The reasons for my wanting to visit Turkey were related to my current research for my higher degree. My research interests are the military and political history of the Eastern Roman Empire, especially Justinian's defence policy and the career of his leading general, Belisarius, and those of other military leaders. One element that I intend to emphasise in my PhD thesis is the role of Belisarius in influencing Justinian’s sixth century military building strategy.
I am particularly interested in gathering material to compare Justinianicfortifications in different parts of the empire (e.g. Eastern Turkey, Greece and North Africa) with archaeological remains in Italy. It was therefore important for me to familiarise myself with Justinianicarchitecture in eastern Turkey as a starting point. I travelled with Geoffrey Greatrex and the grant was spent on visiting the following places:
Constantinople (Istanbul): between flights to/from Gaziantep, we managed to visit the Justinianic cistern, St Sophia, St. Eirene, the Hippodrome, the Archaeological Museum and the Great Palace Mosaics Museum. One mosaic, in the furthest section of the museum, is of a horse archer hunting a lion and demonstrates perfectly Procopius’ description of horse archers of the mid-sixth century being able to shoot backwards. It is even possible to discern, from the positioning of the shooter’s fingers, that a thumb ring was probably being used to draw the bowstring.
Antioch (Antakya): we saw the mosaics museum and the city walls with citadel. In the cliff high above the Church of St Paul (beyond the large face carving), there is a tunnel connecting a series of vaults with “windows” overlooking the city. In addition we were able to visit the site of the monastery of Symeon the Stylite (Younger) and Seleucia Maritima where the Persian king Khusro dipped his toe in the Romans’ sea during his invasion of 540.
Edessa (Urfa): we visited the quarry / necropolis south of the city and saw late antique bridges within it but close inspection is prevented by the fact that the latter are next to an army base. Parts of the citadel walls appear to have late antique remains at their base. In the middle of the citadel there is a vault arch of similar design and construction to another one below the inside of the northernmost tip of the fortifications at Dara.
Constantia (Viransehir): Constantia's eastern wall (cf. Sinclair) has been pushed over/used for building. We drove up and down the road along where the wall should have been to observe a great deal of house building and many piles of ancient stones presumably from the wall.
Mardin: the citadel may be late antique in places but close inspection is prevented by the fact that it is an army base. A glossy Mardin tourist leaflet mentions Dara.
Dara, Tur Abdin: there is a brown tourist site sign for Dara on the Mardin - Nusaybin road. The fortifications there seem to remain in reasonable condition at the moment. Below the inside of the northernmost tip of the fortifications there is an arched vault. It is almost semi-circular but has a slight point in the centre similar to one on the citadel at Edessa. The village has a (new?) school on the south side of the road coming in from the Necropolis with, according to a teacher born in Berlin, 350 pupils (200 from Dara and 150 from other villages). The future preservation of the fortifications may be at risk within half a generation (as the population continues to expand) if stones are used as building materials. A large new house has already been built in the middle of Dara near the riverbed. We saw children climbing the southern water gate wall remains and throwing stones at each other to knock each other off. Children also throw stones deliberately damaging the engravings and images within the necropolis.
There is also an army barracks on the north side of the road opposite the school - the army recorded our passport details (the only place this was done). There are also new public toilets and a little shop at the checkpoint!
There is, I believe, plenty of work to do at Dara. At the Necropolis, thanks to a shepherd, I photographed some interesting crosses, inscriptions and designs. This included one vault’s ceiling, to my knowledge unpublished, painted in dark red geometric designs. The southern cistern is internally illuminated and easy to visit and may benefit from an analysis of the floor silt which may be meters deep in places. Fortunately the battlefield site seems to be well preserved. It would benefit from a full aerial/satellite and perhaps geo-physical survey. Any interested parties are welcome to contact me about pursuing this (email@example.com).
After leaving Dara we visited the Deir Zaferan Monastery in the Tur Abdin and on our way to Amida from Mardin we saw Zerzevan Kale.
Amida (Diyarbakir): we walked the western and southern walls partly on the inside, outside and atop where walkways have been concreted. The city authorities appear to be preparing the area either side of the walls for tourism by creating a garden atmosphere. We viewed the eastern walls from afar (the university hospital car park is the best vantage point and so having a car is extremely useful).
Gaziantep: we visited the museum and citadel with a large notice describing its original foundations as dating from the Justinianic period.
I should like to thank the BIAA and Dr Geoffrey Greatrex for making this trip financially possible as well as Professor Stephen Mitchell and Dr James Crow for their support and Dr Ken Dark for his encouragement. A useful general guide to the monuments is:
T. A. Sinclair, (1987-1990) Eastern Turkey: An Architectural and Archaelogical Survey, Volumes I-IV, Pindar Press
For information, maps and images of Dara, see:
B. Croke & J. Crow, 'Procopius on Dara,' Journal of Roman Studies 73, 143-59.
L.M. Whitby 'Procopius' Description of Dara,' in ed. P. Freeman & D. Kennedy, The Defence of the Roman and Byzantine East (vol.2), 1986: 737-83.
E. Zannini, (1994, 1998) 'Introduzione all’Archeologia Bizantina'.