosata.

The massive rock slab seen beyond the bridge peaks above the bend in the river, and descends to the foot of the bridge on the Katha or Southern end.

Fresh water, a roof over your head, a bountiful valley before you, those caves must have been prime property for their ancient dwellers.

The inscription pictured here as translated by French explorers Louis Jalabert and Rene Mouterde in 1929 in “Inscriptions grecques et Latines de la Syrie” reads:

Imp(erator) Caes(ar) L(ucius) Septi/mius Severus Pius / Pertinax Aug(ustus) Ara/bic(us) Adiab(enicus) Parthic(us) / princ[e]ps felic(um) pon/tif(ex) max(imus) trib(unicia) pot(estate) / XII imp(erator) VIII co(n)s(ul) II / proco(n)s(ul) et Imp(erator) Caes(ar) / M(arcus) Aurel(ius) Antoni/nus Aug(ustus) Augusti / n(ostri) fil(ius) proco(n)s(ul) imp(erator) III / et P(ublius) Septimius [[Ge]]/[[ta]] Caes(aris) fil(ius) et fra/ter Augg(ustorum) nn(ostrorum) / pontem chabi/nae fluvi a so/lo restituerunt / et transitum / reddiderunt / sub Alfenum Senecionem / leg(atum) Augg(ustorum) pr(o) pr(aetore) curante Ma/rio perpetuo leg(ato) Augg(ustorum) leg(ionis) / XVI F(laviae) F(irmae) [CIL 03, 06709]

With some very slight variation in the bridge dedicatory/information blocks, the same inscription is repeated on both ends of the bridge.

This one-thousand eight-hundred and twenty-one year old bridge should be somewhere on the Infrastructure Wonders of the Ancient World list.
The sun would have been a helpful partner in the capture of these photos, however, the gods were not lending a helping hand.  Most of the day was spent photographing Heraclea, which is on the bridge road some 25 kilometers into the mountains.
Pictured above and below, the Katha side of the bridge with both of it’s dedicatory columns in situ.
The columns pictured here at the southern end of the bridge were dedicated to Septimius Severus and Julia Domna.  It is thought that originally, that respective statues once stood atop all of the columns.
Also featured at the southern end are the dedicatory inscriptions with regard to bridge construction, which have been carved into large square stone blocks and embedded into the handrails of the structure (seen in the left of the photo above, and in the photo below).
Again, the three/four? dedicatory block inscriptions are pretty much the same, and have helped date the bridge based on the names of those involved, who are included in the inscriptions.
Something curious about the dedicatory bridge columns pictured below, is that they may have been repurposed from the nearby Karakus Tumulus, but definite evidence has not been shown for this.
“Quattuor Civitates Commagene”, “Four Cities of Commagene”, which is carved into the columns, tells us that four cities helped fund most (if not all) of the column construction project.
I suppose most of the photos of the Cendere Bridge seen online were taken on bright sunny days, or at least the ones I’ve seen were, so, here are some uniquely shot cloudy late afternoon images!
Stepping closer, we can see the dedicatory inscriptions come to life.  The four cities that sponsored the erection of the columns were, Samosata, the capital of the former Commagene Kingdom, and now flooded by the waters behind the Ataturk Dam.
Pierre, or, Pordonium as it was known in Roman times, that is located not too far from Adiyaman City.  I’ll be writing about Pierre soon.
Doliche, another city mentioned in the inscriptions, and one I must check to see if in fact I road through on this or another tour, known today as the village of Duluk, about 10 km outside Gaziantep.
Finally, the ancient city of Germaniceia (modern Kahramanmaras) is listed as a sponsor of the dedicatory columns.  The inscription reads, “Quattuor Civitates Commagene”, “Four Cities of Commagene”, and can be seen inscribed at the bottom of column pictured below.
If you have a burning desire to visit one place to explore this period of ancient history, I can’t recommend strongly enough spending a week within a 50 kilometer radius of Adiyaman City (early Spring is best, I think), and your basket should be near complete.
I’ve visited Mount Nemrut twice, many of the surrounding sites at least once, some are large on scale, some not, and whether the antiquity is a city, a single erected burial tomb or a large tumulus, or a lonely bridge in the middle of farm fields, this land offers a magical spell, at least for us modern pampered travelers.
I know traveling to such far away places would appear to be beyond the grasp of most people, which is one of the reasons I write this blog, but, they are only a flight ticket away, and you’ll work out the rest.
I bought a bicycle as a cheap mode of transportation.  It’s eco-friendly, usually peaceful, and the freedom felt on a bicycle (out here) can only be felt in the saddle!  We’ll see if the same is true by sailboat.
Some stone blocks are the originals and some are not.  Rough originals were most likely exposed to the elements over the millenniums, while smooth originals were protected from harsh whether conditions.  Many blocks are newly fashioned.  Some of the original blocks have been quarried for reuse, and can be found in houses and other such buildings in the area.
As you can see in these photos, the bridge is planted firmly on the rock slab that descends from the top of the gorge overlooking the rivers’  exit from the mountains.
Pictured above, the bridge footing sits on the stone slab that hikes you to the top of the gorge.  Pictured below, the supporting arch from which the photo above was taken.
The small arched passage way at the Southern end of the bridge was probably positioned for the drainage of rain water and/or the passage of flood waters.
As you can see from the size of the flood plain in these photos, the river can dump copious amounts of water onto it, which means, this bridge does get tested on occasion with very high violent waters, usually from snow melt, or high mountain storms.
In the mountains pictured here is the Mount Nemrut UNESCO site, Arsemeia (summer palace), medieval castles, battle sites, and so on.
The photo above, as well as the following two photos, were meant to be spliced together to show one intact bridge, as my old camera does not take panoramic shots.  I would have put them together, but I am in transition to the sailboat, and only have an iPad at my disposal (the photos are also out of order).
I do hope to return to the bridge on a sunny day, though, these stormy photos must be a bit of a rarity for a post, as most published photos are almost always from bright sunny days, and I fully understand why!
Finally, the last rays of light brighten the scene of Cendere Bridge, and the Katha River Tributary, known as the Cendere Creek today, or Chabinas Creek in ancient times, travels beneath her . . . , him . . . , it.

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

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