A team of archeologists from Ankara University recently unearthed three ancient Greek mosaics in the Turkish city of Zeugma near the border of Syria. The excavation project began in 2007 when the area was flooded due to the construction of a dam on the Euphrates River. Fearing that the ancient treasures of Zeugma would be lost forever, the archaeologist rushed to excavate, protect and conserve these remarkably intact glass mosaics that date back to the 2nd century BC.
The first mosaic depicts the nine Muses in portraits. This mosaic was originally in a large room of a house that archaeologists have named “House of Muses.” In the center of the mosaic is Muse Calliope who is surrounded by her sisters. According to ancient Greek poet Isiodos, Calliope was the greatest and finest of the nine Muses, the protector of Epic Poetry.
The second mosaic depicts Oceanos a divine personification of the sea and his sister Tethys. What is really striking about this mosaic is the wonderful and vivid colors used as well as the beauty of the heroes’ faces. Experts say that special glass mosaic pieces have been created for this mosaic alone.
Mosaics were an integral part of homes installed in a room so guests could admire them while chatting and drinking. Subject matter was carefully selected according to the function of a room. For example, a bedroom might feature a mosaic portraying lovers. Common mythological figures were gods, goddesses and ancient heroes.
Zeugma was a rich and cultural city founded by one of Alexander the Great’s generals and later taken over by the Romans. Due to the high volume of road traffic and its geographic position, Zeugma became a collection point for road tolls. Political and trade routes converged here and the city was the last stop in the Greco-Roman world before crossing over to the Persian Empire. Archaeologists estimate that the ancient city had a population of 80,000 citizens at its peak and approximately 2,000-3,000 houses. Twenty-five of them remain under water.
At the close of the 2014 field season the excavation team will switch gears to work on restoration and conservation. A temporary shelter has been build to protect both the ancient structures and numerous visitors from Zeugma’s harsh climate, where summer temperatures average 97 degrees F.
While many of the mysteries of this ancient city will remain forever sealed under the waters of the Euphrates, archaeologists are convinced that Zeugma has only started to tell its story.